TGfU: Back to the Basics


On Feb 11 2013, Dr Len Almond came to the university to talk to our students about TGfU, the original ideas that informed the approach, and where he felt we should be going in the future. It was a very stimulating talk, and I’ve tried to summarise what were, to me, the main points below.

  • We need to develop young people who truly understand the nature of games;
  • We need to develop players with game intelligence;
  • We need to help players appreciate the translation of knowledge in games (i.e. when, how and why to use techniques and tactical principles);
  • We need to develop games players who are playful and confident to experiment at will;
  • Good games players need to have tactical understanding AND technical prowess (i.e. what is tactically desirable must be technically possible – Alan Launder in Play Practice);
  • In order to achieve this, we need to  start by teaching children in very basic game forms…

The final point is of vital importance since it is something very few teachers and coaches currently do. Creating developmentally appropriate game forms often means:

> Reducing tactical complexity to make decision making easier (before gradually increasing it);
> Increasing opportunities for success (and therefore building confidence);
> Focusing on a much smaller range of possible techniques than is normal.

This challenge – of creating units of work around very basic game forms – therefore presented the impetus for three weeks of practical work from the students who were given the following practical task:

Create a 6-week unit of work for complete beginners in one of the four game forms drawing on the pedagogical principles of exaggeration, representation, tactical complexity and sampling.

In order to assist them in their task, the students were given a map of the basic tactical principles involved in each sport form along with a slide to suggest ways in which they might modify their games to using the pedagogical principles (see below).

STEP modification slide

Below I have summarised the output under the headings of the game forms. I include the unit plans developed by each group and some videos of selected games they decided to demonstrate.

Target games

The group decided to have a indoor golf-themed unit of work, and devised the following games. Some example videos show how two of the games might work.

Week Tactical principle Game
1 Hand-eye coordination Throwing to targets
2 Stance and footwork Lilly pad putting
3 Calculating distances Cliff hanger
4 Choosing a target River crossing
5 Risk-reward calculations Bunker buster
6 Culmination of weeks 1-5 Create your own mini-golf course

Net/wall games

This group decided to have a tennis-themed unit of work, and devised the following games. Some example videos show how two of the games might work.

Week Tactical principle Game
1 Appreciating court length Long and thin
2 Appreciating court width Short and fat
3 Using court length with racket Length and accuracy
4 Using court width with racket Width and accuracy
5 Stroke accuracy Full court game with targets
6 Culmination of weeks 1-5 Full court game with higher net

Striking/fielding games

This group decided to have a baseball-themed unit of work, and devised the following games. The example videos show how two of the games might work.

Week Tactical principle Game
1 Short fielding Strike out
2 Long fielding Wall catch
3 Base running Running rings
4 Hitting for accuracy Hand squash trios
5 Hitting for power and accuracy Multi(base)ball
6 Culmination of 1-5 Rainbow baseball

Invasion games

This group decided to have a netball-themed unit of work, and devised the following games. The example videos show how two of the games might work.

Week Tactical principle Game
1 Maintaining possession (simple) Keep the ball
2 Maintaining possession (and advancing the ball in areas) Four corners
3 Maintaining possession (against defense) Four corners (overload) 5v3
4 Appling pressure to the ball Four corners 4v3 (or 4v4)
5 Positional play Passing sequences
6 Appling basic netball rules High-5 netball


I also asked that the students to think ahead, into the following few years, to suggest how they might draw on Bruner’s notion of the spiral curriculum to develop a longer-term series of units that, over time, would form a whole school PE curriculum. By way of example, I’ve created an outline for invasion games PE curriculum over three years, below.

Invasion spiral curriculum

The students drew on two main resources for inspiration in developing their units. First, the original text by Thorpe, Bunker and Almond from 1986 that contains example units of work for basketball and tennis; and second, Mitchell, Oslin and Griffin’s 2005 text on Teaching Sports Concepts and Skills.

