Constraints of practice administration, methods for players’ involvement and positive outcomes
Written by Adriano De Souza - Head Coach Louisiana Tech University
TGfU as a coaching approach & the presenter bias
The Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) approach used in physical education settings has also (in some cases more than others) been used by coaches in developing players and teams in sports settings (development and competitive).
I’ve been using the TGfU, or a very close approach to its original format since 1995. I first used this approach in a sports school in Brazil while teaching soccer and volleyball to children and teenagers, then in Physical Education classes also in Brazil and finally I started to use the approach in my coaching career which started in Brazil, currently I use it for developing a NCAA Division I volleyball team at Louisiana Tech University where I work as their head coach.
For the past 9 years I have had the chance and the privilege to work inside and be part of the volleyball coaching community in the United States. This opportunity has allowed me (a TGfU practitioner) to be an insider and have the chance to observe and listen to a significant number of volleyball players and coaches in their playing and coaching environments and reflect on the constraints that players go through when having the opportunity of learning “how to make appropriate decisions” and the constraints on the coaching behavior as the coaches talk about why to give or not give the players voice and opportunities to learn how to make their own decisions and to be creative in fixing game needs, creating new scoring or defensive on and off the ball movements; tactics and strategies, during the game while they are playing it or for the game when they are planning for it or assessing it.
One of the things that I do to keep developing myself as a coach is to study how players are successful in their on the ball and off the ball game in any type of sport from their beginners to the highest competitive level, from volleyball, to soccer, to tennis, to basketball and others. What I’ve noticed is that in all these sports, the best and the worst results come from effective or non-effective decision- making that players make individually and as a team. All these decisions relate to “on and off the ball movement choices” and ‘tactical and strategic choices’ that players create or follow from their coaches.
I’ve seen coaches making choices for players and I’ve seen coaches allowing players to make their own choices. I’ve seen success from coach-centered (CC) teams, from player-centered (PC) teams and from teams which coaches balance the PC and CC approaches. But in all these cases, the common feature is that when the game is on, what really stands out is the final product of the players choices, the players are really the ones making choices, either to follow a strategy made by the coach or to create a new and unexpected play set, but the players are the ones who before any “on or off the ball movement” are making the choices.
All of these choices are related to one of the phases of the TGfU approach that is found in any game, the making appropriate decisions phase. During this phase the players (the actors/actresses) have to make appropriate decisions on; what to do, when to do, why to do, and how to do. All these choices are based on timing, space, opposition, offense or defense needs, all of this systemically making an impact on the decisions a single player makes for her/him which will impact the actions and decisions of the team and results.
Because I consider this phase to be the most important one in games and we can find it in the the TGfU approach format, this presentation is based on learning aspects that can emerge from it and how coaches can with some simple pedagogical tools, multiply the effectiveness of this phase.
This is the phase that the coach responsible to administrate the practice can create opportunities and allow the players to be the first ones to try to come up with solutions and, therefore, place the player (actor/actress) in the center of the learning and development, or in the higher level, in the center of the performance process.
The “MAKING APPROPRIATE DECISIONS” phase is visited by the players and teams constantly and repetitively when performing to learn, train, and even more in competition, when they have opponents bringing on the ball, off the ball, and tactical problems to them.
This is the phase of the learning process where the effective learning starts to happen and, when it happens, it is because the players have become efficient in making fast and effective choices of: what to do, how to do, when to do, and why to do.
In my opinion, it is in the “MAKING APPROPRIATE DECISIONS” phase that lies the quality of learning, development, and performance in any sport or task. It is here that coaches can really make an impact in the players’ performance, by allowing them to learn how to make appropriate decisions by themselves with exchange of ideas and choices. This process can be done in individual sports or in team sports.
This session is built to share from a practitioner’s point of view, examples of;
- Constraints that players from different ages have experienced when;
- participating in practices environment framed by the principles of a TGfU and player-centered approach,
- and also when participating in matches where the coaches use a player-centered approach.
- Pedagogical Tools to enhance players’ participation, ownership and learning. Tools that have helped them to adapt and succeed in the new player-centered approach environment which was designed to promote thinking, creating, and problem-solving within the self and among teammates.
- Female players
- 10-24 years old
- Male and female coaches
- Coaches and players
- from beginner middle school and high school levels
- to the collegiate competitive level (NCAA Division I).
- Volleyball camps for beginners and players in development. These camps involved instructional sessions and competition sessions.
- Proficient players in practices, in match preparation, in competition, and in match assessment in the NCAA Division I.
- Players’ behaviors and comments when faced with the chance to make decisions.- Players’ behaviors during competition when they need to make choices all the time.
- Players; written match assessment when given the chance voice their opinions.
