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4 stages to Coach effective Game Based Practice

A Game-Based approach to coaching is a method which provides the promotion of understanding and development of sport by focusing on development of thinking through problem solving under pressure. Coaches should incorporate the use of a variety of games and activities thereby deliberately creating a chaotic environment rather than a planned/structured one. This allows players to learn through discovery, experimentation, experiencing failure and also how to deal with dislocated expectations, providing players with the confidence to take ownership of their decisions leading to creativity and innovation and ultimately success as a more innovative player. There are four levels to the game sense approach that coaches should try to follow:

1. Design, create and implement the learning environment

This is a critical element in the employment of game sense coaching. As a coach you are a teacher. If a student/player is presented with an environment that they do not like, or one in which they feel uncomfortable, the learning experience will become tedious and hence more difficult. The student needs to be ‘fungaged’ (Having fun whilst being fully engaged in the activity). The more fungaged the learner is, the more they are likely to invest in their learning, and hence the easier it is to teach.

2. Questioning

- to support learning

- for understanding

- for problem solving

- for engagement

- for action

Players should be challenged and questioned in order to allow them to start thinking. The more a player thinks the more he/she will understand the game. Even if players don’t immediately know the answer to a specific question, the experience is not lost. There is a part of the brain that never switches off. Have you ever been lying in bed or standing in the shower and the answer to a previously posed question or challenge seems to appear from nowhere; or you get an idea and say to yourself ‘Wow where did that come from?’ This “unconscious” problem solving part of your brain never switches off, thus the more effective or penetrating questions asked, or challenges presented, the more you can stimulate the student’s brain.

3. Provide tests, challenges and hardships for problem solving and independence

It’s no good just thinking, talking and understanding how something works if you never put this new found knowledge into practice. The more players ‘DO’ the greater their chance of success will be, and they will also get a greater sense of fulfilment, pride and motivation if encouraged to solve a problem themselves rather than being presented with the answer or solution. It is important however to balance the amount of success and failure in the experience since each player is different, and failure tolerance levels will inevitably vary.

4. Provide internal supportive system

Players have to be able to trust players and coaches around them, and be absolutely confident in the knowledge that they “have their back”. Failure in some form is inevitable in a training/coaching environment, and is also valuable as part of the learning cycle. It requires players to speak, question and challenge, but it is important that this opportunity is presented without the fear of players getting “shut down”. The player has to be comfortable enough with the support system that they can take calculated risk without fear.

Coaches that provide players with game based practice that are often chaotic are on their way to being an effective coach. This approach allows players to learn implicitly whist also having fun. Much of everyone’s lives is dictated by someone else’s actions or instructions, whether at home, in school in the work place. Putting players through drill based sessions with explicit instructions will slow down learning and minimize motivation of players.

Through Game Based Practice (GBP), players learn to find solutions for themselves and from each other rather than from coaches. They are empowered to make decisions for themselves and become self-reliant as a team. By using the ‘game’ as the ‘teacher’, decisions become automatic rather than robotic promoting creativity and flair such that players see themselves progress and grow with an accompanying increase motivation and player investment. The benefits of GBP may take a little time to manifest themselves, so coaches wishing to implement GBP effectively will have to be patient.

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