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Teaching Tactical Awareness and Skill Acquisition

This is an excerpt from Teaching Sport Concepts and Skills 4th Edition With HKPropel Access by Stephen A. Mitchell,Judith L. Oslin & Linda L. Griffin.

In this section we outline using a tactical approach to teach an individual game lesson. Notice the use of small-sided games to expose students to specific tactical problems and the importance of the teacher’s questioning to provoke critical thinking and problem solving.

Tactical Model

A critical question we now address is, how do I teach for tactical awareness within the physical education lesson? Bunker and Thorpe (1982) suggested a six-stage model for games teaching, Teaching Games for Understanding, which has been very useful in guiding physical educators. To illustrate this approach, we consolidated the model into three stages, which we present in figure 1.1.

Figure 1.1 A tactical approach to games teaching.
Figure 1.1 A tactical approach to games teaching.

The outline in figure 1.1 suggests that teaching for tactical awareness should start with a game, or more precisely, a game modified to represent its advanced form and exaggerated to present students with tactical problems (Thorpe, Bunker, and Almond 1986). For example, a tactical problem in badminton is to set up the attack by creating space on the opponent’s side of the net. You might begin with a half-court singles game because it represents the full-court game but is played on a narrower court. The narrowness exaggerates the need to play shots to the back and front of the court to create space.

Young or novice students will be unable to play the advanced form of most games because of limited tactical understanding and skill. The game form should relate to the level of student development. Consider the dimensions of playing areas, the number of students participating, and the equipment used when choosing a game form. If you establish a developmentally appropriate form, students’ play can represent the advanced game. For example, small-sided volleyball games played in smaller areas with lighter balls and lower nets use the same principles, problems, and skills found in the full game.

Critical Conditions and Questions

Students gradually learn the rules of games through the conditions you apply. After the initial game, questions are necessary, and the quality of your questions is the key to fostering students’ critical thinking and problem solving. First, ask about the goal of the activity, and then ask students what they must do to achieve that goal (i.e., what skills or movements they must use to be successful). Questioning why certain skills or movements are required might also be appropriate. Once students are aware of what they need to do and why, you can ask them how they should perform the necessary skills. These questions help students identify the aspects of technique that they ought to practice, thus leading to the practice phase of the lesson. The following example illustrates the process.

Establish an appropriate game form, such as two versus two (2v2) soccer in a restricted (20- × 20-yard) playing area with an objective of making a specific number of consecutive passes (such as four) before the ball is lost. (If you use the metric system in your measurements, you can use the same number of meters.) This objective forces students to confront what they must do to maintain possession. Appropriate teacher–student questioning might go as follows:

  • Teacher: What was the goal of that game?
    Students: For each team to keep the ball for four passes.
  • Teacher: What does your team have to do to keep the ball for four consecutive passes
    Students: Pass the ball.
  • Teacher: Yes, and what else?
    Students: We also have to receive passes.
  • Teacher: OK, you have to be able to pass and receive the ball. How many teams managed to make four consecutive passes? (It is likely that only a few pairs made this target because passing is difficult in a 2v2 game.)
  • Teacher: Well, perhaps some practice with passing and receiving would be a good idea then.

The quality of your questions is critical, and these questions should be an integral part of your planning. Literature on tactical games teaching, be it the original work of Bunker and Thorpe (1982), the Australian conception of Game Sense (Den Duyn 1997), or our own Teaching Sport Concepts and Skills and Sport Foundations for Elementary Physical Education (Mitchell, Oslin, and Griffin 2003), has consistently emphasized the importance of asking quality questions. Game Sense provides good general advice on the types of questions you might ask students. These questions fall into three categories:

  1. Time. When is the best time to . . . ?
  2. Space. Where is or where can . . . ?
  3. Risk. Which choice is safest and which is most risky?

We encourage you to develop questions that are meaningful to your students. You can never anticipate all the answers you might receive, even when questioning secondary students, so be prepared to probe and, if necessary, ask a forced-choice question (Do you think . . . ?) to focus responses. Questioning is not a teaching skill easily mastered, and it does not come naturally to everyone. At first it is acceptable to be plan dependent and to write questions on note cards if necessary. Note cards may seem mechanical, but with practice you will develop natural questioning skills for the varied situations of your students and gymnasium.

As we continue with the previous example, through a developmentally appropriate game and through skillful questioning, students should begin to realize that accurate passing and swift ball control are essential. At this point, formal practice of passing and receiving becomes appropriate. During this practice, you can describe how to perform the necessary skills and movements by using teaching cues related to the critical elements of each technique. Note that although passing and receiving have become the focus of the lesson, you didn’t initially inform students of this focus. Rather, you led them to identify the lesson focus through a well-designed modified game and through skillful questioning. Many teachers new to a tactical approach find it difficult to withhold this information at the start of a lesson. Avoid providing too much information early in the lesson because it detracts from the problem-solving process. Conclude a lesson with game play that reinforces the skills practiced. The Planning Format for Tactical Games Lessons sidebar at the end of this chapter should help you identify and understand the phases of a lesson.

Your students’ learning continues lesson by lesson, and you continue to modify the game so they can explore new aspects of tactical awareness. For example, you could introduce a 3v3 game, providing all players with an extra passing option so that they must effectively support the player with the ball. When students understand the need for good support, you can teach off-the-ball supporting movements before returning to the game. Thus you progressively develop game performance. You can extend the practice of maintaining possession by adding either a small goal or a target player at each end of a rectangular playing area. Ask your students, “How can you get the ball past the defense?” At this point students must think in terms of passing the ball between defenders, or of splitting the defense, an essential tactic for penetrating in attack.

Tip Box

Implementing a Tactical Games Approach Using This Book

The chapters in this book provide suggestions for teaching tactically in a variety of games and sports. The chapters vary in length, and the levels of tactical complexity vary from game to game. For example, invasion games tend to be more tactically complex than net and wall games, so we have identified five levels of tactical complexity for soccer but only three for badminton.

Each chapter contains a framework of problems, movements, and skills to assist you in breaking down the game tactically. We also suggest levels of tactical complexity to give you an idea of how to developmentally sequence your teaching. We suggest several lessons for each level, but these are only outlines with little detail on equipment and management procedures. For the sake of space we have restricted each outline to the tactical problem being addressed, the lesson focus, the lesson objective, an initial game form, teacher questions with likely student responses, practice tasks with teaching cues, and a closing game form. This abbreviated format provides a greater breadth of material to get you started. This format is laid out in the Planning Format for Tactical Games Lessons sidebar, and following this should help you plan your own lessons. Major components of the plan are in bold text, followed by points to consider in developing a plan.

Finally, we suggest that before focusing on unit content, you take the first one or two lessons in each activity to teach students how to set up and run small-sided games. This will help them understand the playing boundaries, game rules, and routines, and make the learning environment run smoothly. If you choose to integrate tactical games teaching with the Sport Education model (more on this later), you should organize your environment so that students understand their roles and the routines for beginning and ending class. Have students practice their roles and go over class rules and routines during the first lesson or two.

Planning Format for Tactical Games Lessons