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Submitted to Journal of Teaching Physical Education - November 12, 2001.



Teaching Games for Understanding:  What does itthat look like and how does it improve skill learning and game playing?does it influence student skill acquisition and game performance?


Tim Hopper, University of Victoria

Darren Kruisselbrink, Acadia University


Teaching games for understanding (TGFU) is understood as an inquiry approach to games teaching where the play of a game is taught before skill refinement.  The TGFU approach has encouraged debate on games teaching which has often polarized into skills v tactics arguments.  When teaching games it is hard to separate skills from tactics, in reality  the tactical use of skills is the essence of effective game playing.  After analyzing a TGFU approach from a skill-progression and tactical progression perspectives, this paper will draw on skill acquisition theories of information processing and dynamic systems to show how a TGFU and skill focused approaches influence student learning.  The is paper will conclude with recommendationsthe suggestion for that games teaching framed in aneeds a tactic-to-skilltechnique perspectiveapproach.  This approach develops from a teacher’s ability to develop tactical progression with a skill progression. 

Key Words:  Tactical Approach, Skill acquisition, Instructional/Curricular practices

 and recognize when students need to learn tactical awareness or to improve execution of a skill.


Introduction: What is TGFU?

For the last two decades the teaching games for understanding (TGFU) approach has caused considerable debate in games the teaching of games.  The TGFU approach focuses upon the teaching students tactical understanding before dealing with the performance of skills, as such the TGFU offers a tactical approach to games teaching emphasizing game performance over skill performance (Griffin, Mitchell, & Oslin, 1997; Werner, 1989)n.  Conversely, a “technique” approach focuses first on teaching students the skills to play the game then introducing tactical understanding once a skill base has been developed.  The skills approach v TGFU approach debate has stimulated caused a techniquetechnique v tactic arguments to games teaching (Rink, 1996; Silverman, 1997; Turner & Martinek, 1992) which, in our opinion, overlooksignores the complexity of teaching games to childrenboth skills and tactics.  When teaching students to play games the question is when should ashould tactical approachs be usedtaught and when should a techniqueskill approachs be usedtaught, not which approach is better?  To help answer this question this paper has two purposes:.

1.      To clarify the TGFU approach by examining examine how to teach games based on an analysis of a “technique” perspective and a “tactical” perspective, and

2.      To infer how students learn in a techniques approach and TGFU approach by drawing on current skill acquisition theories, in particular information processing and dynamic systems theory.

Background to the TGFU approach

The TGFU phrase was first coined in the United Kingdom in the early 1980s.  The ideas were spawned by Thorpe, Bunker, and& Almond (1986) and drew on the earlier work of Mauldon and & Redfern (1981).  Waring and& Almond (1995) and Werner, Thorpe, and& Bunker (1996) give an historical account of the growth of this approach.  The TGFU approach was proposed as an alternative to the technique approach because it was noted that techniques practiced in isolation did not transfer to the game.   In addition Bunker and Thorpe (1986a) observed, and we believe this is still the same today, that games teaching shows at best, a series of highly structured lessons leaning heavily on the teaching of techniques, or at worst lessons which rely on the children themselves to sustain interest in the game. Bunker and Thorpe (1986) believed that these approaches to games teaching,

a) a large percentage of children achieving little success due to the emphasis on performance, i.e. "doing"

b) the majority of school-leavers "knowing" very little about games

c) the production of supposedly "skilful" players who in fact possess inflexible techniques and poor decision making capacity

d) the development of teacher/coach dependent players

e) the failure to develop "thinking" spectators and "knowing" administrators at a time when games (and sport) are an important form of entertainment in the leisure industry (p. 7)The reason for this lack of transfer Bunker and Thorpe (1982) noted that

(a) Large percentage of children achieving little access due to the emphasis on performance, (b) skillful players who possess inflexible techniques and poor decision-making capacities, (c) .players who are dependant on the teacher/coach to make their decisions, and (d) a majority of youngsters who leave school knowing little about games.  (page #?; quote needs to be integrated to read more smoothly)

The TGFU approach was proposed seen as a way of putting the WHY of a game before the HOW.   Bunker & Thorpe, (1986a, p. 8-10) suggested a six-stage model:

1)      Game form where the teacher teaches learners an adult game through a modified game where the rules of the game are designed for the physical, social and mental development of the learners. 

2)      Game appreciation is developed in a modified game form that enables the learners to develop an appreciation of the rules that shape the game like the related adult game.  The modified rules will determine the repertoirery of skills required and the tactical problems to be appreciated by the learners.

3)      Tactical awareness is taught whilst playing the modified game; .  Tas the teacher guides the learners to realize a tactical awareness of how to play the modified game to gain an advantage over his or her opponent. 

4)      Decision-making where the learners, with tactical awareness, making appropriate decisions about “what to do?” and “how to do it?”   The tactical awareness enables the learners to recognize cues of what to do (skill selection) and then how to do do the skill (skill execution) based on the situation in the game.

5)      Skill execution stage where the student learns to is used to describe the executeion of the required skill from the context of the learners’ game and within students ability limitations of the learners.  This stage implies that the learners develop problem solving skills which help them to understand the purpose for practicing either a technical skill needed to play the game with more tactical sophistication (i.e. trapping a ball, striking a ball into the court), or a strategic maneuver practiced to gain a tactical advantage (i.e. hitting the ball short then long in tennis, using a fast break in basketball).

