30-Day Challenge - Writing

Day 17: Bunker and Thorpe

Dr Ash Casey has shared a blog post on peprn.com about Games for Understanding which prompted some great conversation on twitter this week.

Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) follows a specific model and steps and although I embrace fully the process of teaching decision making through tactical awareness and using the game rules, environment, equipment to make the game more student-friendly I have balked at using the specific steps as I found them challenging to follow in every lesson.

Game Sense or Game Approach models allow more flexibility to allow the practitioner to engage in a less rigid model of TGfU and to decide what steps to take to grow our young movers and their thinking and doing in game play.

I have really loved sharing games with students that are variations of adult style games and encourage them to use different equipment, change in size of the field or court, change the way we can score or the size of the score space. We might have different rules of play for different teams as this makes the game more ‘fair’ and we might allow some players more relaxed versions of the rules to give them more time or less defensive pressure so they can be involved in the game and remove some of the fear that inhibits decision making processes.

I also have discovered that in having open ended questions to reflect on game play, that we can quickly see who is thinking about what options are available to them. Many of our conversations will focus on looking at skill options that students can use in specific situations and then allowing teams time to practice these skills without (defensive, time or other) pressure and then apply them to the game at hand. Often teams will know who their best skilled athletes are; they will also know who their weakest athletes are and will find out who their coaches and observers are and how best to use these people in the game at hand. Often the ‘best’ athlete will want to throw in the ball or start play but soon the team will try revolving this to a weaker player to allow their stronger play to receive and play the ball forward. Often a strong player with the ball is not defended well, but if you discuss this and ask them to problem solve, students will try and put two players on that strong player and let the weaker athlete remain unmarked.

Creating game situations and then offering challenges or reflect on observations in game allows student to direct some of their energies – do they need to practice set skills because they drop the ball or are they not clearly communicating that they are passing the ball – how are they supporting the weaker players so they can recieve the ball (are you throwing the ball too far or too hard? Are you communicating that the ball is being passed? Are you passing when the defender can easily get the ball??) so many constraints for teams to discuss and consider what they are seeing and why they are making the decisions they are making.

Often strong players play the same skill and if we can have our students observe and prepare for that play, the stronger athlete will have to adapt to meet this new challenge in the game – they will need to make decisions about this with their teammates. I love it when this happens and forces the strong athlete to consider how they are going to work with others for the benefit of the team.

Having flexibility as a teacher to work with students so that they can see Why the skills are important as they determine How a game functions can bring greater buy-in from students to doing skilled practices or applying time to skilled practice for stronger performances in gameplay. If we are using games to teach decision making and then taking time to practice skills within this, then we hopefully are following Bunker and Thorpe’s focus of decision making as the focus for what we are doing as we Educate students to be Physical.

My favourite ‘aha’ moment was a final game tournament in our Touch Rugby unit and the students had chosen their own teams (after me choosing up until that point). The strongest four boys wanted to play together and the class agreed that this would be okay. Four of my girls who had good athletes and keen minds but who were clearly intimiadated by these boys came to ask my advice. I had them observe the boys play in their initial game and we took notes on what we noticed. The girls sat and identified what they thought were the boys strengths and weaknesses and suggested the plays they thought were likely to be played. This lead to the girls deciding to make decisions about what skills they would use and what would be important in their game play. This included not chasing down a player that had got through their defensive play and sprinted, but rather starting play quickly before that sprinter had time to recover; playing 2 v 1 defense on the strongest ball handler and making sure they were covering the outside Winger who didn’t always catch the ball and playing on any mistakes with a quick tap. The game was very exciting to watch and the boys quickly realised that they were up against a strong and thougtful team who were not intimidated by them in game. They had to sit at half time and evolve their game to meet this different level of play from the girls. I was so proud of the way the game changed based on what they were observing from each other and how they had to work with the individual fitness and skills of players to make their game successful.

Thanks Ash for making me think more about my practice and consider how I am using Game Sense models to put our learners into situations that test them further than just skills, fitness and drills.

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