Game sense — more than just “common sense”?

I like games; I enjoy modifying games; I do believe in the power of cricket games based learning to develop cricketers who are technically competent, tactically wise and mentally prepared.

But in truth, I do still struggle to understand the many different flavours of games-based coaching.

So I was very interested to listen to a recent podcast* from Risto Marttinen & Stephen Harvey with Shane Pill, of Flinders University, in which Dr Pill explained some of the key features of the Games Sense Approach (GSA) to coaching, and how it differs from Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) and the Tactical Games Approach.

I won’t go into a detailed review of their conversation — listen to the podcast! — but there are a few points that have started to make (more) sense of the various approaches to games-based coaching, for me.

What is The Games Sense Approach?

If TGfU (the prescribed six step methodology, delivered in order) is a process, and the Tactical Games approach is a template (similar to the whole-part-whole coaching model), then perhaps Games Sense coaching is something approaching a philosophy?

Whilst there is a process underlying GSA — [game/activity]-[reflect]-[adapt]-[game/activity]-[reflect]- {and repeat} — the activities and adaptations are (potentially) more dynamic, and (potentially) more individualised than in other games-based approaches.

GSA, if I understand correctly, seeks to develop appropriate adaptation as much as isolated technical or tactical competencies.

What is Games Sense?

“Game sense” (the ‘skill’ that is being coached) might be thought of as “game intelligence” — the capacity of the player to make a decision and his competence to enact that decision.

“Decision making plus movement competence evident in play = Game Sense”

Challenges for coaches in adopting GSA

GSA makes a similar challenge of the coach — to develop and deploy advanced decision-making skills (Observation, Analysis, Questioning, Feedback) plus appropriate pedagogical techniques (appropriate interventions) to support the development of game sense.

Sounds difficult, so it was interesting to hear Shane’s views on how a coach can develop themselves as a GSA practitioner.

Typically, a GSA coach might aspire to be:

  • More pedagogically advanced
  • More organised and with more “tools in the tool box” to react to reflection
  • More knowledgeable of the sport

GSA pushes the coach as an educator but also as the lead learner.

Coach as lead learner

Sessions won’t always run perfectly — an activity might be technically too difficult for the group, or too easy, or too complicated.

And the coach should not be afraid of admitting it — “Sorry, that didn’t work out as I’d expected. I’ll plan something better for next time. Let’s move on”.

It doesn’t actually matter if the coach is not always right.

She should seek to model the adaptive behaviour expected from the players.

Feedback & habits of behaviour

One final titbit — when (and how) to provide Feedback.

Everyone makes mistakes. If a player drops a catch, but catches the next one, they have probably solved their own adaptation challenge.

But if they do not adapt, and drop another catch, and then another, then the coach needs to have a “learning conversation” with her, because there clearly is a habit of behaviour that needs to change.

So Feedback becomes a nudge towards a more appropriate habit, rather than an Instruction to “do it like this”!


*Game Sense with Dr. Shane Pill” is an episode of “Positive pedagogy for sport coaching”, Dr Stephen Harvey’s podcast.

You can listen to it here (or on a range of other podcasts platforms): https://itunes.apple.com/gb/podcast/positive-pedagogy-for-sport-coaching/id1454689265?mt=2&i=1000433505112

The discussion in the podcast takes as its jumping off point Shane’s 2016 paper on implementing the game sense coaching approach.

Pill, S.A. (2016). Implementing game sense coaching approach in Australian football through action-research. Agora Para La Educacion Fisica y el Deporte, 18(1) pp. 1-19.

You can access the paper here: http://uvadoc.uva.es/bitstream/10324/23806/1/AEFD-2016-1-implementing-game-sense.pdf 

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