6)      Performance of the skill or strategy is where what is learned is “measured against criteria that are independent of the learner” (p. 10).  This criteria focus upon appropriateness of response as well as efficiency of technique.

This model was the basis for the TGFU approach operating from a more indirect, problem-solving and guided-discovery methods of teaching.  A key focus of this model is that learners have to make decisions about what to do to play a game successfully, then “how to do” what they have realized they need.  Based on this decision making learners are sensitized to their need to practice the necessary skills or way of playing to improve game performance (Griffin et. al., 1997). 

Advocators of a TGFU approach have since claimed that it bridges the gap between research and practice (Pigott, 1982), creates greater understanding of games and improved game performance with developmentally appropriate skill improvement (Mitchell & Griffin, 1994), makes game playing more enjoyable (Alison & Thorpe, 1997) and teaches students to be effective decision-makers in games (Asquith, 1989; Bunker & Thorpe, 1986b; Turner & Martinek, 1995).   In short, the TFGU improves student learning.  However, researchers such as Asquith (1989) and Laws (1994) have noted that in practice the TGFU has not necessary resulted in teachers being able “to stand back” and react to the tactical problems of game play.  A TGFU lessons can still involve teacher led questioning focused on one ability level where students are exposed to tactical problems they are ill equipped to solve.  In this way tactics can be taught in a similar imposed manner to techniques without the necessary space for student choice or individual needs.  (THIS IS FUZZY FOR ME, CAN YOU CLARIFY?) But, these researchers still noted that TGFU potentially offers greater student decision-making and students with diverse abilities having greater access to games.e

      In response to the rhetoric of the TGFU literature Silverman (1997) asked the question, “Is the tactical approach to teaching games better than a technique approach?”  In fact, a whole issue of the Journal of Teaching in Physical Education was devoted to research comparing technique approaches to tactical approaches in games teaching (Rink, French, & Graham, 1996).  Research comparing technique and tactical approaches has not shown clear benefits (Alison & Thorpe, 1997; Rink, 1996; Turner & Martinek, 1992).  Though the results of these studies were inconclusive due to factors such as length of studies and problematic indicators of success, it was noted that children in a tactical approach model indicated more enjoyment when learning and did not show any less significant skill improvement.   Rink et al., (1996) commentedncluded that a key problem of the research into TGFU was discerning between a technique approach and a tactical approach.  This concern highlights the problem of trying to separate technical skill learning from tactical learning.  As TGFU advocators note, effective games teaching is about combining the teaching of tactical understanding with skill development, rather than focusing on one aspect or the other.  Griffin, Mitchell, & Oslin (1997), in their book devoted to a tactical approach for teaching games, state that “a tactical approach…lets your students experience the excitement of actual play before they begin practicing specific skills. This approach allows students to first develop an overall sense of the sport, then, take a problem-solving approach to mastering skills. When they understand why each skill is important, students can apply the skills effectively during game play” (p. 1).

Combine technique and tactical learning?


Comparing a tactical approach to a techniques approach over simplifies the problem of teaching games to students; the comparison ignores the complexity of learning to play a game and the needs of each individual student.  Too often we seek simple answers to complex questions and create binaries to show one idea is better than another.  We believe that gGood games teaching is taking what a student can do in a certain game form, thenand then challenging the student’s ability with a related but more advanced form of the gameactivity.  (this is a value statement, is it one we’re making or have others made it also? Is this universally understood as good games teaching?) To effectively teach a student a game the teacher needs to teach a progression of skills needed to play the game (i.e. catching, kicking, striking), while at the same time introducing a progression of tactical awareness to play effectively (i.e. anticipate where the ball will travel, aim for the spaces). 

Rather than focus on tactics or technique, the TGFU approach suggests that a skill should only be taught or refined when the learners appreciate when it is needed and how it can be used in the game form they are playing.  In a TGFU approach to games teaching this means involving learners in modified games. Games can be modified by simplifying game structures such as reducing the area of play, playing with fewer players, adapting rules to players needs, using lighter, smaller equipment, and using objects that move more slowly.  Whilst playing modified forms of a game, students are asked to solve problems related to the game.  For example, in a modified tennis game played in a tennis service boxbadminton court, a problem set by the teacher at the beginning of the lesson could be, "where should you go after hitting a ball into an opponent's court?"  In this case, the location affording the greatest advantage is in the centre of the opponent's target area, an area that changes depending on where the ball is hit in an opponent's court.  Understanding this positioning principle creates the opportunities to play a shot to become more consistent at hitting the ball and leads to the situation where the skill of accuracy is needed.the need to learn where to place   With consistency the player then needs to know the ball in the opponent’s court, and how to strike a ball so that it gets to the desired areathere.