However, most of their games are original and they tried hard to show how each game met the requirements we’d set out for simple game forms (reduced tactical complexity, more opportunities for success, focus on a small set of techniques). Of course, we’ll never really know if the unit plans are effective until we try them out in schools, but I hope that, if Len were to have seen our games, he’d be satisfied that we were moving in the right direction. That is to say, I hope we’ve been able to capture the original intentions and spirit of the TGfU movement in our short experiment.

‘Spiralling’ out of control? Getting a grip on your coaching curriculum

I was recently at an event for PE teachers, the purpose of which was to collectively design a new curriculum for PE in the county. No small feat! On the day, various groups of teachers were tasked with developing schemes of work for different sports to cover an entire key stage (or three years). Many of the teachers were experienced in such matters, but nevertheless struggled with the task. They tended to fall back on existing schemes for given sports, ignoring, to a large degree, the new guidelines that had been laid out for the new curriculum. What struck me most, however, was the general lack of thought and discussion going on in the room. Much of this was due, no doubt, to the tight time frame allowed to complete the task, but guiding principles were also conspicuous by their absence. So I began to wonder: what could have helped the teachers in their task? And do coaches face the same sorts of problems in organising seasons of work? My answer below is twofold: yes and yes. And to help me answer these questions, I draw on and combine two important ideas in education: ‘the spiral curriculum’ and ‘threshold concepts’.

The Spiral Curriculum

I have to confess, as a young coach I tended to work in a mainly reactive fashion: dealing each week with what went wrong in last week’s game; only working proactively briefly at each end of a season. Even in developmental coaching, I’d rarely plan more than eight weeks at a time, and then it would be based around coaching fundamental skills, one-by-one, in a fairly boring and predictable manner. It was not until I came across the work of the great Harvard educational psychologist, Jerome Bruner, who had much to say about developmental curricula, that I really began to think deeply and coherently about how I organised my terms and seasons of work. One of Bruner’s main insights for me, was the need to think about and focus on what’s really important in learning a subject, right from the earliest contact.

“We might ask, as a criterion for any subject taught in primary school, whether, when fully developed, it is worth an adult’s knowing, and whether having known it as a child makes a person a better adult. If the answer to both questions in negative or ambiguous, then the material is cluttering the curriculum.” (Bruner, 1977: p. 52)

One of Bruner’s most important related ideas was the spiral curriculum: a method of designing a course of work around basic yet fundamentally important and recurring themes in a discipline. Bruner was involved in reforming science education in the US in the 1950s and 60s and applied this concept in the highly successful and acclaimed programme, Man: A Course of Study. Below, Bruner explains how fundamental themes in science might be taught to very young children in an ‘intellectually honest’ fashion.

“If the understanding of number, measure and probability is judged critical in the pursuit of science, then instruction in these subjects should begin… as early as possible in a manner consistent with the child’s forms of thought. Let the topics be developed and redeveloped in later grades… Many curricula are originally planed with a guiding idea much like the one set forth here. But as curricula are actually executed, as they grow and change, they often lose their original form and suffer relapse into a certain shapelessness.” (Bruner, 1977: p. 54)

This ‘shapelessness’ was what I had seen at the teachers’ workshop. I therefore wondered if the notion of the spiral curriculum might have helped the PE teachers develop a more effective and original set of plans to teach three years of basketball, for example, to KS3 children. Here is my sketch showing how the idea of the spiral curriculum could help shape three terms of work in a given sport (figure 1, below).

Figure 1. Spiral curriculum

In the example of basketball, “the main themes” are the fundamental tactical problems common to all invasion games, as shown in figure 2, below. These problems are, of course, very basic and abstract. Most coaches and teachers, however, are well capable of thinking of ways to develop the idea of penetration and scoring, for example, over the course of three terms (or seasons). You may begin by teaching the use of a simple attacking dribble in the 1v1 situation in term 1, before moving towards the performance of a screen and roll in a 3v3 situation by the end of term 3.

Figure 2. Common tactical problems in invasion games

This is all fine in theory, but one thing Bruner doesn’t quite explain is that different learners appreciate solutions to problems and develop skills at different rates and often face barriers to understanding with each journey through a loop of the spiral. To better appreciate how learners move from surface levels of understanding to deeper levels, the notion of ‘threshold concepts’ can be instructive.

