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A model approach to teaching games

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Published on 22 May 2023

Group of children
Group of children

A method which develops decision-making and problem-solving skills to play games has been revitalised for its 40th anniversary thanks to research by a Sunderland academic.

Sports Science PhD researcher Ellen Gambles hopes the benefits of Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) will encourage more UK schools to fully embrace the ‘game-based approaches’ model, and set pupils up to think outside the box, and more strategically - not just when playing games, but something they can adapt to all areas of life as they grow.

With a research paper on the subject almost complete, a new book released and co-edited with world-leading experts, a global conference and series of webinars, University of Sunderland academic Ellen, has been actively promoting the benefits of the model following its 40th anniversary.

“Game-based approaches tap into children’s inherent desire to play, and the model continues to impact teachers and children in PE and sport worldwide,” explained Ellen.

Adding: “If you begin early in life with simple games like piggy-in-the-middle, your tactical problem is to beat the person in the middle, a child will learn how to do that through the movement of the ball, their teammate’s position etc - they learn the tactical problem, then they attempt it.

“The point is for them is to understand the game situation and the tactical problems, and then attempt the skill, if they can’t achieve the skill, or it needs refining, then the teacher or coach steps in and tweaks it.”

TGfU was introduced in 1982, by academics David Bunker and Rod Thorpe at Loughborough University, to address growing concerns that pupils were leaving school knowing little about games. Games lessons were highly structured, focused on developing skillful players with limited abilities to make decisions within the game.

The original model places the learner in the centre of a six step-by-step process in which pupils participate in the decision-making and problem- solving posed by a game, promoting enjoyment and involvement. The steps include: game or game form/ game appreciation/tactical awareness/ decision-making/ skill execution and performance.

Inspiring a global movement, the model has been adapted by countries across the world, to reflect individual nation’s cultural and sporting practices.

However, Ellen believes more educators and coaches in schools in the UK need to embrace the method. She says: “My research has found barriers to fully implementing game-based approaches in UK schools, including a lack of knowledge about the method, time around lesson planning to implement the techniques, and understanding the approach.

“But the benefits are huge, putting children straight into a game situation, they’re immediately more engaged, they’re developing skills, tactics and intelligent thinking. Just simply passing a ball or kicking one for hours on end can become robotic and your brain switches off. But in a game situation, there are so many options, it’s so much more engaging. International and elite sporting teams will have this approach and refine their practice over time.”

The book Teaching Games and Sport for Understanding, that Ellen has written two chapters for and co-editedalongside Australian scholar Shane Pill and Linda Griffin, a professor of education in America, offers a range of current thinking, debates and practical considerations about the broad spectrum of what teaching games for understanding means, aimed at undergraduate and postgraduate students of PE and sport coaching as well as practicing teachers and sport coaches.

It brings together leading and innovative thinkers in the field of teaching and sport coaching pedagogy to provide a range of perspectives on teaching games and sport for understanding.

Ellen says: “It was really important we celebrate this 40th anniversary milestone, through the book, we want to ensure everyone benefits from TGfU.”

Shane Pill, Associate Professor at Flinders University in Adelaide, said: “The Teaching Games and Sport for Understanding book clarifies and extends into new areas knowledge of purposefully student-centred and strengths-based teaching for effective games learning in physical education.

“The book achieves this by uniquely bringing together global developments in games/sport pedagogy that have a direct lineage to the games teaching model developed at Loughborough University, TGfU.”

To find out more about the book, go to: Teaching Games and Sport for Understanding - 1st Edition - Shane Pill (routledge.com)