Book Review: Perspectives on Game-Based Coaching

Game-Based Coaching


I have followed and recognised the quality in Shane Pill’s work for quite some time and encourage others to do likewise. Consequently, I am delighted to bring you this book review on ‘Perspectives on Game-Based Coaching’ published by Routledge in 2021. The following approaches are identified (p. xxiii) as significant variations of this methodology:

  • Teaching Games for Understanding (Bunker & Thorpe, 1982)
  • Designer games (Charlesworth, 1994)
  • Game Sense (Australian Sports Commission, 1996)
  • Tactical Games (Griffin, Mitchell & Oslin, 1997)
  • Play Practice (Lauder, 2001)
  • Game Intelligence (Wein, 2004)
  • Constraints-led (Davids, Button & Bennett, 2008)
  • Play with Purpose (Pill, 2012)
  • Game Insight (Weeldenburg, Zondag & de Kok, 2016)

As highlighted throughout the book and evidenced in my teaching career, game-based coaching (GBC) emphasises the importance of developing ‘thinking players’ and is not only a powerful approach to elicit learning gains but also to maximise enjoyment (and motivation) to play. I am sure most PE teachers and coaches already capitalise on ‘conditioned games’ (Worthington, 1974) as a part of their practice, but are you making the most of these GBC approaches? This book brings together great minds and applied examples of GBC in action through the following chapters:

Chapter Overview

  1. The Game Sense approach as play with purpose by Pill and Suesee

This chapter explores pedagogical concepts, Mosston and Ashworth’s Spectrum of Teaching Styles, the idea of ‘pedagogical toolkits’ and a ‘cluster of teaching styles.’

  1. Digital video games as a game-based coaching tool by Price

This chapter takes an innovative approach whilst considering cognition, metacognition and strategic understanding of games with a focus on Digital Video Games Approach (DVGA).

  1. Developing Thinking Players (DTPTM) by Gordon

This chapter unpicks how DTPTM is an application of Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) with a strong emphasis on sophisticated tactical understanding and decision-making to provide contextualised challenge and enjoyment for the learner.

  1. ‘Because we’re here lad, and nobody else. Just us’: an existential-phenomenological perspective on game-based approaches by Jones and Piggott

This chapter outlines the theory of Immersive Scenario-based Coaching Narratives (ISN) as a way of creating conditioned situations with high stakes and hence decision-making/ risk assessment requirements.

  1. The practical application of immersive game-based narratives by Piggott and Jones

This chapter digs deeper into ISN with worked examples from basketball, football and cricket.

  1. Skilfulness on country: informal games and sports exposure by Evans, Light and Downey

This chapter is based on a three-year study within professional Aussie rules and rugby league where pedagogical approaches were influenced by socio-cultural factors.

  1. Sport in physical education: evidencing learning from employing a game-based approach in badminton by Harvey and Pomeroy

This chapter explores the use of GBC within a primary school setting as a basis for action research through a badminton unit of work

  1. Learning to be a game-changer by Turner

This chapter looks into Game Sense in relation to a specific football coaching session.

  1. Teaching players to think the game: beyond decision making by Gonçalves, Éloi, and Carvalho

This chapter touches on Vygotski’s instrumental theory as it explores the relationship between individuals, interventions and the environment.

  1. Exploring pedagogical tensions: providing practical examples for tennis coaches to navigate a shift to game-based coaching by Hewitt and Pill

This chapter explores the tension between intention, perception and reality when it comes to what pedagogical approaches coaches adopt before providing a helpful collection of practical examples to illustrate the value of a  ‘toolkit’ of adopted approaches.

  1. Exploring coach educators’ experiences with developing game-based coaching by Pill and Reynolds

This chapter digs into the dialogue between two coach educators suggesting that many adopt a pragmatic ‘what works’ for me approach rather than being overly concerned by exact replication of conceptual approaches outlined in literature.

  1. Coaches’ use of game-based approaches in team sports by O’Connor, Larkin and Höner

This chapter brings together the main ideas from within the book and hence recognises the benefits of GBC before providing recommendations for practitioners.