Threshold Concepts

Imagine now that we were to zoom in on a single “main theme” from figure 1 (above), let’s say covering defence. Negotiating this problem – how to provide adequate defensive cover when on the opposite side of play to the ball? – is important in all invasion games, but basketball has a particularly useful concept known as ‘helpside’ defence that is taught as part of a man-to-man defensive system. When I first learned about ‘helpside’ positioning at a summer camp aged 15, it immediately transformed my understanding of team defence. Switching between stances and positions as the ball moved from side to side quickly became second nature to me. I also transfered this understanding into football, and quickly became a much better central defender as a result.

Understanding ‘helpside’ defence is therefore a threshold concept, a “conceptual idea that is essentially both simple and memorable and yet also highly generative in that it contains richly layered implications for all kinds of educational contexts” (Meyer & Land, 2006: p. 7). Threshold concepts are like ‘portals to a new and previously inaccessible way of thinking about things’; they lead to seeing things in a new way; and without them, learners often find it difficult to progress to deeper levels of understanding. Without the concept of ‘helpside’, young basketball players often struggle to understand team defence. They are often capable of defending 1v1, but quite useless when required to defend away from the ball. Figure 3 (below) illustrates how the the two ideas – spiral curriculum and threshold concepts – can be effectively combined to plan for the development of learners over an extended period. It effectively depicts a single “main theme” from figure 1, showing how the threshold concept enables the learner to pass into a deeper level of understanding. Without the portal, the learner remains on the surface.

Figure 3. Threshold concept

In summary, threshold concepts are transformative, irreversible and integrative (i.e. they expose a previously hidden interrelatedness of things). All sports contain them and it is incumbent on us to identify them and work out the best ways and correct times to introduce them.

Coming back to my initial problem situation, had the PE teachers in the workshop asked themselves:

  • What are the main themes (or tactical problems) of the sport? And…
  • What threshold concepts will act as the portals to deeper levels of understanding in each theme?

…I believe they would have been in a much stronger positon to create comprehensive, coherent, integrated and exciting schemes of work. This is not an easy task. It requires in-depth knowledge of a sport and the patience to think about and carefully plan a spiral curriculum that meets the needs of a range of learners. However, the value of doing this kind of work cannot be underestimated for teachers and coaches who are serious about facilitating deep learning.


Bruner, J. S. (1977) The process of education. London: Harvard University Press.

Meyer, J. & Land, R. (2006) Overcoming barriers to student learning: threshold concepts and troublesome knowledge. London: Routledge.


Connect with your inner DJ: how’s your teaching tempo?

Some years ago, I recall a student explaining to me about how important he thought “tempo” was to a coaching session. He was doing his FA level 3 at the time and was reflecting on the value of ‘pace’ and ‘connectedness’ in a coaching session. I agreed with him and immediately began to think about what this would mean in practical terms. Since then, I’ve been searching for a metaphor to illustrate the value and nature of tempo in a coaching session and I think I’ve finally hit on one that works.

The DJ metaphor

For a time in her 20s my sister was a professional DJ, jobbing around nightclubs in Leeds. I therefore have a little bit of inside knowledge about how DJs operate. For the purpose of the metaphor, I think it’s possible to summarise a few golden rules every DJ (and, by analogy, every coach or teacher) would want follow in their work:

  1. Connections between tracks should be almost imperceptible to the audience;
  2. Always stay in touch with current trends, and try to mix classics with the current and future floor-fillers;
  3. Build an atmosphere and keep the audience excited about what’s coming next.

We can all think of times where a DJ has failed to do these things: when they’ve messed-up a mix to the jeers of the dance floor; when they’ve played a corny track at the wrong time; when they’ve followed-up a floor-filler with a floor-killer; or, at worst, when they’ve lost the plot altogether and left a period of silence or dead air (the classic wedding DJ error). Equally, I recall nights where the DJ got everything right: engaging a club of thousands of people in hours of seamless, flowing music and dancing, linking classics with contemporary favorites in imaginative and interesting ways. This takes great skill and knowledge, of course, with days or months of preparation coupled with the ability to read the crowd and to react to the ‘vibe’ of any given situation. The same could be said of teaching and coaching, I think, though our jobs are made more difficult by the fact that we need to link together whole series of sessions, often over months of even years.