In a “technique” approach, learners practice a skill in a space on their own or in pairs, possibly with simplified equipment and objects, with successful repetition as their goal.  For example, in a similar tennis lesson a teacher could start by asking students, "How long can you keep the ball going in a rally with your partner throw feeding the ball?"  The teacher could then emphasize the following technical points: (1) get racket back before the ball bounces, (2) hit a falling ball, (3) hit the ball high, and (4) follow through in the direction of your hit.  In a way this is like a very simple modified game with a problem to solve. Too often it is perceived that a technique perspective to teaching games implies "telling" students how to do a skill.  This is just one strategy to teaching that on its own does not enable meaningful learning.  The whole array of teaching styles described by Mosston and Ashworth (1996) can be applied to any technique being learned.  For teaching games, the difference between a technical and TGFU approach boils down to what constitutes a game.  A game depends on the age of theability of the learner, and the type of skill learned depends on the physical development and ability of the learner.  In other words, to a young child hitting the ball against a wall and fetching it before it stops bouncing is a game, however to an older child this may seem pointless and become a boring skill practice.

Games teaching matrix: Comparing technique perspective to a tactical perspective (I don’t completely understand these last 2 sentences. Please clarify.)

Figure 1 will contrasts the two approaches by using what we call a meaning matrix.  The matrix indicates how a “technique” approach relates to a “tactical” approach by highlighting how common misinterpretations of the two approaches often confuses understanding.  The matrix is divided into four quadrants.  On one side of the diagram is the traditional technique perspective to teaching games, on the other a tactical perspective tohat emphasizes the tactical aspect of game playing.  The top half of the diagram is games teaching with a student emphasis, on the bottom half of the diagram is games teaching with a content emphasis.


Insert Figure 1 about here


Focusing on a "technique" dominated approach, Bunker & Thorpe (1986) argue that "often the teacher sees the teaching of techniques as the critical part of the lesson, (is there any punctuation here??) indeed lists of skills are presented, week by week, to be ticked off and assessed in an evaluation of the children's performance" (p. 11).  In Figure 1 this description would refer to the bottom left of the diagram.   We have called this a skill “non-learning progression,” (the “non” actually refers to the lack of progression rather than the practice of non-skills, correct??) an isolated technique focus approach where covering content is emphasized over student learning.  Though it appears that a progression of skills are being learned, in reality a progression of skills are covered but learned only by the most able, or those with previous ability.  This problem is used by Bunker & Thorpe (1986) to justify the need for a TGFU approach.  Though we agree with their observation of the worst type of games teaching, often this critique obscures the need for skill progression.  This critique alienates effective game teachers who work from a technique focus in their games teaching, and whoand offer a progression of skills based on the needs of the learners who have a good conceptunderstand of how totactical tactically play a game.  Examples of this are skill development advocated by coaches of teams where children  have self-selected themselves to play the game or have been selected by ability to play on a team. (again, I don’t understand the link between this last statement and the rest of the paragraph. Please clarify.)

      Bunker and& Thorpe (1986) noted "many teachers have realized that for many children the techniques are of little value and have let children get on with the game, only to realize that they seem to enjoy themselves more with less interference from the teacher" (p. 11).  From this scenario a teacher can be left wondering what to teach.  In the worst-case scenario this can lead to the “game” focus approach noted in the bottom right of the diagram.  Here students may be playing "the" game of, say, soccer or baseball with the teacher emphasizing the content of the rules of the game and telling students where to position themselves in the game, but there is a non-learning progression in the students' understanding of how to play tactically as indicated in the bottom right-hand corner of the figure 1.  In this situation the teacher is satisfied with the students being occupied in an organized recess type lesson.  The problem with this approach is that the majority of students are over-whelmed by the complexity of the game and eventually the novelty of the game wears off, with even the more capable students becoming bored or frustrated with the game.   Though organized recess has its place (usually at recess) in a school PE program, too often this type of games lesson is seen as a tactical lesson, missing is the complexity of developmentally teaching tactics to children as part of game playing.

The tactical perspective to games teaching located in the top right-hand side of the diagram has a student emphasis on learning and a tactical focus on game play.  “Tactical focus” is a progression of strategic principles that are taught in relation to a gradually more increasing challenging environment.  Strategic understanding refers to ways of playing like being consistent in badminton, or keeping possession of the ball in soccer, where students can practice without an opponent trying to beat them.  with Ttactics refers to ways  being ways of playing (strategies) expressively selected in order to gain an advantage over an opponent (you’ll have to clarify the strategic-tactical argument here too, they both sound the same) (Hopper, 1997; Hopper, 1998).  Once a tactical awareness is realized it can be practiced as a strategy to be used in a competitive game.  Tactical understanding is complex and, as argued by Griffin et al., (1997) and Mitchell & Griffin (1994), Hopper (1998) and Hopper & Bell (2000), and shown by Griffin et al., (1997) and Mitchell & Griffin (1994), has to be taught in progressive elements related to the development and experience of the students.  However, the TGFU In the TGFU approach draws on this tactical perspective to teach skills so that, we teach from a game form where as Chandler (1996, p. 50) comments “skill learning is not for playing games; rather, playing games is for skill learning” (Chandler 1996, p. 50).