- Coaches’ comments on the fact that players had the opportunity to make decisions.
Practice Administration with the TGfU Approach
When administrating a practice within the TGfU approach coaches created or were advised to create a practice environment that would provide chances/opportunities for players to go through the making appropriate decisions phase frequently and having the chance to start learning to assess the needs of the game and make choices on their own. The goal was to try to create opportunities for a high number of explicit repetitions of making decisions/choices.
To provide this opportunity for players to create and take ownership of their performance the following pedagogical tools were used:
- Game-like exercises with adaptations to develop on and off the ball skills.
- Competitive games with rules adaptations created to develop tactical learning within the competition. The game environment and possibilities created by the rules would give the players reasons to make tactical choices, therefore learning offensive and defensive possibilities while developing their skills (on and off the ball).
- Inquiry Coaching by using questions from coaches to players to provide chances for players to reflect and become involved in their own learning, development, and/or performance. Within this approach giving the players chance to find solutions for difficulties or problems by creating and making their own choices.
These options were part of what was thought to be needed to make the players become effective in problem-solving. With these 3 pedagogical tools, players seem to start to be more reflective about their actions, but they didn’t seem to achieve the highest point of ownership of their performance just because of the facilitating tools above. What was lacking was intentional tactical creation or change coming from the players. These pedagogical tools seemed to be not enough to create effective intentional creative and decision-making players within the practice or match environments.
Constraints of Practice Administration within a TGfU Approach
The pedagogical tools cited before did not seem to be enough to create effective intentional creative and decision-making players within the practice or match environments. For some reason, the intentional self-start action of taking control of choices in the game was not explicit. By observing players’ behaviors, listening to them, and reading their game analysis some constraints seemed to emerge.
Constraints started to unveil when in a player-centered approach coaching environment players went through the making appropriate decisions phase and were given the opportunity to take ownership of their learning, reflect and make choices in the search of making appropriate decisions.
The constraints were:
- Players not relating to the game, players just reacting to the game.
- Players would never stop the game to talk among themselves and try to change what was not working. The thought process of stopping, assessing, creating, and changing was non-existent.
- Even when given the chance players were afraid of taking time outs and saying that the coaches or older players would not like it.
- Players not taking time outs saying that they never did it before because the coaches always told them what to do.
- Players afraid of talking in front of controlling coaches.
- Player winning and losing points and relating this only to lack of on the ball skill and nothing else like, off the ball skills and tactics and strategic choices.
- Players having difficulties to talk among themselves.
- Players having difficulties to relate and, sometimes, accept the freedom to answer questions and think and to create new possibilities.
- Players waiting for coaches to give answers.
- Players afraid of thinking what is not so right at first, in construction of what could be right.
- Sometimes when the conversation among players would happen, some players would take over
the conversation and decision making too often. These players were taken by others as leaders. Actually, leading was not the case, as these players were the ones who, most of the times, had a harder time thinking broadly about choices.
Analysis and Questions
Reflections on the content of the observations above started to unleash the following questions:
- Why aren’t players changing their game and repeating the same un-effective choices?
- Why aren’t the players talking among themselves when they are given the chance to?
- What is the content of the players’ conversation when they are talking?
What are coaches doing when there is a lack of quality in performance in practice?Points identified as reasons for the constraints include:
Coming from the players;
- playing background
- approaches in which they were taught/coached before,
- environment they were in when they first started playing,
The coaching approaches to what the players have been exposed to in their beginning years can also have a significant impact in how players relate to the freedom of creating and problem-solving of a player-centered approach.
- sports culture background
- being in game environments where the community treats the coach and a know-it–all and the players have to follow what the coach wants because if they don’t they are the ones out of context because the coach is already a start.
- Sports family background where the parents have been former players and young new players have to follow mother and father choices.
The environment where the players learned or did not learn during their life history can have a significant impact on how they relate to the freedom and responsibilities that a player-centered approach affords.
- school background
- students who still have regular teachers who are also controlling, tend to learn to wait for the superior teacher or coach to give them the answer and guidelines to all they have to do creating a disconnection to the world around them.
Coming from the coaches;
- sports background
- the majority of time, coaches coach using approaches in which they were coached before, unless they have, along the way, been exposed to others significant coaching ideas and possibilities via formal or informal coaching education.
- the environment they were in when they first started playing.
- the coach-centered culture they are surrounded by.
- Coaches who place very little value on allowing players to learn how to make decisions and place high value on showing that they can teach movements to players.
- Coaches who place high value in what they know and very little value in building an environment where the players develop game knowledge.
- education background
- most of the coaches had no physical education or coaching background therefore there could be a case of lack of pedagogical material which could enrich their coaching philosophies.