Why is tempo important?

Since the 1970s, researchers in PE have shown that time is a critical variable in learning. Indeed, the concept of Active Learning Time (ALT), which incorporates time spent engaged in motor tasks (e.g. practicing skills and playing games), non-motor learning tasks (e.g. answering questions), and supporting others in learning (e.g. peer tutoring), has been shown to be directly related to achievement (Van der Mars, 2006). Maximising ALT is therefore important in two respects: first, in a simple sense, more ALT (or ‘time on task’) means more practice time; and second, by reducing time spent inactive, the teacher or coach reduces opportunities for disruptive behaviour. As Lawrence and Whitehead (2010) explain, the more time participants spend inactive the more likely they are to be disruptive; and more disruption requires time to be spent directly managing behaviour, which is not a good use of the teacher’s time!

Research has also shown that, on average, only a relatively small percentage of a PE session is spent ‘on task’. In a review of studies quantifying ALT, Siedentop and Tannehill (2000) found that, as a percentage of total lesson time, ALT ranged from just 10% to 30% on average. Most of these studies use an observation tool called the ALT-PE, developed by Siedentop et al. (1982), which helps to categorise pupil behaviour. Give it a try yourself and see how your sessions compare to the research!

How do we maintain tempo?

So, like the DJ, we can see that it is important for a coach or teacher to have a good tempo to their session. Maintaining tempo maximises ALT whilst minimising opportunities for disruption. But how is it done?

First, there’s the issue of planning and structure. It’s important not to plan a session in ‘blocks’ of activity as the natural breaks between the blocks represent wasted time. There is no reason, for example, why session aims and outcomes cannot be communicated during a warm-up; and no reason the warm-up cannot evolve into an initial game activity, without a break in play. To the DJ this is just good mixing.

Second, it’s possible (and desirable) to instruct and feedback during an activity, rather than stopping it constantly. Even when stopping to ask questions, you can have participants work in small groups to solve problems and demonstrate to one another. Or, when working in pairs, participants should be encouraged to engage in observation, analysis and peer-coaching when inactive. This is still considered ALT. The challenge is to ask yourself at every turn: “could I find a way to instruct, feedback on, or change the activity without stopping it?”

By way of illustration, the two models below represent two very different ways of structuring and delivering sessions. As you can see, the stacking/layering approach, though perhaps more challenging, would certainly have a better tempo with fewer breaks and much smoother transitions within and between learning activities.

Another point made in the research, however, is that ALT, in itself, is not sufficient for effective learning. Indeed, Lawrence and Whitehead (2010, p. 99) warn us not to focus too much on organisation and management, but to “see them as providing time and opportunity for effective teaching and learning to occur”. So, in order to increase the efficacy of ALT, ‘time on task’ is best coupled with particular instruction techniques and formats (Van der Mars, 2006). In particular, curriculum models such as Teaching Games for Understanding and Sport Education have been shown to be successful, as has peer tutoring. It is also important to set appropriately challenging tasks so that when ‘on task’, participants are engaged and not simply going through the motions.

These points are reinforced by recent guidance from Ofsted that details the characteristics of ‘outstanding’ teaching in PE (these guidelines also govern sessions delivered by coaches and came into force in 2012). I have abridged the rather long document in the table below and highlighted those points that illustrate the importance of providing opportunities for pupils to work independently and engage in peer-evaluation activities.

Outstanding teachers will…

So that pupils can…

  • Communicate high expectations, enthusiasm and passion.
  • Demonstrate high levels of confidence and expertise in both subject and pedagogical knowledge.
  • Use a wide range of imaginative resources and teaching strategies to stimulate pupils’ active participation.
  • Use ICT to support observation and analysis.
  • Ensure pupils of all abilities learn new skills and are able to link them to sequences or tactics.
  • Encourage non-performing pupils to engage purposefully with other roles.
  • Give pupils frequent opportunities to assess their own and others’ performances and make suggestions for improvement.
  • Demonstrate independence of thought and initiative.
  • Work constructively with others.
  • Learn, practice and apply skills in a range of contexts.
  • Independently explore and experiment with techniques and tactics.
  • Show imagination and creativity.
  • Demonstrate leadership skills and competence in a range of roles.
  • Demonstrate high levels of physical fitness and excellent work ethic.
  • Show confidence in evaluating and adapting performances.
  • Show passion and commitment to the subject.
  • Show excellent behaviour, keenness and commitment to succeed.
  • Show ability to grasp opportunities to extend and improve performance.