The technique perspective to games teaching, located in the top left-hand side of the diagram, has a student emphasis on learning and a technique focus to game play.  A “technique” focus is a progression of skills taught in relation to a gradually more increasing challenging environment.  Movement approaches to teaching games such as those discussed by (Wall & Murray, 1994) focus on developing skillful players.  In this approach skill refinements related to movement concepts are taught that enable students to move from an elementary movement pattern to a mature movement pattern [(Gallahue, 1996) #133].  In such an approach a student is given a broad open task such as “Selecting a ball of your own choice show me how you can keep the ball in the air after one bounce.”   As students attempt to keep the ball going the teacher can work on refinements such as more height for more time, bend your knees as you prepare to hit, keep the racquet head flat and beneath the ball.  Some students can be guided to catch and send the ball if this task is too difficult or to change the ball to a slower bouncing ball. Others students can be encouraged to hit the ball without a catch. Students could then be asked to hit the ball over a line or to a target as the teacher refines their skill further.  Eventually this task will be applied to an application game like the castle game discussed in the tactical approach.  In this way the application game gives purpose to hitting the ball up in the air.

However, Berkowitz (1996)-- described as a successful “technique” games teacher-- wrote a paper that explained her journey from a skills-based games teacher to a more tactical-based games teacher.   She articulated how skills and tactics can be integrated saying "technical skill work still has its place, but never in isolation -- always as it would be in the game and mostly as a means to accomplish the tactical problem” (p. 45??).   She emphasizes that skills cannot be taught without tactical awareness.  To combine skills and tactics a teacher needs to understand the developmental needs of the learner.  In other words, what tactical awareness can learners comprehend and what level of skillfulness can they achieve.  Skill progression implies a back and forth marriage with tactical awareness, where skill performance is realized through tactical application.  However, can skill performance be learned before tactical awareness?

This synthesis of technique and tactical perspectives to teaching games emphasizes how tactics and skills need to be taught together, based on the needs of learners.  TGFU, seen as an alternative to a traditional technique approach, does not minimize a teaching focus on the development of technical skills, as the tacticalTGFU v technique dichotomy would imply, but rather incorporates the teaching of technical skills.  We believe However, the shift to a technical focus only occurs following the development of tactical awareness in learners.  As shown in Figure 1, the TGFU approach draws together the tactical perspective and the techniques perspective to create a tactic-to-skill focus.  As such, the TGFU approach is not really an alternative to teaching technique, but an approach to games teaching based on the game playing tactical and skill needs of a learner.  

To clarify why we feel tactical understanding should be taught first, t The next section of this paper will consider current theories for student learning in sport.  Drawing on the sport of tennis the next section will describe, from the perspective of skill acquisition theories, how students learn in a games lesson when technique is emphasized firstin isolation (skill-to-tactic) compared to whenwithin a tactics are emphasized firstal framework(tactic-to-skill).  The TGFU approach implies a tactical emphasis then skill development; it is this approach that we feel realizes the most from skill acquisition theories.  The sport of tennis will be used to explain what learning looks like from the two perspectives. 


Skill acquisition and game play


In tennis, becoming skilled is a gradual process that involves learning to implement the most appropriate movement pattern for situations that arise in game play.  The problem that novice tennis players face is multifaceted; they need to learn which environmental cues are important and which are redundant in order to selectively attend to only the most essential information (Abernethy, 1987).  Based on this information players need to select a tactic/strategsy that will allow them the best opportunity to score a point, and they need to precisely coordinate  a patterns of movement that will effectively accomplish the tactics they select.


The two dominant theoretical frameworks guiding the understanding of motor learning and control have been broadly categorized as the information processing approach, and the ecological/dynamical systems approach (van Wieringen, 1988; William, Davids, Burwitz, & Williams, 1992; William, Davids, & Williams, 1999; Wulf, McNevin, Shea, & Wright, 1999).  Each of these will be briefly described, following which we will present arguments assessing the effectiveness of the technique skill-to-tactic approach and the TGFU approach to skill acquisition.  Implications for applied practice will also be discussed.

Information Processing Approach: Introduction

The information processing approach is a cognitive approach that views the human player as a communication channel that processes incoming information through a series of hypothetical stages in order to produce a movement output (Schmidt & Wrisberg, 2000; Williams et al., 1992).  It is commonly accepted that these stages include stimulus identification, which involves the assembly, recognition, and identification of environmental information, response selection, which involves deciding on whether a response will be made, and which response will be selected, and response programming, which involves organizing and executing movement (Schmidt & Wrisberg, 2000). The processing of information is assumed to require attention resources, which are limited in supply (for a review of models of limited attention capacity models, see Williams et al., 1999). [Do we need capacity models?]  Subsequently, human players are only capable of processing a limited amount of information at any time, and at a limited rate (Fitts, 1954; Hick, 1952; Hyman, 1953). 

