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Why game play is just as important as a tactical approach

This is an excerpt from Teaching Sport Concepts and Skills-3rd Edition by Stephen Mitchell,Judith Oslin & Linda Griffin.

Tactical Games Explanation and Review

About two-thirds of a typical physical education curriculum involves games teaching and learning. We believe that, given this emphasis, physical educators must try to teach games effectively. Many people, particularly fitness advocates, have viewed sports and games negatively, labeling them as elitist, overly competitive, and not conducive to developing health and fitness. This negativity perhaps stems from an emphasis on large-sided, zero-sum games in which the winners and losers are obvious, and active participation is minimal for many students. We believe that sports and games can be fun, educative, and challenging and can enhance health and self-esteem. Although games teaching should remain a valuable part of the physical education curriculum, we concede that the way games have traditionally been taught is problematic. This is the reason we wrote this book.

Many physical educators teach both the skills and tactics of games but have problems linking these components. For example, in units on basketball in which classes spend several days covering passing, dribbling, and shooting, skill development is not apparent during subsequent lessons on game play. Skills have usually been taught in isolation, out of their tactical context. The approach we outline in this book links tactics and skills by emphasizing the appropriate timing of skill practice and application within the tactical context of the game.

Tactical awareness, critical to game performance, is the ability to identify tactical problems that arise during a game and to respond appropriately. Responses might involve on-the-ball skills, such as passing and shooting, and off-the-ball movements, such as supporting and covering. For example, a tactical problem in soccer is for the team to maintain possession of the ball. Players maintain possession by selecting and executing passing, ball-control, and support skills. In a tactical approach, students are placed in a game situation that emphasizes maintaining possession before they identify and practice solutions such as passing, ball control, and support. Another tactical problem in soccer is defending space. Players defend space by marking opponents, pressuring the player with the ball, covering for teammates, and clearing the ball from danger areas. The link between skills and tactics enables students to learn about a game and improve their performance, especially because game tactics provide the opportunity for applying game-related motor skills.

Rationale for a Tactical Approach

We believe that traditional games teaching in schools has done little to educate students about games playing. The tactical approach we advocate in this book promotes an interest in learning games, an understanding of game play, and the ability to play games.

Interest and Excitement

The traditional approach to games teaching is technical and focuses on teaching skills in answer to the question, how is this skill performed? For example, instruction in badminton often develops the techniques of service, the overhead clear, the drop shot, and the smash by concentrating on specific critical elements of these skills. Although this format might improve technique, it has been criticized for teaching skills before students can grasp their significance within the game. As a result, students lose the context of the skill, and games teaching becomes a series of textbook drills (Pigott 1982).

Drills often lead students to ask, “Why are we doing this?” or “When can we play a game?” For example, you might hear these questions during a volleyball lesson in which students must pass or set the ball against a wall. For many students, particularly those who are less skilled, the game that follows is characterized by aimless participation following a breakdown of techniques for passing and setting. This frustrates both students and teacher. It is possible that the only thing many children learn about games is that they cannot perform the necessary complex skills (Booth 1983). In addition, skilled students often perceive isolated drills as tedious and irrelevant to their performance during game play.

A tactical approach provides an exciting alternative through which students can learn to play games. Our research and the experience of others indicate that students find a tactical approach motivational and that teachers prefer it (Berkowitz 1996; Burrows 1986; Griffin, Oslin, and Mitchell 1995; Gubacs-Collins 2007; Hopper 2003; Mitchell, Griffin, and Oslin 1994). Another attractive feature of a tactical approach is its sequential nature, which eliminates redundancy in games teaching for both teacher and students.

Knowledge as Empowerment

Although skill execution is critical to game performance, deciding what to do in game situations is just as important. French and Thomas (1987) stated that “mistakes commonly observed in young children in various sports may stem from a lack of knowledge about what to do in the context of a given sport situation” (p. 17). Furthermore, Bunker and Thorpe (1986) proposed that the uniqueness of games lies in the decision-making processes that precede the use of appropriate techniques. Not understanding the game impairs the student's ability to identify the correct technique for a situation. Bunker and Thorpe (1986) also suggested that an increased understanding of games, achieved through teaching for tactical awareness, empowers children to easily and skillfully solve the problems each game situation poses.

The next time you teach a games lesson, observe the differences between the performances of students with high and low abilities. You will see more proficient skill execution by students with greater ability, but you will also notice better game-related decision making and skill selection in response to specific situations. Enhanced decisions reflect greater knowledge of the game, an observation supported by the research of McPherson (1994, 1995).

Transfer of Understanding and Performance

A tactical focus may help your students carry understanding from one game to another. Although some invasion games, such as rugby and flag football, have unique rules that set them slightly apart from others, most invasion games are tactically similar even though they require different skills. For example, tactical problems in soccer, field hockey, and basketball, all of which are invasion games, are similar. In our experience the best novice soccer players are those with experience of other invasion games, because they already understand the spatial aspects of soccer. We can make a similar case for net and wall games (e.g., badminton, tennis), striking and fielding games (e.g., softball, cricket), and target games (e.g., golf, bowling) (Werner and Almond 1990). These similarities enable us to group games according to their tactics. We define invasion games as those in which the goal is to invade an opponent's territory. Net and wall games involve propelling an object into space so an opponent is unable to make a return. In striking and fielding games, the goal is to strike an object, usually a ball, so that it eludes defenders. In target games, the performer propels an object, preferably with great accuracy, toward a target. We elaborate on the importance and implications of tactical transfer in chapter 2.

Physical educators have suggested that a tactical focus in games teaching suits both the elementary and secondary levels (Bunker and Thorpe 1982; Doolittle and Girard 1991; Mitchell, Oslin, and Griffin 2003). In this book we address how physical educators can use a tactical approach to enhance students' game performance at various developmental stages by identifying, sequencing, and teaching the tactical problems of games at successive stages of development. We offer frameworks for games, provide a broader definition of game performance, and identify levels of tactical complexity for each game.

Learn more about Teaching Sport Concepts and Skills, Third Edition.

More Excerpts From Teaching Sport Concepts and Skills 3rd Edition