Underpinned by an outstanding curriculum that…

  • Is broad and balanced, imaginative and stimulating.
  • Is designed to match the full range of pupils’ needs.
  • Is linked with the initiatives of other local schools and the wider sporting community.
  • Enables pupils to reach a high level of performance in a range of physical activities.
  • Provides a programme of accredited courses including sports leadership and vocational options (secondary).
  • Has a strong health and safety education ethos.

So, to put this all rather simply: those old, blocked sessions filled with stoppages and lengthy speeches simply won’t cut it anymore (at least not as far as Ofsted are concerned). We all need to start connecting with our inner DJs: delivering smooth and seamless sessions, packed with floor-filling activities and layered with incidental reinforcement, quality questions and peer tutoring. In this way we might all be able to get the next generation dancing to a different beat.


Lawrence, J. & Whitehead, M. (2010) Lesson organisation and management, in Capel, S. & Whitehead, M. (Eds.) Learning to teach physical education in the secondary school: a companion to school experience. London: Routledge.

Van der Mars, H. (2006) Time and learning in PE, in Kirk, D., O’Sullivan, M. & MacDonald, D. (Eds.) Handbook of physical education. London: Sage.

Siedentop, D. & Tannehill, D. (2000) Developing teaching skills in physical education. McGraw-Hill.

Siedentop, D., Tousignant, M., & Parker, M. (1982). Academic learning Time – Physical Education Coding Manual. Columbus: The Ohio State University.

Developing decision makers in invasion games

Some weeks ago I was asked by the FA to deliver a CPD session to the FA Tesco Skills coaches at their national training event at St George’s Park. The session went ahead earlier this week and I thought I’d try to capture my thoughts on the matter here so they don’t escape from my head…

The session was all about how to teach decision making in invasion games, specifically basketball (and how it is similar to football). I was aware that the audience were mainly working with 5-11-year-olds, an age where decision-making is rarely the focus of coaching sessions. However, I also knew that the coaches were highly educated and qualified and knew about different teaching models and the use of questions.

I separated my session into three main parts which I’ll address below in turn. The presentation from the session can be viewed here.

1. The tactical structure of invasion games

We began with a discussion of the similarities and differences between basketball and football. Both sports are invasion games, of course, and therefore share deep tactical similarities in terms of the problems they pose to players. The following tables, derived from the wikicoach website, illustrate this point well.


It is clear that the two sports share common tactical problems and also some skills and movements, particularly in defending. However, we also discussed and noted some key differences that should act as warnings for coaches who want to encourage positive transfer. Foremost among these differences are:

  • The number of players and the size of the playing area;
  • The use of hands (and therefore control over the ball);
  • The speed at which teams are forced to attack.

A basketball team has five players, all of whom attack and defend in a relatively small space. A team must shoot within 24 seconds of gaining possession and may only take 8 seconds to get the ball over the half-way line, over which they are not allowed back. All of these rules make basketball a much faster and more immediate sport, where players are under constant pressure when in possession of the ball (due to the space and time constraints). In this respect, playing basketball may help condition football players to be more comfortable with the ball when under pressure; to make fast decisions at both ends of the floor; and help condition footballers in defensive movement, as the ball can be moved much faster in basketball. It was with this possible positive transfer in mind, then, that I approached the FA Skills coaches with a problem that I believe to be pivotal in teaching both games.

