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Teaching Tactical Creativity

The six D’s of tactical creativity – Deliberate Play, Deliberate Practice, Deliberate Motivation, Deliberate Coaching, Diversification and 1-Dimension games – are easy to say but not so easy to do.

Memmert sets out to “demonstrate how teachers and coaches can foster tactical creativity in different basic tactical forms”. He does this by providing three series of six lessons that look at the following common aspects of invasion games: 1) identification of gaps, 2) taking the ball near the goal, and 3) supporting and orientating. He introduces these three tactical problems by stating that player rotation (i.e. that “positions and team players/opponents are systematically varies) and Diversification (i.e. using different motor skills) are the two fundamental aspects of everything that follows. Player rotation seems obvious but the elements of Diversification Memmert suggests don’t. In advocating for the use of different motor skills he sets up each of the six lesson/weeks of practice around the following motor skills: 1) hands only, 2) feet only, 3) bigger ball, 4) weak hand, 5) weak foot, and 6) smaller ball. Memmert also hints that Deliberate Coaching (i.e. only the rules are provided rather than tactical feedback or tactical instruction) and Deliberate Motivation (i.e. only instructions that positively bolster players) are aspects of the six D’s of TCA that might be used in the 1-Dimension games and Game Test Situations he introduces.

The names of the games themselves became cue words to promote positioning

Identification of gaps – in this set of six lesson Memmert “evokes” the tactical behaviour of identifying gaps. He sets up a grid (say 10m by 10m) and places three defenders on a central 5m line. He also sets a maximum height that a pass can travel by stringing a rope across the central line just above the defenders heads to signify the upper boundary of the pitch. With two attackers on each side of the central line he asks them to play the ball past the defenders and below the upper boundary using the six Diversification elements listed above. In considering ways of developing this idea I wondered if a wider space could be employed and players asked to run the ball through the gap (either with ball in hand or dribbling) without being tackled or a smaller gap (and maybe with soft tennis balls and smaller rackets) player could be asked to play passing shots.

Taking the ball near the goal – Setting up a 15m long and 10m wide pitch with two defenders on the central line Memmert introduces this task to challenge players (four of them stood on the line furthest from the goal) to play the ball past the defenders without losing possession. The six Diversification elements are the same but the challenge is about movement off the ball as well as using the ball (e.g. weight, direction, unexpectedness) creatively. In thinking of developing the games I wondered what would happen if you rotated the pitch and asked the players to find width instead of depth and used a dribble or run with ball in hand rather than a pass.

Supporting and orientating – Another game that focuses on ball retention and off the ball movement. Working in a 10m by 10m square three attaching players are asked to pass the ball to each other as many times as they can while three defending players try and keep possession. Again, in looking at ways of developing the game I wondered if it needed to be in game that valued depth but which instead valued width. What if the aim was to keep possession rather than progress up the pitch. This is a tactic often used in rugby sevens as teams wait for a chance to exploit space and often give up ground rather than commit to the tackle. Equally it happens in other invasion games when teams are looking to run down the clock.

Regardless of the usefulness of the above games (and maybe my adaptions) I felt, particularly this week, that at the heart of this book was a good theory that is still a little way from being practically useful. The very fact that Memmert, for what ever reason, chose not to bring TCA to the real world only reinforces this for me. I am left to acknowledge the real potential of the model and yet ponder at its true applicability and I am wondering if you, the reader, can help me to understand how to apply this model in coaching or school situations.

Memmert, D. (2015). Teaching Tactical Creativity in Sport: Research and Practice. London: Routledge.

Measuring impact of new teaching and learning approaches is of growing concern for teachers and coaches, whether they be in the classroom, gym, oval or sports field. What this impact is, what it is that coaches or teachers claim to have achieved with their athletes/students, is a slippery concept. If we are to consider evidence of learning from the examples suggested here by Memmert (invasion games), I want to look at the second lesson – ‘taking the ball near the goal’ - and to use Dennis Slade’s explanation of his players’ uptake of a constraints-based learning approach with hockey. Dennis has written two articles for the Australian Council for Health, Physical Education and Recreation’s (ACHPER) Active & Healthy Magazine, a teacher, sport and recreational practitioner magazine, on his trials and successes with constraints-based tasks and games and it gives rise to talk further about how do you teach tactical creativity and how do you know it worked?

In Memmert’s example as explained by Ash here in the blog, teaching the 4 v 2 should develop the second capacity of ‘taking the ball near the goal’. This is essentially teaching attackers to work in a connected series of 2 v 1 to eliminate defenders as they encounter them, but more importantly, to deliberately separate defenders so that 2 v 1 works effectively. The point of the mini game or constrained task should not only encourage players to work this out, but to understand why. This is where Memmert’s examples need something further – like explaining the nature and role of key questioning. But there is another level that relates more specifically to teaching tactical creativity. With 4 v 2, if attackers know they are supposed to take out defenders one by one to make 2 v 1 work effectively, then defenders know that they shouldn’t allow that to happen. And after many years of completing this task myself (as an attacker and defender) and as a coach teaching developmental players to do it, I know that defenders win this little game more than attackers do. The 2 v 1 falls down. This is where tactical creativity tips the balance of favour back towards the attackers. An attacker needs to “show” the ball – to seduce the defender to break formation and take them on, with confidence (real or imaginary) that they will successfully tackle them without being eliminated. The flair or subterfuge with which the attacker achieves this could be considered an example of tactical creativity, but how do you turn it into a teaching and learning moment for not only other attackers but also the defenders? In the moment, when the attacker succeeds in forcing the defender to make a decision that leads to their elimination in a successful 2 v 1, a coach could ask the attacker – what did you do to convince x to tackle you? Why did you think they would fall for it? A coach could then ask the defender – what made you think you would not be eliminated? What did y do that made you think you would successfully execute the tackle? Why do you think you were unsuccessful? The attacker may have deployed one of several of a range of highly effective options – a dummy feint, a dramatic increase in pace, and/or fake call, all of which other players can do and could call upon. But why did they choose that one at that time? This is where the learning moment will occur.

Dennis (Slade, 2011, p. 27) argued that after developing and teaching two mini-games (Advantage and Parking), he then noted the performance of his U21 players at a national tournament. ‘Parking’ for example has similarities to the second lesson to create options to get the ball near the goal, focusing particularly on striker positioning. He noted that over the life of the tournament, 5 of the 8 field goals scored by the team were from the “Parking” position, suggesting that firstly, free scoring, attacking play was a feature of this team’s performance, and secondly, that some transfer from the mini-game had occurred, therefore some evidence of learning. Furthermore, he noted that the names of the games themselves became cue words to promote positioning – reminding them to be tactical/creative. Thus, what and how you talk about in/during, on or upon reflection of a constrained game (or series of 6 lessons) is going to be arguably as important to promote tactical creativity as performing the tasks themselves.

Slade, D. (2011). Teaching field hockey for understanding using constraining games in a TGfU model of instruction. Active & Healthy Magazine 18 (2), 23-27. And also,

Slade, D. (2015). Employing Game Sense method of instruction within the structure of representative learning design in order to facilitate intelligent game playing by young field hockey players. Active & Healthy Magazine, 22(2/3),

Dr Sue Whatman is a Senior Lecturer, teaching undergraduate HPE teachers and also leadership & pedagogy in the Master of Sports Coaching at Griffith University, Australia. Sue has played field hockey (on and off!) for about 38 years :)

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