Design journey of Animal MatchPlay Cards

Updated: May 30

"When are you going to release new decks of MatchPlay Cards?" Well... we heard you and now they're here! Founder of The Coaching Lab, Jack Rolfe takes us behind the scenes of how Animal MatchPlay Cards were designed...

We are strong believers that the game shouldn't be a reward for good behaviour nor should it be a bonus if there is time left at the end of the session, the game should sit at the centre.

Built on the same four principles that every other deck in the MatchPlay Card series has been, Animal MatchPlay Cards are shaped by 1) Transfer responsibility 2) Ever-changing environment 3) Train above the game 4) Be reflective. Principles that support us as coaches and teachers to create environments that look and feel like the game, allowing players to experience their game on a new level.

There were a lot of post-it notes on big whiteboards, getting feedback from kids, trips to the zoo and non-stop ZOOM calls, asking coaches and teachers these questions to help us drive the direction of adventure; Who are we designing them for? What are the challenges facing coaches? How can we deliver an amazing experience every time and not just as one-offs? How do we create opportunities for players to explore and experiment with freedom?

We've hung out with some of the coolest and most awesome coaches, teachers, and kids to design a totally multisport deck of team and player challenges that we can't wait to see on adventures around the world.

"Coaching is about taking players to places they didn't think they could go, Animal MatchPlay Cards promote decision-makers, self-challenge and support players to be their best!"

What 3 words would I use to describe Animal MatchPlay Cards? Playful... Interactive... Gamifying...

We know that kids are coming into sport with fewer movement skills than ever before, which means our sessions need to be full of play, interaction and decisions.

The role of the coach continues to be one of a problem setter but now a storyteller as well. I see coaches theming sessions or pitches for players to play through, it may be that one pitch is "Sea World" and the other "Safari Adventures" or "Jungle Trails", as players move through the different worlds they will have to search and explore the challenge cards that each pitch has on it. I would want to be a player in these sessions!

Difference between this deck of our previous decks? Language has played a huge role in shaping Animal MatchPlay Cards, language that talks to kids (aged 5+), asks them to explore and search for information, creating opportunities for them to have self-challenge and interact with the game like never before.

Coaches will be able to #ChangeTheGame by adding in-game challenges, creating games within games, setting individual missions for players and engaging players to take control of their learning. This deck more than ever, Animal MatchPlay Cards will have an impact in ANY sporting environment from basketball to boccia and handball to hockey plus everything between.


We know that kids are coming into sport with less functional movement skills than ever before. The more adaptable you are, the more flexible you are to change in an ever-changing environment. Giving players relevant opportunities to search for solutions and play their way through a game will build their understanding of the game and the impact their decisions have.

An environment that is rich in playfulness and bespoke to the age and ability of players will provide stretch and support even more so if this experience is coming directly from playing the game. Importantly we still want the coach to coach, our role changes to noticing behaviour and interactions that then determines what Animal MatchPlay Cards to put into play.


A coach can change the environment by adding in challenge cards to create opportunities for players to interact with the game differently putting the learner at the centre and designing games in relation to an individual's needs.

How long into a session is until players are making decisions? This is the question we ask every coach we work with. You wouldn't wait 30 minutes into a game to make any decisions. The use of constraints continually guides and shape how an individual interacts with the environment they're exploring.


Fan favourites Lava Floor and Snake Run from our first deck of MatchPlay Cards have influenced many of the new cards inside Animal MatchPlay Cards, understanding that language should be descriptive but not restrictive.

Small changes in the environment (e.g. the physical, psychological and emotional characteristics of an individual; a team’s practice conditions) will undoubtedly lead to large changes in individual behaviour. Coaches should see themselves as learning designers, shifting from the traditional role of the coach as a problem solver to now more of a problem setter where the game has the answers.

A few friends that have helped us out along the way!

"Animal MatchPlay Cards take players to a whole new world, helping coaches to tell a story of adventure and discovery"

As ever we have made them totally MULTI-SPORT and produced in plastic because we know what the life of a coach is like. After 12+ months in the making, we can't wait to see where you take them. (I am sure you'll have a whale of a time!) Stay in touch across social media @The_CoachingLab and do get in touch on if you need any help.

Take players on a safari of discovery as they explore team and player challenges, problem-solving their way through an action-packed deck of challenge cards. SHOP the limited-edition Animal MatchPlay Cards right here:


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