2. The problem: how do we reduce the options (and therefore decisions) that invasions games pose to players?

When presented with a game of basketball or football, young players (or beginners) often struggle to make decisions due to the dizzying array of stimuli and options the games present. In any given second, you may need to pay attention to three or four players (often moving quickly), the ball, the goal and your own position relative to these stimuli. The aim of both games is to score more goals or points than the opposition, and scoring often requires the coordinated actions and movements of a number of players over a short period of time. This is clearly very difficult to do, especially when faced with an opposition team who are doing everything in their power to stop you. This problem of learning how to create clear-cut scoring opportunities via coordinated movement and effective decision-making is one to which basketball coaches have generated various solutions. A critical discussion of these solutions formed the basis of the middle of my session.

In short, and looking only at offensive aspects of the game, basketball could be said to have developed three different kinds of solution:

  1. Streetball: this is effectively a flat out rejection of the possibility of systematising offensive movement. Streetballers play games with few rules and limited numbers (often 2v2 or 3v3) and rely on instinct and individual creativity for scoring. Many children are first exposed to basketball in this way and the game undoubtedly encourages and engenders experimentation and playfulness. However, making the transition into organised 5v5 basketball can be a problem for streetballers. Coping with the larger spaces and increased numbers of players places high demands on decision-making.
  2. Sets: possibly the most common solution to the problem is for the coach to take decision-making out of the players’ hands altogether. Set plays are possible and popular in basketball due to the factors noted above (ball in hands, fewer players, time constraints). However, set plays are predictable and players who develop in such systems do not learn how to make decisions in dynamic circumstances. Developmentally, teaching offensive principles and skills through set plays is counter productive.
  3. Principles: in response to the predictability of sets, some coaches have developed offensive systems based on principles rather than rules. One recent example is “Read & React” (R&R): a system developed by Rick Torbett under his Better Basketball brand. R&R is marketed as a complete system for developing ‘thinking players’ and also running a team offense. Like similar systems that have come before it (e.g. motion, triangle, Princeton), R&R has a more flexible set of principles players are taught to follow. In this case, it’s all about reading the ball-handler and making a series of reactions based on their movement. For example, if the on-ball player dribbles to the hoop the rest of the team circle away from the ball; if the player dribbles at a teammate, they can choose to set a screen or cut to the basket. The video below contains a more detailed explanation.

Now, I’m sure all these distinguished coaches weren’t paid a penny to endorse R&R. I’m confident that they all really think it’s “groundbreaking”. Yet although R&R is certainly better than traditional Xs and Os, all it really offers is a slightly expanded set of decisions that the coach makes on the players’ behalf. I like to notion of teaching players to read their teammates and to practice varied responses, but this still falls short of teaching decision making. Rather, R&R teaches players to choose among a small number of coach-defined responses in response to artificially simplified stimuli. In short, to the question: how do we reduce the options that invasions games pose to players?, the R&R response is: the coach artificially simplifies the stimuli and possible responses and then drills the reactions until they become habit. This, to me, in unsatisfactory and I explained to the FA Skills coaches that I though there was another way.

3. The TGfU solution and teaching zone defending in basketball

The only other solution to this problem I’m aware of that has some validity is offered under the name of Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU). Since most of the coaches in the workshop were aware of TGfU, I didn’t need to offer much by way of introduction (I’ve already given my own interpretation of TGfU in this blog). I simply explained my own view of how TGfU could assist with teaching decision making. The three core ideas I went on to illustrate in my practical session were as follows:

  1. Modified/simplified games help us to limit stimuli and simplify decision-making in environments that still resemble the ‘real thing’.
  2. Open questions help us to focus learners’ attention on the tactical problems that games present (e.g. how to apply pressure to the ball?)
  3. Mistakes are inevitable and natural and must be seen as learning opportunities by both coach and player.

The first point here is crucial. Where R&R sees the coach artificially limit options (and decisions), TGfU allows the simplified game to do this instead. The coach’s role, therefore, is to gradually alter the conditions of the game to slowly increase options, making decision-making progressively more difficult. Games are also modified to remove barriers to success (e.g. allowing players to catch rather than dig a downward hit in a 3v3 volleyball game). Taking these ideas on board, I delivered a short session on zonal defending on the futsal court with a group of 10 players (I chose a defensive session since I believe this is where the two sports share the most similarities, both in tactics and movement).