- The majority of coaches who coach and have background in playing but no background in teaching, or any physical education or education major or minor in their coaching development.
- Most of the coaches had no physical education or coaching background therefore there could be a case of lack of pedagogical material which could enrich their coaching philosophies.
- The majority of coaches who coach and have background in playing but no background in teaching, or any physical education or education major or minor in their coaching development.
- Their coaching education background has little to do with teaching or knowing about how people learn for performing in an complex game environment
The environment where coaches come from and from which they learned their coaching ideas during their lives can have a significant impact on how they relate to the freedom and responsibilities that a player-centered approach affords to players and may have difficulties accepting to share performance building responsibilities with players, even though this action can be valuable to the development of the human being and the player all together. Who would not want to have in their teams players who are knowledgeable and confident to make appropriate decisions/choices in practices and matches most of the time? Which coaches would not want players in her or his team who can build success often? But for these opportunities to happen coaches have to share responsibilities and not be the owner of the truth all the time.
As the first TGfU chart shows below, the actor/actress (learner-player) is the one who will always relate to the game, before their coach, or commentator, or fan. Therefore, it is important that they learn how to learn and how to assess, create possibilities, and change the game for their competitive benefit.
Methods for Players’ Involvement
Choices will always come from the actor not the director, the actor might choose to follow the director but will always come from within the one who acts, the one who performs. Every movement choice or tactical choice starts in the mind of the actor (player).
The pedagogical tools cited before were practice content and options of what was thought to be able to make the players become effective in problem-solving. With these tools, players started to be more reflective about their actions, but they didn’t seem to achieve the highest point of ownership of their performance just because of the facilitating tools of the examples above.
The game-like exercises, the rules implementations/changes/adaptations, and the questions seemed to be not enough to really engage players to make significant decisions on tactics and strategies of the game and build options on the ball and off the ball about what to do, when to do, why to do and how to do.
Players Taking More or Some Ownership
The taking ownership of their performance and thinking tactically, the pursuing a different game, the game changes, all of these came when:
- Guided Timeouts by coaches - for players to go through solution identification during practices.
- Coaches started to give players time-outs and in these time-outs the coach would not give answers but would pose questions.
- Coaches mentioned to the players that they could take time-outs on their own to make the exercise run with more quality.
- Coaches mentioned to the players that they could take time-outs during competitions in practices in order to stop the opposing team point scoring run and make changes in the game.
- Guided timeouts by players
- There has been some positive outcomes from games, with rules implementations and modifications to enhance tactical thinking and the development of on the ball and off the ball skills, but the rule that has made a difference in players starting to take ownership of their choices is the rule that allows players to ask time-outs whenever they want to improve their team’s performance. What has been observed from these time-outs experience is that at the beginning, players were reluctant to take time-outs but when one of the teams started to do it and started to organize itself and become successful, then the other team also started to take time-outs. This is when coaches can see “ownership being born”.
- Guided Reflections
- Coaches started to allow the players to assess the matches via a simple post-match-questionnaire tailored to make the players think of past actions and choices, qualify these actions and choices, and think of a possible simple future action to enhance performance.
- Practice and match assessments – to enhance players reflection on action which, in the future, was being translated in reflection in action during game play. This has been applied in all levels of volleyball performance, from the learning stages, and to the developmental stages to the proficient stages (NCAA Division I and Brazilian Women Junior National Team). The process of allowing players to reflect ON ACTION (after the fact is over, after the game is over) and think for themselves reflects in learning the skill of reflection IN ACTION (during the game).
When observing the players’ behavior and being among them as they voice their thought processes about choices of; what to do, how to do, why to do and when to do. It became clear the observation of some positive outcomes.
These outcome were:
- an increased ability to problem-solve and create solutions in real competition situations individually and as a team,
- a better understanding of the value of each individual reflections and ideas in the process of creating solutions,
- an increased on the ball and off the ball awareness have been observed in players performance and voiced by coaches and players.
The outcomes generated in the process of allowing and creating situations for sports players to participate in the detection of game needs (skills or tactics) in the process of creating solutions for different game situations as they go through the TGfU model first developed by Bunker and Thorpe (Bunker D. & Thorpe R., 1982, Bulleting of Physical Education, 18:1, 5-8) could:
- Help to improve players’ performance in the developmental and/or proficient stages.
- In the research area these practitioners’ examples could help in:
- Creating questions for reflection and discussion
- Questions like;
- What is the necessary preparation that can help coaches to allow players to relate to the game in a more intelligently manner?
- What are the contents that can help coaches to help players to learn more efficiently?
- What is and is it important for coaches to have pedagogical knowledge to use a player-centered approach to enhance the development of players who create success for being effective problem-solvers? What is this knowledge?
Thank you for your time.
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