Novice players and Expert players

Learning allows the human player to develop strategies to overcome these (is capacity needed?]attentional limitations (Salthouse, 1991). For example, one way experts more expert players overcome the limitations of attentional capacity demands and processing rate limitations is to become “perceptually efficient. That is, rather than taking in all the visual information in a scenario, they by processingselectively attend to only the most critical information from a visual displaythat is most relevant  (Abernethy, 1993; Williams, Davids & Williams, 1999).   By way of contrast, novices spend more time searching the same display for relevant information. Furthermore, the capacity limitations of working memory, suggested to be around 3-4 items (Broadbent, 1975; Chase & Ericsson, 1982; Ericsson, Chase & Faloon, 1980) could be overcome by increasing the size of a “chunk” of information.  Experts are capable of recognizing patterns of play more quickly and accurately than novices (Abernethy, 1994; Starkes, 1987).  This suggests that chunks for experts can represent networks of information whereas chunks for novices are more items specific.  ExpertsMore expert players can also execute skills with a greater degree ofmore automaticity automatically than novice players, rreducinging the amount of attention that needs to be dedicated to processing demands ofprogramming a response programming.  Thus, the advantage that experts gain through practice and experience is that they require fewer attention resources at each of the series of information processing stages.

The concepts of learning, attention, and expertise are linked within the information processing approach (Magill, 1998; Schmidt & Wrisberg, 2000; Williams et al., 1999)., such that lLearning is conceptualized viewed as a stage-like process of gaining expertise where characterized by a gradual reduction in the need for attention to produce motor skills (e.g. Fitts & Posner, 1967; Gentile, 1972; Newell, 1986).  For example, in the Fitts and Posner model, the earliest stage of learning is identified as the verbal/cognitive stage.  It is characterized by the need to gain a basic understanding of the fundamentals of the game, including the rules, tactics, and basic movements, as well as to begin to distinguish between information that is critical and non-critical in producing a response.  This stage relies heavily on conscious and verbal cognitive activity as learners think and talk their way through various tasks (Schmidt & Wrisberg, 2000). Once these basics are understood, learners progress to the associative stage where they can begin to refine their movements and strategies until, after much practice, they may achieve the autonomous stage, where their implementation becomes nearly automatic.

In assessing the attention demands of tennis, there is a lot of information available for processing.  In the stimulus identification stage, perceptual demands are made by environmental information, which includes the on-coming speed, direction, and spin of the ball, the direction, speed of motion, and on-court position of one’s opponent, weather conditions, and so forth.  In the response selection stage, previous information must be considered in light of the player’s knowledge of their own strengths, weaknesses, and preferences, the strengths, weaknesses, and preferences of their opponent, the stage of the game, fatigue, etc., in order to come to a decision regarding the most appropriate tactic to employ.  The response programming stage involves the organization, coordination and precise timing of muscular contractions in order to produce a movement that successfully completes the selected tactic.  The ability for a novice to handle all of this information within the limited time available during game play is overwhelming if not impossible. Thus, the key for instructors in the earliest stages of learning is to reduce the attention demands on learners to a level that they can reasonably handle.

Part practice

Part practice is a frequently used strategy to reduce attention demands, and is defined as “practice on some set of components of the whole task as a prelude to performance of the whole task” (Wightman & Lintern, 1985, p. 280).  Segmentation, fractionation, and simplification are part practice procedures available to instructors (Wightman & Lintern, 1985; see also in texts by Kluka, 1999; Magill, 1998; Schmidt & Wrisberg, 2000). Segmentation involves partitioning a whole task based on its spatial or temporal dimensions, practicing one part, and progressively adding more parts until the whole is achieved.  In tennis this can be achieved at both the tactical and/or technical levels, but typically involves practicing the fundamental technical skills outside of the whole game context, and gradually incorporating restricted game situations into drills.  Fractionation involves partitioning two or more subtasks that are normally executed together (e.g. separating tactical decisions from technical execution, or upper from lower body movements) and practicing them in isolation before combining them again. Simplification involves making a difficult task easier by adjusting one or more of its features (e.g. providing more time, equipment modifications, easing accuracy requirements) and gradually incorporating more of the characteristics of the whole task as learners demonstrate their capabilities.

Implications for technique and tactic approaches

Instructors who adhere to the technique approach (skill-to-tactic progression) frequently reduce attention demands for their learners through fractionation—compartmentalizing separating technical and tactical practice (e.g. groundstrokes, serve), and segmentation—practicing component parts of skills (e.g. the toss, arm action, and follow- through of a serve).  The purpose of these part practice procedures is to allow the learner's attention capacity to match the attention demands of the task.  Once learners show improvement and some degree of automaticity has been achieved, attention can be directed towards higher order activities, such as more complicated technique, tactics, and eventually the full game environment.  Thus the normal progression of learners implicitly advocated by the information processing approach is from skills, to tactics, to a full game.  Indeed, many motor learning texts state that once the attention demands of response programming diminish, it attention can be directed towards higher- level activities, such as tactics and strategy (Kluka, 1999; Magill, 1998; Schmidt & Lee, 2000; Schmidt, 1991; Schmidt & Wrisberg, 2000).  [CONSIDER adding -] However, this type of repetition is very boring to the learner, especially if they have not experienced the excitement of playing the game for which the skill is needed.

TGFU also represents an approach to reducing the attention demands on learners.  However this is accomplished by the simplification part practice procedure. TGFU uses modified games, which simplify both tactics and technique by reducing space, increasing time, and using modified equipment to introduce the major principles of the whole game to learners. Once basic decision-making rules are understood and can be implemented in the simplest modified game, it can be altered to incorporate more of the features found in the whole game.  By adjusting modified games, more of the technical form and tactics of the full game can be incorporated into practice until learners find themselves performing in a whole game environment. 

