“Can we play a game?” – as a youth coach, you’ve definitely heard this at least 500 times in a session! You’ve probably heard it a few times each session with adults too, so is it a bad thing?
Often, coaches will dismiss the question until the end, and then it can lack direction and guidance with no connection to the rest of the session.
Games in sessions are often seen as ‘lazy coaching’ but with the correct constraints and conditions, they can be hugely beneficial due to the realism and relation to the game itself. There are many arguments against blocked practices due to the ‘stop, stand still’ nature and limited decision making, although there are the obvious technical benefits due to the unopposed nature… so games… when can they be used?
Well… anytime! According to Martens (2012), Whole part Whole is a style of coaching where you break the skill down to correct mistakes with the intention of improving the overall skill. In coaching terms, start with the game, have your session with its aims in the middle and finish with a linked-to-the-session game to check if any learning occurred (hopefully!). This is one method of a games based approach.
TGfU, (nope, I’m not swearing at you!) is another highly beneficial method. “The Teaching Game for Understanding (TGfU) principle (Bunker & Thorpe, 1982) employs a game led, tactical and problems based approach focusing on cognitive development or game sense, opposing the traditional skills based approach focusing on specific motor response or technique development” – in short, games built around specific learning aims with limited coaching interventions. Pros: Fun and realistic. Cons: Potentially unchallenging for some in limiting environments unless specific constraints or challenges are placed.
How about various forms of SSG’s? They can be linked to any area of football and due to the continued ball rolling time, can be beneficial to learning the game, as well as specific components you may wish to coach. A tactical theme? Condition it in SSG’s. Technical outcomes? Give any of these methods a go!
You do need to coach and there are many times when you need to “stop, listen” and coach your points but can it be done in a punctual and clear way before letting the players do what they want to do, play? 100%! So, don’t worry if people are thinking you aren’t looking “busy”. As long as you’ve planned it, coach what you need to coach and the players are in realistic situations and learning – job done!
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