[The activity ideas were inspired by Dennis Slade’s book, Transforming Play, whilst the ideas for structuring the session came from Lynn Kidman’s Developing Decision Makers and Mitchell, Griffin and Oslin’s Teaching Sports Concepts and Skills]

Session aim:

To help players explore the transferable problems of ‘applying pressure to the ball’ and ‘supporting the on-ball defender’.

Session plan:

Component Time Description Questions (possible answers)
Warm-up: Hi-Lo-D 15 mins The purpose of the warm up was to gradually increase the number of stimuli players had to attend to; to have them switch between focussing on specific and general stimuli; and to practice some basic defensive skills and movements. In short, the warm-up was specific to a defensive decision-making session. N/A
Game 1: Four corners 15 mins I split the group into two teams of 5, with 3 players on court for each team (the remain players acted as coaches and could call timeouts). I set out channels of 2m width on each sideline and placed 4 hoops in the corners of the court (half a futsal court) each with a large flexi-cone in the middle. These were the goals. We began play with a basketball. The aim of the game was to score by hitting the cones in the opponent’s half with the ball. Initially, players were not allowed to dribble with the ball (i.e. netball movement was enforced). What sort of shape is best for defending the goals? (triangle: one on ball, one on goal, one covering)
Game 2: Transition 15 mins Once the teams had had chance to discuss defensive tactics and practice the triangle zone, I introduced new conditions: 1) the coaches now become active and play in either channel, receiving an outlet pass after a turnover if possible; 2) if a goal is score after an outlet pass, the goal is worth double points; 3) players are allowed to make a one-bounce dribble (this helps speed up transition play and helps to move the defence). How can you prevent a fast break? (pressure the ball early and prevent the outlet pass)
Game 3: Overload 10 mins The final progression meant that players in the channel could join the attack after passing into a teammate, creating a temporary 4v3. I also allowed players in the channels to challenge one another (they had been uncontested previously). Again, double points were awarded for a transition goal. In this final game we looked at how the defensive team responds to an overload situation. In particular, it is very easy for the offensive team to switch the play to score here, so the defensive team had to find a way to counteract the switch (e.g. slide quickly or rotate roles). Teams were encouraged to experiment with both strategies. How does the zone defence more as the ball moves? (slides as the ball switches; rotation may be necessary to maintain ball pressure)

In conclusion, I tried to explain that the purpose of the session was to demonstrate how modified games can help reduce options and possible decisions in invasion games. Thereafter, by altering conditions to gradually increase the options available to players (thereby progressively increasing the complexity of decision-making), coupled with tactical questions, coaches can facilitate the development of effective decision-makers in both basketball and football.

Making great drills

Why are drills important?

Coming from a TGfU background, there is often little to be said about drills. Games yes, but not drills. Admittedly, it’s much harder to create a great game – one that really effectively overloads tactical decision making of some kind – than a great drill, but repetition is still important for developing what Len Almond calls “technical prowess”. Repetition, in fact, is vital in two ways:

  1. Through repetition, we refine skills and movements, removing unnecessary actions. That’s why well-learned skills look smooth, simple and efficient. In short, drills help us ‘abbreviate’ movement (see Ray Allen’s shooting form in the short video below)
  2. By repeating a movement, we relegate the control of that movement to the subconscious level, making available more of our brain’s resources for decision-making.

So, drills are certainly important for learning, but I tend to only use them after I’ve established where and why a particular skill might be used in a game context.

What makes a great drill?

In my first year lectures, I’ve developed four basic design principles for creating effective drills. If you make sure the drills you use follow these principles, you can’t go far wrong!

  • OVERLOAD – must be involved, often by changing the speed, pressure, resistance, frequency, space etc.
  • REPETITION – the drill should be optimised for maximum group and individual reps.
  • RECYCLE – the end of one phase should be the start of another.
  • SIMPLICITY – quick, uncomplicated explanations; drip-fed progressions.

Here’s my favorite drill as an example.  It’s a basketball shooting drill that can start really simply, but can become highly complex with a high degree of decision-making involved, in addition to the basic repetition.

Quick release trios