The key difference between the TGFU and the technique skill-to-tactic approaches to games teaching is the part practice procedure that is used.  Fractionation emphasizes technique over tactics, while simplification emphasizes tactical understanding as the primary goal with technical development as a secondary goal at the novice stage of learning.

Implications for practice

The part practice procedure adopted by each approach effectively reduces attention demands on novice learners by manipulating the task until a reasonable degree of mastery has been achieved.  Then learners are challenged by gradually increasing the demands of the task until they resemble those of the full game.  This way, learners’ abilityy to cope with task demands is never completely overloaded.  From the perspective of creating a learning environment where the processing limitations of learners’ are taken into account, each approach is successful.  However, each approach must also be assessed with regards to how effectively learning transfers to the criterion situation, which is the game.  Ideally, the information processing requirements of practice should prepare learners for what they will face in a game so that the adaptations they make during practice can transfer to games (Lee, 1988).

As explained above, the information-processing model is serial in nature, with the response selection stage following the stimulus identification stage, and the response programming stage following the response selection stage.  The technique skill-to-tactic approach to games teaching minimizes decision-making (response selection) early in learning, while emphasizing technical mastery.  One problem with adopting this approach is that with few decisions to make during practice, the response selection stage can be by-passed.  As a result, information can be processed in the response programming stage immediately following stimulus identification.  For clarity of argument, we’ll label the three stages of information processing A (stimulus identification), B (response selection), and C (response programming).  In the technique skill-to-tactic approach, drills typically foster a consistent A-C mapping.  A game, however, is dynamic requiring players to continuously sample the environment and make decisions based on the information they perceive.  Learners encounter many situations in games whose solutions are not always as neat and clear cut as they are in practice drills.  Thus, the information processing demands of a game (A-B-C) are different than those of practice (A-C).  Owing to a lack of practice in processing information at the response selection stage (deciding what to do), learners may respond by implementing a technique without a purpose (e.g. hit a forehand drivegroundstroke over the net), or may become overloaded and confused by the demands of what amounts to a novel situation. 

In the technique skill-to-tactic approach it is argued that once technical skills have been automated to a reasonable level, attention can be gradually and progressively directed towards tactics and strategy.  However, consistently mapping A-C, over time, leads to the formation of habitual, automatic ways of responding (Schmidt & Bjork, 1992); learners will habitually implement a technique without due consideration of strategy, since that is what they have practiced.  For a learner to consider tactical demands what is required is more than simply directing attention to this aspect of the game, it requires them to replace one habitual pattern of responding with another.  In essence, trying to squeeze decision-making between perception and response programming requires learnerslearners’ un-learn one habit (A-C) and replace it with another (A-B-C), which takes time and effort.  The danger of this approach is that in stressful game situations when arousal levels increase, they players are likely to regress to their most dominant habit (Fuchs, 1962; Schmidt & Wrisberg, 2000).  Applied to tennis, when faced with a ball coming to the forehand side, the goal of players may be simply to hit it back over the net, rather than hitting it to a particular target location for a particular strategic purpose.  By working to automate response programming first, learners develop decent skills, but when it comes to games they are more likely to fit learned skills into a situation rather than assess the situation and use the appropriate skills for the tactical demands of the situationto achieve a particular tactical goal.

The TGFU approach can be thought of as a principle-based approach.  Similar to the technique skill-to-tactic approach, the demands for attention are reduced early in learning,. hHowever this is achieved through simplification rather than fractionation and segmentation part practice procedures.  Simplification is achieved through the use of modified games designed to incorporate critical response selection principles but reduced response programming demands.  This way, learners must continually decide “what to do” as they practice, and are able to discover the range of movement solutions they are capable of achieving in pursuit of their tactical goal.  Once initial response selection and response programming processes become more automated, the simplified games can be altered to incorporate more of the complexities of the full game.  The advantage of skills practice in the TGFU approach is that it is done from within a context, which produces learners who learn to solve problems (Higgins, 1991).  In this sense, practice within the TGFU approach facilitates transfer to games since, from the start, learners’ process information during practice in relation to the way they were are required to process information in the game.  In practices, as in games, learners identify relevant perceptual featuresassess the game environment in order to select an appropriate skill/strategyic response, and following which theymust implement a pattern of movement in service of achieving athat will achieve their tactical goal in a game situation (A-B-C).  [My understanding here is that learners practice a skill/strategyway of playing after playing a game and realizing the need for the skill, then they return to the skill to implement the skill based on the tactical demands of the game.]

Dynamical Systems Approach: Introduction

A more recent approach to understanding motor behavior is the dynamical systems approach.  In the dynamical systems approach movement is viewed as an emergent property of a self-organizing system (Walter, Lee & Sternad, 1998; Wulf, McNevin, Shea & Wright, 1999).  In the game of tennis, for example, players are faced with a variety of situations in which the overall goal is similar—keep the ball in play.  In each of these situations, there are a variety of tactics that can be applied, and for any given tactic there are a variety of ways to coordinate movement to achieve the task tactical goal.  The learner’s job is to figure out how to best coordinate their many moving parts to successfully achieve these tactical goals (Hodges, McGarry & Franks, 1998).  Thus, the form of technique per se is secondary.  Achieving the tactical goal by any means possible is what drives movement.  becomes less important than attaining the task goal.  Although this view of motor coordination affords the motor system incredible freedom to generate patterns of movement, certain some patterns of movement are simply more effective and efficient than others.

