Teaching Games for Understanding

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The Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) Model is all about the delivery of teaching via a specific game-centred approach method which focuses on developing the learner’s ability to problem solve and decision make whilst in game situations, at the same time promoting tactical awareness. The TGfU Model was first constructed by Bunker and Thorpe in 1982 but has been modified many times since then to ensure easier understanding and implementation of the model.

The original model involved six stages beginning with game play rather than repetitive skill practice, but the new reconceptualised version of the model is mostly focused on just three of the more important stages; modified game play, skill development and tactical awareness through carefully thought out question and answer sessions. Within the model’s development process, four key principles which link game content and game pedagogy by means of modified-game play have been put together. These four principles are Sampling, Representation, Exaggeration and Tactical Complexity (Thorpe & Bunker, 1989).

Game sampling encourages participants to identify differences and similarities between a range of various games and allows for the transfer of tactical knowledge and understanding across the various games. Representation refers to the introduction of a simplified game with the same basic structure and tactics to those of the full game. This simplified game can represent a range of sports depending on the changes made to the rules and so, enables easy transfer of tactical knowledge throughout games in general rather than one specific game.

Exaggeration is the changing of secondary rules to put emphasis on a specific tactical problem. Tactical complexity is all about making the difficulty and complexity of the game relevant to the developmental stage of the participants (Griffin, L. L. & Butler, J. I. , 2005). An example of a session presented using the TgfU model is ultimate frisbee. The teacher delivering the session begins with a modified game in which the rules are altered as follows; All passes must be made below shoulder height.

To score, participants must receive the disc, place it on the floor in front of them and perform a star jump in which their arms go right up above their head before picking the disc up again and continuing on with the game. If however, the opposing team gain possession of the disc (i. e. by picking it up or pushing it away from the person doing the star jump) while the star jump is being performed, the star jump does not count and a point is not scored. As many complete star jumps can be performed for points at any one time as long as the oppositions do not gain possession in the process of the participant doing them.

No obstructions from the disc by means of physical contact are allowed. This set of modified rules forces the participants to gain space to enable enough time for the player with possession to perform a star jump, should they wish to score any points. Once the participants have experienced a game like situation, the teacher brings together the participants and asks well thought out questions to prompt the performer’s to think for themselves and come up with solutions to any problems they found in the game.

From these solutions, the teacher then sets up a drill in which the solutions to the problems the group have just discussed are practiced and developed. One person stands with the disc at one end of a badminton court, another stands at the other end ready to be the catcher. The third person acts as an opposition trying to mark the catcher. The aim is for the catcher to create space (i. e. dummy runs etc. ) in which the disc can be received without interception.

After the skill development, performers are then put back into another modified game situation to put developed skills and tactical awareness into practice. The process of modified game, question and answer, skill development and modified game, is repeated depending on the length of the session. TGfU is a game-centred approach which is very much learner orientated by getting learners actively involved in the learning process. This approach is well represented by the quote “Tell me, I forget… show me, I understand… Involve me, I remember” (Griffin, L. L. & Patton, K. , 2005, page 1).

One of the major benefits most commonly linked to TGfU is the easy transfer of tactical knowledge and understanding across games in the same categories (Dodds, Griffin, & Placek, 2001, Mitchell & Oslin, 1999). The TGfU approach however, over the past two decades has been heavily criticised for the lack of pedagogical research behind the theories but recently many more studies have been carried out to compare the benefits of TGfU to other theoretical models of teaching methods for games.

This research although is supportive of the theory is still quite mixed in terms of whether or not TGfU is more superior or inferior to other models. A lot of research surrounding skill execution in game situations has found no noteworthy differences between performers taught using a tactical approach to those taught using a technical approach (Gabrielle and Maxwell; 1995, Griffin et al. , 1995; Mitchell et al. 1995; Turner and Martinek, 1992; Turner, 1996, cited in Hardy, C. & Mawer, M. However, a hockey study (Turner & Martinek; 1996) did show evidence of better passing execution within a TGfU group than a control/technique group which was claimed to be as a result of the teaching style (TGfU) which was used. To counterbalance this evidence, in the same year, another study, this time in the game of badminton shown the tactical and combination groups to be outperformed by a skill group (French et al. , 1996, cited in Hardy, C. & Mawer, M. ). TGfU is a widely debated model which, like all topics has both its advantages and disadvantages.

The TGfU model is more centred round the development of the performers’ knowledge and understanding of games rather than their technical ability which is the main focus in the traditional teaching models. A lot of research surrounding this theory and how it compares to the technical models of teaching has been inconclusive and open to doubt. However, conclusions do show that the Teaching Games for Understanding model’s methods, whether they have little or no effect on technical skill development, do vastly increase tactical awareness, knowledge and understanding when performers are placed into game situations.

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