The previous blog argued that dance is a way of moving that has been looked at through a limited viewfinder. It has been pigeon-holed as ‘being’ for a certain type of person. If you dance, therefore, you must be a certain type of person. The very act of being a dancer positions you (in the eyes of many including the reluctant male dancer) as being effeminate and almost certainly homosexual. It concluded by suggesting that we need to overcome our own sense of ‘who we are’ and imagine ways for all of us to “move in other ways” – ways that don’t predict who we are.

This week’s blog looks beyond the apparent importance of techniques in physical education and club sports and argues that, as practitioners, we need a fuller understanding of what makes up a game. We need to understand the interplay of competition and cooperation and the interactions that occur between teams, groups of players, and individual players (often simultaneously) and how these, and not just skills, influence how students learn about games and gameplay.


Volume 4: The curriculum and the subject matter of physical education

Paper 80:

Gréhaigne, J-F., Godbout, P., & Bouthier, D. (1999/2012). The foundations of tactics and strategies. In D. Kirk (ed.) Physical Education: Volume IV. (pp. 159-177) London: Routledge.


My ‘take home’ message – the implications of the research on practice

As a teacher, one of the messages that always seemed to emerge from my reading about games was that the traditional “skills and drills” approach didn’t work. However, while alternatives were presented I often felt that the papers, books, and/or articles were not always very approachable.

Let me explain.

One of the things I set out to achieve when writing this blog was that it was approachable. In other words practitioners would feel comfortable coming back again and again in order to engage, with me and each other, in a debate of ideas. This often meant that I needed to watch my P’s and Qs. Academics, as you may know or feel, have a tendency to use one long and complicated word when two short and every day words would be suffice. It is something I consciously try to avoid in this blog (although Vicky still has to pick me up on it too frequently).  Yet it was this unapproachability that confused me a little as a teacher when trying to read research and, perhaps, slowed my development of a ‘better’ way of teaching invasion games.

This ‘better’ way came through my reading, some 9 or 10 years ago, of Gréhaigne and colleagues book (not this paper). Fundamentally, and to cut a long story short, this book allowed me to clearly understand and then be able to use (in various invasion games) three questions to enhance my students understanding of the game and gameplay.

The first question was “can I score?” - not can I shoot, but can I score.  If the answer to this question was ‘yes’ then the student should try to score. However, at any time during the scoring attempt their ‘yes’ answer could change to ‘no’ and as soon as the answer was ‘no’ then they moved to question two.

“Can I pass to somebody else who’s in a better position to score?” – again, if the answer to that question was ‘yes’ then they should make the pass.  Again, however, if the answers was ‘no’ or changed to ‘no’ then they needed to move to question three 

“Can I move to a better position to either score or pass?” This might involve pivoting to create space to pass, faking to create space to score, or running half the length of the pitch to score or create a passing opportunity. As soon as the movement was taken then the student returned to question one and continued to ask themselves these questions: “can I score?”, “can I pass?”, and “can I move?” The key then became that the students kept asking themselves that series of questions as they played.

In this way invasion games were broken down into both manageable and transferable elements. To me this is one of the key things that we miss (according to the research) in our teaching of games. However, while much research is ‘talking’ about these ideas and promoting an understanding approach (over “skills and drills”) it is not always translated into practical and implementable forms for us to all use. Therefore, this space, PEPRN, provides an opportunity for us to share practice and research. With this week’s blog focussed on game play I ask you to share the questions, practices or strategies you use to help students understand games and gameplay, for the betterment of all of our practices.  Or I ask you to translate something you have read so that we could all use it in our classrooms.


The Paper 

Given the significance of games it is not hard to understand the continued interest in how they taught and consequently how and what students learn about games. However, Gréhaigne and colleagues argue that the dominant approach continues to place importance on acquiring the technical competence felt necessary to play the game (whatever that might be). The authors write “in drill contexts, the mastery of a series of motor skills (techniques) [is] seen as fundamental for the practice of the activity.”  But in this paper the authors focus on “the nature and various aspects of opposition and cooperation in games and sports.”