Movement patterns

As noted by Van der Kamp, Vereijken and Savelsbergh (1996), in dynamic systems theory the movement pattern that eventually emerges forms spontaneously as a function of the interaction between a number of physical and informational constraints.  These include the structural characteristics of the player’s body, their personal characteristics, the objects and motion in the environment, and the goal of the task constrained by the rules of the game (Clark, 1995; Newell, 1986; Temprado & Laurent, 2000; Vereijken, 1999).  All Each of these restrictions sources actlimits to restrict or constrain how players’ movements will can be coordinated (Corbetta & Vereijken, 1999).  Furthermore, Davids and Button (2000), Temprado and Laurent, (2000) and Wulf et al. (1999) have proposed that intention should been considered as a constraint.  This means that players’ intentions in a game should also be viewed as an intrinsica constraint, reflecting the influence of theirof knowledge and cognition on the form their that movement ultimately takes.

The convergence of cConstraints from all sources restrictsplace limits on the range of movements  patterns that can effectively accomplish the a task goal.  The neuromuscular system works within these confines to organize a pattern of muscle activity around joints that allows the player’s body to act as a single unit to attain the task goal (Clark, 1995; Higgins, 1985; Turvey, 1990).  Turvey (1990) refers to this temporary assembly of united joint action as a coordinative structure

Although the coordinative structure that emerges in response to certain types ofsimilar situations can be variable, it tends to stabilize over time.  A stabilized movement pattern is known as an attractor (Clark, 1995).  The assumption is that the goal of the motor system is to settle into an attractor state.  In sport, it is further assumed that, for each individual, there is an optimal coordination pattern for any given task based on the interaction of each individual’s unique physical constraints, and the informational constraints present in the environment.  The challenge for all learners is to find this optimal coordination pattern (Wulf et al., 1999).  This discovery process may be more or less difficult depending on the existing coordination preferences of the individual.  An individual’s intrinsic dynamics refers to attractor states that represent their preferred modes of coordination (Clark, 1995; Corbetta & Vereijken, 1999).  Learning a new coordination pattern involves competition between an individual’s intrinsic dynamics and the optimal movement pattern (Davids & Button, 2000; Lee, 1998).  With practice, learners can modify intrinsic dynamics to produce the optimal coordinative structure demanded by the new task (Corbetta & Vereijken, 1999).  To do this, learners must destabilize intrinsic dynamics, and search for the optimal coordination pattern.  The degree of similarity between an optimal movement pattern and intrinsic dynamics provides a clue as to how quickly and how much practice will be needed for the optimal pattern to become the preferred attractor state.  Essentially, skilful movement develops from a dynamic integration of players’ movements with the ever-changing tactical challenges set by the environment of the game.

Implications for tactical and technique approaches

In tennis, there are many constraints.  However, regardless of the situation, the player’s goal is to match the spatial features of the racquet with the spatial and temporal features of the ball such that the ball travels over the net and lands within the boundaries of the court, preferably where the one’s opponent will have the most difficulty returning it.  Quite a set of constraints!  But there is more.  Achievement of this taskTo achieve this tactical goal, requires that the racquet face must adopt be held at a specific orientation at when it contacts the ball.  .  Movements that place the racquet at the appropriate orientation must accomplish this at the appropriate time, and are further constrained by the properties of the racquet itself (size, weight) as well as the flight path, spin, and speed of the ball.  Furthermore, the movement path of the racquet head once a stroke has been initiated is constrained by the style of grip adopted by the player, while tactical considerations constrain preparatory off-the-ball movements (e.g. footwork and body orientation) in order toso that the player may hit the ball to a particular location in the opposite court.  These constraints also interact with movement limitations caused by the the structural constraints inherent in the player’s physique (structural constraints) as well as their their preferred pattern of movement (intrinsic dynamics). [what do you mean by intrinsic dynamics here?].  These For many novice tennis players, the preferred coordination pattern (intrinsic dynamics) includes movement at the wrist, which is less than optimal since it increases the number of moving joints, making stroke consistency difficult to achieve [Wrist action is a big part of advanced tennis play, lack of weight shift from poor positioning after hitting the ball might be a better example].  The convergence of all thesese constraints converge to severely restricts the range of potential movement patterns that will successfully accomplish the task player’s tactical goal.  Within Assessed from the dynamical systems approach, the only difference between the technique skill-to-tactic and TGFU approaches to games teaching offer similar advantages for all butis the presence or absence of the inclusion of tactical constraints. [Re-write this sentence again, a very important point needs to be said clearly].

In a tacticalthe TGFU approach, the combination of the inclusion of tactical considerationstactical learning early in learning, combined with a reduction inand reduced technical requirements through the use of modified equipmentgames, allows learners to set tactical goals for action based on the information at hand.  By necessity, the tactical goals that learners determine constrain the movements they need to generatethat will achieve them.  What learners learn under the TGFU approach is to generate tactical action goals based on dynamic informational constraints (position and motion of the opponent, etc), and generate appropriate off-the-ball movements in order to assume a court position that will allow them to hit the ball to a particular location.  As learners develop more effective tactical goals, they also they realize more effective off-the-ball movements allowing them to develop new skills and further refine previously learned skills in order to achieve them.