Key Take Aways

We will now deep dive into chapters 1, 3, 7 and 10 which felt particularly pertinent to me in my role as a physical educator. Chapter 1 draws on the work of Light (2013) that suggest ‘four pedagogical principles [that] identify a game-based approach:

  1. Deliberate design of the game as a learning environment (i.e. small-sided and modified games)
  2. Emphasising questioning to promote inquiry and interaction
  3. Promoting inquiry through problem solving; and
  4. A supportive environment’

Pill and SueSee (p. 2) suggest the typical sports session as being fairly linear in format with a number of progressive drills culminating in a game. In contrast, Game Sense Approach (GSA) follows more of a whole-part-whole format where game play starts the session to see the skills in context before breaking them down to improve and finally putting them back into the real game situation. This way of teaching/ coaching results in increased cognitive development than command style/ direct instruction and consequently improved tactical development resulting in ‘thinking players’. Deliberate practice (or purposeful play) is focused towards providing a practice environment that is ‘designed for learning, not just doing (Ericsson & Pool, 2016)’ on page 3 of this book. GSA uses ‘play with purpose’ by refining, adapting and adding to the rules to support technical and tactical development. This chapter also provides a nice exploration of the spectrum of teaching styles (Mosston and Ashworth, 2008) ranging from ‘reproduction’ (copying approaches like command and inclusion style) to ‘production’ (making-up/ designing own solutions using guided discovery or self-teaching). This reminds me of how skilled physical educators and coaches use the STEP principle (Youth Sport Trust) to adapt space, task, equipment and people to differentiate according to individual and group needs.

Chapter 3 explains how DTPTM is distinguished by a very strong emphasis on developing tactical understanding as a priority ahead of skill level or experience. Exploring and understanding why certain decisions should be made in different situations as a foundation before worrying about the psycho-motor skills required to get into that situation are thought to provide challenge, engagement and enjoyment early in the activity exposure. It is explained that by modifying equipment and rules it is possible to give inexperienced and novice players the opportunity to fall in love with the game which will result in later commitment to perfect the skills necessary to play the full version. Throw ball softball and roll-ball hockey are examples of this that I regularly employ before introducing the bat or stick to students. Examples of good questions are shared (p. 25-26) that would take the learner beyond basic recall (e.g. ‘explain why you … What would you do next time?’ or ‘as a team, what do you think should happen next when …?’).

Chapter 7 was of particular interest to me as it describes the approaches and learning taken by a middle-school physical educator who utilised GBAs in a badminton unit as a consequence of stumbling across discussions around ‘models of instruction’ on Twitter. Pomeroy describes how he started the block with game play before working on ‘foundational skills’ such as the drop shot, clear and smash in subsequent lessons and then putting these skills back to work in the full game again at the end of the unit. Pomeroy describes his approach in detail and how he utilised Google Forms based student reflections and SeeSaw to both assess and analyse the success of this approach in terms of student enjoyment and progress. Significant attention given to the affective domain to unpick intrinsic motivation and the specific questions asked were a highlight of this chapter for me. Pomeroy also reflects on the importance of ‘transfer of knowledge’ which, incidentally, will be explored further in my next book club review of Learning That Transfers (2021) by Julie Stern.

Chapter 10 shares the CHANGE IT formula for modifying games as a tool to support practitioners. This formula was introduced by Schembri in 2005 and certainly makes sense as a guide to help teachers and coaches consider what will work best for different groups. It is described (p. 102) as follows:

C – coaching style

H – how to score

A – area or dimension of play space

N – number of players

G – game rules

E – equipment

I – inclusion by modification for learning needs

T – time (length) or the game/ playing time or time permitted in possession.

As explained within the introduction (p. xvii), game-based approaches have been recognised in coaching sport and teaching PE since the late 1960s. In 1967, Wade suggested decision making was the most important factor in developing skill in the game (The FA Guide to Training and Coaching). Consequently, it is essential players understand why a skill is required and this is arguably far more important than how to perform the skill correctly. Hence, GBC has the potential to yield greater results than what David Kirk describes as sport-as-sport techniques focused approaches and skill-drill style direct instruction. That said, high-quality practitioners require a ‘toolkit’ of approaches to utilise as appropriate depending on the outcomes sought and the needs of the group. As Ash Casey puts it, physical educators and sports coaches alike require a ‘Swiss-army knife’ of various approaches and the experience necessary to draw on the right tools at the right time.

Remember, when adopting any new approach to teaching/ coaching, it takes time to practice, explore, and condition students to get the most from that style. If you don’t regularly employ GBC approaches in your practice then I highly recommend taking a look at this book to get up to speed with current thinking, discourse and recommendations before giving it a try for yourself.

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