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Teaching Games for Understanding

This approach to teaching put the game first. However this is not a playing games just to keep students 'busy, happy and good' this is putting the game first so as to help students become intelligent performers. Teaching games for understanding (or TGfU) was developed at Loughborough University in the early 1980s as an alternative to the 'skills and drills' approach that dominated (and many would argue still does dominate) the practice landscape of physical education. Len Almond, David Bunker and Rod Thorpe offered and extolled this alternative approach to teaching games because of the one-size fits all approach to teaching in physical education. They argued that teachers taught techniques – like the overhead clear in badminton – when they were ready but not when it was developmentally appropriate. Furthermore they felt that in any given class there might be a student who had mastered the clear years previous while others would never master the shot. Finally, Bunker, Almond and Thorpe suggested that the clear was a pointless shot if a player didn't know when to use it effectively in the game.

Instead of this emphasis on techniques they developers of TGfU put the game first. Badminton (like other net and wall games) is about hitting the shuttle so your opponent(s) can't hit it back and returning all your opponents viable shots. By teaching students to understand this concept and apply their skills to the achievement of this aim Bunker, Almond and Thorpe believed that thinking players would be developed. The idea, therefore, was to teach game appreciation through the use of modified games. The following example (taken from a coach sessions I lead for teachers on Saturday) helps to frame my argument.


The immediate emphasis was on a hierarchy of decisions based upon the role that the player was undertaking. There were four roles: 1) on the ball attacker (the player with the ball) 2) the off the ball attackers (all the other players on the ball carrier's team) 3) the on the ball defender (the player marking the ball), and 4) the off the ball defender. Each student had priorities based upon their role:

1) on the ball attacker (the player with the ball) - Scored, passed to someone in a better position to score, or dribbled to improve either their teams ability to score.

2) the off the ball attackers (all the other players on the ball carrier's team) - found space to receive a pass in

3) the on the ball defender (the player marking the ball) - Either tries to deny the score or gets the ball for his or her team.

4) the off the ball defender - denies the attacker space.

With the roles established split the group into four teams we played two half court 3v3 games. The modified rules were 1) no dribbling 2) if you shot and hit any part of the backboard or ring then you scored one point 3) if you scored a basket then you scored three points 4) a ball turned over when you were defending had to be passed out of your half before an attack on the basket could be made. In between the games I used question and answer sessions to get the student teachers to develop a basic understanding of the modifications. They suggested that they were trying to score from everywhere because it was easier to score but that they were very inaccurate.

We played 3 games and all the while I asked players to wear different coloured bibs. These bids represented the player's ability and the level of pressure the defence could put on the ball carrier. A red bib meant fully defence (i.e. the player could defend to the very best of their ability); a yellow bid meant partial defence (i.e. defenders could not get closer than 0.5 metre and could only use their hands to block and not steal the ball); a green bib meant that the player could not be marked closer than 1 metre and that the defender could only shadow them. Every player wore a different colour in each game to decide where the pressure was most suitable for them. For the rest of the session the players then wore their favoured colour (which they could modify by task i.e. good players but poor shooters might wear a different colour to buy themselves a little more time).

Such a modification allows students to be fully engaged in an adapted game (we later went on to change the target for the shot to the inner black box and the top part of the hoop, and the shooting range from anywhere, down through the three point line and then to the key; and finally introduced dribbling). Throughout the session (which was 3 hours long) players played in and against mixed ability teams and yet all profited from this system. In this way players were taught to think intelligently about the game, they started to 'read' the triggers that come from match play rather than doing everything in static drills. We covered shooting as a technique, and dribbling and then put it them quickly into a modified game.

For more information see: http://www.tgfu.org/ and download the Bunker, Almond and Thorpe's original paper.

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