The technique skill-to-tactic approach also appears to make good use of dynamical systems principles in the development of technique.  Intrinsic dynamics must be destabilized, and new dynamics discovered and practiced in order to establish an appropriate attractor state.  However, in the absence of tactical considerationsgoals, an important set of constraints is released, meaning which allows more room for movement variabilitythat the range of viable coordinative structures are more loosely defined.  That is, if a player wants to place the ball in the far left corner, her movement must be more precise than if her goal is simply to get the ball over the net.  Once the new attractor has sufficient strength, it seems a short step to add tactical constraints.  However, the addition of this intentionaltactical constraints, which depend on players knowledge (an intentional constraint),  requires destabilizing the old attractor, since the optimal movement topology with the additional tactical constraintpattern must be modified [This is a great sentence, can you de-jargonize it a bit, like lose the topology].  This is where the classical problem of skills not transferring into the game is witnessed, and links back to the concerns highlight by Bunker and Thorpe when they suggested the TGFU approach.



Figure 1 highlights how a “technique” focus and a “tactical” focus for games teaching are linked as two essential components of games teaching.  The teacher of games must have knowledge of both skill progressions and tactical progressions.  The ability to shift between the two perspectives means that game teachers transform the content knowledge into forms that are pedagogically powerful, yet adaptive to the variations in ability and background presented by students (Griffin, Dodds, & Rovengo, 1996; Shulman, 1987).  Emphasizing either perspective at the expense of the other results in a mis-interpretation of how to teach students to play games.  The arrows in the figure highlight how the movement in games teaching is aimed at the gray shaped area between “techniqueskills” and “tactical” persepctivesfocuses, we call this the “tactical-to-skill” domain.  The As suggested by the TGFU approach strives for this “tactical-to-skill” domain, emphasizing tactical awareness before skill learning, not tactical understanding instead of skill learning.   Supported by and highlighted by the information processing and dynamic system theories, the key to learning games as Chandler (1996), Thorpe, (1990) and Thorpe & Bunker (1989) all suggests is that the TGFU promotes games by using the self-propelling motivation of games to foster increased skillfulness. is to learn a tactical awareness of playing the game to frame skill acquisition and developmenmt.

We recommend that find that when teaching games practitioners should use we move around the model in Figure 1 as a guide.  As the arrows indicate the teacher should , adapting the lesson to try to shift learning into the play rich area of the “tactical-to-skill” domain.   When teaching games the lesson to try to shift learning into the play rich area of the “tactical-to-skill” domain.  iIt is too easy to focus on content, believing you are teaching tactics or techniques, when in reality you are covering material but not engaging the learner.  In the "tactic-to-skill" domain the tactical awareness creates the need to learn skills.   A teacher should use a modified game to frame game playing in a tactical awareness problem associated with the “Tactical progression” area of Figure 1.  If the game is too complex, or students do not realize the tactical needs of the game (“Tactical non-learning progression), then the teacher must adapt game structures, with the goal of making the game play (Hopper, 1996).  At this point students may need to simply repeat a familiar skill to automate it for use in the game (“skill learning progression”), before return back to the modified game.  Once students realize the skill they need to play the game then a new skill or refining skill progression can be developed with skill learning following the insights offered by the skill acquisition theories.  If skill practice lacks a tactical frame then it can sink into the skill non-learning progression” where students practice but without meaning with a limited chance for the skill to transfer into the play of the game.  At this point a modified game is needed to reframe the learning process.  This process of games adapted to players needs and skill progressions develops student meaningful skill improvement, leading to students shaping their own practice, and in time learning to modify games to suit each others playing abilities., thus as [Chandler, 1996 #45] suggests TGFU promotes games by using the self-propelling motivation of games to foster increased skillfulness. 

Initial interest in the TGFU approach started in the UK with teachers researching their own practice in an attempt to improve games teaching (Almond, 1986; Burrows & Abbey, 1986; Jackson, 1986).   Experimental design research comparing skill based lessons to tactical based lessons, have tried to inform knowledge of teaching games but separating the approaches is questionable and artificially simplifies the complexity of games teaching (Rink et al., 1996).  More research describing and documenting the learning experiences of children in a TGFU program of instruction would offer a clearer insight into the benefits and problems of this approach.  We need PE teachers willing to take the challenge of committing to a TGFU approach in their games curriculum with the goal of assessing long term cognitive, social and physical learning outcomes for students.  We hope this paper will encourage PE teachers to take on the challenge.

(What we still need to do is answer the question of when tactics & skills should be introduced. I think we’ve established a pretty good case for suggesting that tactical awareness should precede technical work in order to establish a framework in which to understand what you’re trying to achieve, which skills are needed, why they are important, what needs to be practiced, etc.)


Text Box: Content emphasisText Box: Student emphasis





















Figure 1 – Games teaching mMeaning matrix:  C for the contrasting learning in a  meanings of a technique focus compared and to a tactical focus for teaching games




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