Fundamentally Gréhaigne and colleagues suggest that it is important to a) understand the similarities and differences between competition between teams and cooperation within teams, and b) the difference between tactics and strategies, which they argue are often used interchangeably and without real consideration of what they mean.

Gréhaigne and colleagues argue that there is an internal logic to invasion games; a logic that positions four notions as essential to gameplay:  opposition to opponents, cooperation with partners, attack on the opponents ‘camp’, and defence of one’s own camp. Put more broadly they argue that games can be considered at two organisational levels - the match and the team. In presenting these two ideas Gréhaigne and colleagues introduced two new concepts ‘the rapport of strength’ (which occurs at the level of the match) and ‘the competency network’ (which occurs at the level of the team). 

The rapport of strength refers to the oppositional links that exist between several players or groups of players – for example the front rows in rugby or the goal attack and goal defence in netball.  The rules of the game, in this way, “impose on both teams an organisation where location, movement, and replacement (the chance of a player being replace, for example, after one has been overcome)” need to be considered whether in attack or defence.  These rules place enablers and constraints on teams, groups of players, and individual players and determine what might happen in a given situation.  For example, in a scrum the rapport of strength is initially decided by the two front rows and then by the two packs of forwards working through their respective front rows. There are limits to what can and cannot happen but nearly half the team, i.e. the backs, play no part in this aspect of the game. Opposing packs work, throughout the game, to ascertain the respective strengths and weaknesses of their opposition and use this knowledge to limit their effectiveness.

Gréhaigne and colleagues argue that the competency network “refers to the students in game related conducts and behaviours” and the role they adopt or are afforded in the game. This role (self awarded or given by teachers and/or peers) influences what the student thinks he or she ought to do and how he or she chooses to work in and for the team. In some instances this means doing more and in others doing less. Gréhaigne and colleagues argue that “cooperation in team sports, as in other aspects of life, goes far beyond simple goodwill and an easy-going way of looking at sport. For the competency network to be at its peak, there is a need for both efforts and restraints on the part of many players, if not all of them.”

With regards to tactics and strategies Gréhaigne and colleagues believe that “if teachers are to encourage critical thinking on the part of their students during the teaching of games and sports they should use clearly delineated concepts so that students know exactly what they are talking about and vice versa.”  The terms tactics and strategies come from “war vocabulary” and relate to different things.  The tactician “conducts the battle, the operation in sight, adapting the action, combining manoeuvres, deciding on the engagement of the different means of combat.”  In games terms this is what happens in the moment, in the here and nowness of the match, it is what happens at the level of the team. In contrast the strategist “determines the whole act of war and [sets a] goal corresponding to the object of war.”  In other words he or she considers the resources of both teams, considers beforehand where the various rapports of strength may favour his or her team and lays down the pre-game plan.  In simple terms this occurs at the level of the match.

In considering games as both areas of competition and cooperation, and at both the level of the team and the level of the match, we begin to look beyond a crude notion of games as a series of techniques to be mastered. Instead we see them more as ever-changing worlds where competency and strength walk hand-in-hand.

What’s next? As part of this series of blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research on your teaching- Think, Act, Change (or TAC for short).

Think about findings of the paper – do they resonate with you? Use the comment box below to ask a question, seek clarification, may be challenge the findings.

Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is it your responsibility to make changes or is this just something else that I’ve put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be?

Change what you do in response to your thoughts and actions? Is this a personal undertaking? If you want to do something or are looking for help then please let the community know about it.

I wouldn’t expect every paper to get beyond the T or even the A of TAC but if one paper resonates enough to get to C then hopefully all this is worthwhile. Good luck.


Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Vicky Goodyear for her work behind the scene as copy editor and Routledge (part of the Taylor and Francis group) for donating a copy of the Physical Education: Major themes in education series. Their respective help certainly forms a vital part of the production of this blog, and in getting out on time and in a semblance of coherence. However it is important to note that any mistakes that remain are mine.