Game Sense: Innovation or Just Good Coaching?
Light, Richard, Journal of Physical Education New Zealand
Although Game Sense is fundamentally very different to directive, technique-focused approaches to coaching many of the ideas that Thorpe brought with him had long been used by successful coaches in Australia as a means of replicating game conditions. While the literature on contemporary approaches to coaching (such as Game Sense and Teaching Games for Understanding) typically contrasts them with purely technique-based, directive approaches this dichotomy neither adequately reflects the proper relationship between approaches nor does it represent the state of coaching in Australia. Typically, coaches adopt a more varied range of approaches across a spectrum of approaches from 'traditional' technique-focused, coach-centred to purely game-based coaching. From this perspective can Game Sense be seen as an innovative approach to coaching or is it just good practice?
The literature on games approaches to coaching and physical education teaching such as Game Sense typically contrasts them with purely technique-based, directive approaches (for example, see Turner & Martinek, 1992). However, this dichotomy does not adequately reflect the real relationship between the two approaches. Nor does it adequately represent the state of coaching in Australia and other countries. Some coaches (and teachers) do continue with a very coach-centred, authoritarian, technique-based approach of drilling technique out of the context of games while many others emphasise the development of technique yet incorporate games into their coaching regimes. This dichotomy also misrepresents the relationships between thinking and moving, between skill execution and understanding, and the practice of Game Sense by implying that it neglects technique. Skill is developed in Game Sense but is developed contextually and is less explicit than approaches that focus strongly on technique. From my own experience of coaching and working with coaches I would suggest that coaching practice in Australia, and elsewhere, is not cleanly split between technical and tactical approaches and the research drawn on in this paper supports this contention. It would be more accurate to view the range of coaching practices adopted across the wide range of different sports played at different levels as covering a spectrum of approaches ranging from purely technique-focused, coach-centred coaching to completely game-based, playercentred coaching. From this perspective we may well ask, can Game Sense be seen as an innovative approach to coaching or is it just good practice?
In setting out to answer this question this paper examines the development of Game Sense in Australia and its use by Australian coaches. It looks at the relationship between technique and tactical understanding, the ways in which a range of coaches use games in their coaching regimes and the distinctive pedagogy embedded in the Game Sense approach. In doing so it draws on research conducted over 2002 to 2003 on Game Sense coaching in Australia. This research is reported on more fully elsewhere (Light, 2005). It examined what Australian coaches felt Game Sense had to offer and the challenges involved in its implementation and illuminated the range of approaches adopted by practising coaches under the broad umbrella of Game Sense.
The development of Game Sense in Australia
Rod Thorpe regularly visited Australia from 1994 to 1998, where he worked with the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) and Australian coaches to develop a systematic coaching approach based on the TGfU model known as Game Sense. Successful Australian coaches were already using many of the ideas and practices that Thorpe brought with him. Thorpe, however, provided a structured approach and a focus on questioning. He worked with local coaches to modify the TGfU model to suit Australian coaches and to make it more appealing to them. The name Game Sense was seen to have more appeal than TGfU and to distance coaches a little from physical education teachers (Light, 2004). …