There are many people who advocate a game-centred approach to teaching and coaching. Well-established approaches (such as Teaching Games for Understanding, the Tactical Games Approach, Games Sense, the Tactical Games Model, the Games Concept Approach etc.) “offer children and students ways of learning both tactical and technical skills in different games”. At the heart of these game-centred approaches lies the idea that the teaching and development of understanding around the tactical dimensions of a game (i.e. what to do) should come before the development of students’ technical skills (i.e. how to do it). 

Exploring game-centred approaches for a thinking/problem solving perspective Memmert argues that their primary aim “is to teach tactical problem solving in different types of invasion games”. The research around these approaches suggests that further attention is needed with regards to:

·      The learners’ perspective (i.e. trying to see the games from the learners’ point of view and knowledge base).

·      Game concept (i.e. how modified games are developed to reflect real world situations).

·      Thinking strategically (i.e. understanding the way in which notions such as time, space, people, position, game state, context etc. impact on the decisions we make).

·      Cue recognition (i.e. seeing gaps in defences, imbalances in terms of skills, speed and/or strength and exploiting them).

·      Technique selection (i.e. how to do it).

·      Skill development (i.e. in order to be more successful what do individuals need to do better).

Fundamentally, Memmert holds, game-centred approaches are defined by two ideas. Firstly “they are models that place the learner into problem solving situations, where decision-making is of critical importance and where skill development takes place in context”. Secondly, “teaching game sense, game playing ability, or even game performance” are the focus of the teacher/coach”. While both of these are seen as laudable and important Memmert argues that game-centred approaches help children to learn convergent tactical thinking and tactical creativity.

So what’s the difference?

In the above approaches there is a focus on developing “contextual, real-world and game-simulated practice to develop both the tactical and technical skills needed to become an effective game player”. In short, game-centred approaches encourage students/players to find ideal solutions that can later be evaluated as to their efficiency. Yes, players are asked to problem solve but they are also asked/expected to come up with the best solution. Like answering an examination question they are expected to draw on their prior learning and find an answer/solution that has worked in the past and apply it to the situation in which they find themselves. In this way, players are encouraged to be convergent thinkers who can assess and analyse the position in which they find themselves and act accordingly. This, Memmert argues, is tactical intelligence or convergent thinking and positions the player (if they are good at it) as an expert decision maker.

To be tactically creative students/players need to be a divergent thinker. In other words, they need to live in a world that thrives on “unusualness, innovativeness, statistical rareness or uniqueness of solutions in a given task”. The tactically creative are celebrated because they respond in “varying, rare and flexible” ways in different situations.

In defining these two ideas Memmert suggests that for creativity to exist in games, players need to deviate from “so-called best solutions” and look to act in surprising, original and flexible” ways. Memmert holds that players with tactical game-intelligence (i.e. convergent thinkers) are able to produce the best solutions while the tactically creative can generate “a variety of solutions in specific individual, group and team tactics situations which are surprising, rare and/or original”.

The tactically creative thrive on unusualness, innovativeness, and statistical rareness

So how and when should tactical creativity be taught?

A body of research in psychology suggest that the best time for tactical creativity to be learned and developed is when children are younger. Indeed evidence suggests that the development of creativity may stagnate in children around the age of eight. Other research suggest that stagnation may occur after the age of thirteen but the bottom line seems to be that children are able to learn about, cope with and be creative in situations we might see as challenging. Therefore, and as Memmert argues, “creativity should be cultivated early in a child’s development”. That is not to say that it shouldn’t be taught/used with older children. Memmert’s research shows that although statistically “the development of tactical creativity stagnates" above the age of thirteen, learners can still improve their tactical creativity over time.

This means that, as teachers and coaches, we shouldn't be so quick to close down imaginative solutions to problems. How many times have we seen a child come up with a solution that works or nearly works and said “good idea but you would have been better doing this” (and then demonstrating the so-called best solution)? How many times do you think you have unpicked and then rebuilt a player’s response to a specific situation? I think I’ve done it hundreds of time and am sure that “yes, but…” has been a strong part of my teaching/coaching armoury. Perhaps its time to learn a new phrase or just drop the “but”?


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

Acknowledgements: Thanks to Vicky Goodyear for her work as copy editor.  Her 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.