Old Wine… New Bottles… DIFFERENT STICKERS…

One of the reasons for writing my Blogs is to share some of the research out there and bring it to life. This Blog Article is inspired by this research article by Stephen Harvey, Shane Pill and Len Almond from August 2017…

“…TGfU has stimulated so much attention, research and debate since the 1980s that it is easy for its origins to become refracted and misunderstood…TGfU was built around theoretical propositions from the work of Bruner on guided discovery…the idea of game modification inherent in the concept (Constraints-led Approach) is far from new.” (p.2/3, Harvey, Pill & Almond, 2017)

Teaching Games for Understanding falls into the HOW Player-centred Coaching. Over the last few weeks I have written about WHY Player-centred Coaching. I will start to shift this now towards the HOW…

Just letting players play the real game doesn’t go far enough. That is part of the learning process and that is what you as coach are preparing the players for over the long-term on a fixture day. BUT… How much learning is going on when players just play the game…?! Are the players being challenged/stretched…?! Are the players getting better Technically/Tactically/Physically/Psychologically…?!

“…strongly guided discovery learning as more effective than weakly guided or ‘implicit’ learning to develop understanding, a central tenet of the TGfU model (Alfieri et al. 2011; Kirschner, Sweller and Clark 2006; Mayer 2004).” (p.3 Harvey, Pill & Almond, 2017)

So the key question to ask yourself as a coach is… “How do you make the complex game simple and translate into meaningful purposeful/deliberate practices that enable a player to play the game well in a match/match situations…?”

Your role as a coach is to observe the game being played and let the players enjoy the game and intervene only to focus on something that improves the game. This is where the Whole-Part-Whole (W-P-W) Principle of Coaching comes in to play, where the “Part” gives you an opportunity to work on an aspect that you’ve identified the players need to work on or is holding back progressing the game you want your players to understand and execute better. The best was to do this “Part” are through Purposeful/Deliberate Practices.

This is where the RFU, the governing body for Rugby Union in England, have done a very good job bringing W-P-W to life for the wider coaching community outside of the teaching world labelling this the ‘Game Zone’ and the ‘Skill Zone’. Although W-P-W is nothing new and has been around for many years in the teaching and coaching world, hence one of the reasons for the title of this Blog Article.

“An artist not only learns his art, he also learns through his art.” (Stenhouse, 1983)
Change the word artist to coach…

The other aspect, which is more to do with the ART of Coaching, comes with experience and trying things, then reflecting on that practice. You will get a game up and running with some basic rules to get the players in the ‘flow’ of a game. During this period you will be using your trained eye and asking yourself various and numerous questions. Then after the 1st 5 minute period you will then tweak the rules to work on the specific outcome/understanding you wish your players to get better at. This will help to remove any obstacles to learning the game. Exaggerating a key aspect/principle will help this process which will facilitate the learning of your players.

“…while ecological dynamics theorists suggest designing representative/exaggerated learning episodes for their students/players is a key feature of the CLA (Constraints-led Approach), this concept is far from new.” (p.6 Harvey, Pill & Almond, 2017)

Inquiry/Problem-based learning is a key part in developing game understanding. From the work of Jerome Bruner in the 1960s, this is where the term ‘Guided Discovery’ comes from and a key challenge for the coach is to represent the whole game in simplified forms that enables the player to build up their understanding of how to play the game. This is important enabling ‘Transfer of Learning’ into the real game. This is where, with Drills, you take out the context of the skill you think you are working on that will help your players but in actual fact they will then have to re-learn the skills you think you have just taught them because they have been learnt out of context. This is backed up in theory through Information Processing…

Another way to look at this is using Bruner’s term of Problem Posing, which sees you as the coach pose a problem for your players to solve. If you are able to create/develop a variety of games based on the ‘Principles of Play’ you want to work on/improve, this will help to challenge your players’ thinking and help them make sense of the games they are playing, to then execute the right thing at the right time in a real game.

“Designing modified game forms aligned to the ‘principles of play’ therefore emerged from the work highlighted above in PE (Bailey, 1982), and in sports coaching through the work of Wade (1967), Worthington (1974), Wein (1973), Bayer (1979) and others in the 1960s-1970s.” (p.6 Harvey, Pill & Almond, 2017)

Using my experiences of coaching in Rugby Union, I’ll share with you an example of the key ‘Principle of Attack’: ‘Run Hard and Fast into Space’. This Principle was inspired while watching the Fiji v. France match in the 2003 Rugby World Cup where Fiji’s Rupeni Caucaunibuca ran down the left wing from his own 22m line to score and the New Zealand’s match v. Wales with Joe Rokocoko weaving his way from the left touchline on the Welsh 10m line back inside to score a try.

So over the last 15 years I have developed these different Conditioned Games that work on developing players’ understanding of running ‘Hard and Fast into Space’ where I manipulate/condition what the defence does and can/can’t do, i.e. constrain the players when defending…

  1. All defenders in the defensive line come into the breakdown, lie on the floor, and can’t defend until the ball has been passed to the 1st receiver;
  2. All defenders in the defensive line go out into the 5m channels, and can’t defend until the ball has been passed to the 1st receiver;
  3. Half the defenders in the defensive line come into the breakdown and the other half go out into the 5m channels, and can’t defend until the ball has been passed to the 1st receiver;
  4. All defenders come into the breakdown and do x number of press-ups, and then can defend;
  5. All defenders go out into the 5m channels and do x number of press-ups, and then can defend;
  6. All defenders come into the breakdown and lie on the floor except 2 defenders who stay out defending, where the defenders on the floor can’t defend until the ball has been passed to the 1st receiver;
  7. All the defenders go into the 5m channels and lie on the floor except 2 defenders who stay out defending, where the defenders on the floor can’t defend until the ball has been passed to the 1st receiver;
  8. Half the defenders stay in the defensive line and the other half run back to their Tryline;
  9. Half the defenders stay in the defensive and the other half run forwards to one of the lines (depending where the breakdown occurs);
  10. Half the defenders stay in the defensive and the other half run towards one of the touchlines (depending where the breakdown occurs);
  11. Half the defenders do 3 Cartwheels back and the other half do a Backward roll;
  12. The players that are in the defensive line pair up each time there is a breakdown and remain paired up until they make a “tackle” and fall on the floor.

Depending on the number of players you have at your training sessions, if you have lots of players, then you can put a couple of Sweepers in 5-10m behind the breakdowns and/or put a Pendulum System in 30-40m behind the defensive line. This means that all the players are involved in the game and not doing nothing.

Also, the higher the number of players you have in your training session, you can have the condition that x number of players will be on the floor in the breakdown each time there’s a “tackle”, otherwise you will have too many defenders out in the defensive line and you won’t achieve the outcome you are hoping for because the pitch will be too crowded along the defensive line so the players won’t gain any successes and thus fuel their Competency need from Self-Determination Theory.

With lots of things within this Coaching Philosophy “it depends”. It depends which game you would use as there are numerous factors at play… e.g. the age of the players, the stage of their development.


Feel free to get in touch with me with questions you’d like answering or a particular topic you’d like to know more about…

I plan to write a weekly article every Sunday evening…

If I don’t receive any recommendations during each week then I’ll pick a topic or an experience to write about to share with you that I hope will help you on your Coaching Journey as one person teachers, two people learn…


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