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Coaches Blog

Sam's Blog is a bi-weekly addition to the US Youth Soccer Blog. Sam Snow is the Coaching Director for US Youth Soccer.

 

Teaching Games for Understanding

Sam Snow

Recently I attended the fourth International Conference for Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) in Vancouver, Canada. Over 300 people from 26 countries were in attendance to exchange research, new ideas and to make professional connections. Some of the attendees are physical education teachers and some are coaches. All of them recognize the validity of the approach of teaching athletes how to play a sport through the use of games that get them to think and thereby have a 'feel' for the sport. We already advocate the use of game-like activities in training for soccer. We teach much of the games approach in the U.S. Soccer National Youth License course that is delivered by US Youth Soccer. Here for you then is a sampling from my notes from the conference.
 
To teach well within the method of TGfU the coach must know the topic very well. Consequently our coaches who should be able to use this method the best are the most experienced and educated ones. The experienced coach shapes the game. If it's a good game then learning will take place – observational learning. However, even relatively novice coaches can use portions of the TGfU approach in their training sessions. 
 
If a coach has any doubt about what he's doing then he'll fall back on what he already knows; his previous knowledge and experiences. These tools are usually then the command style with a drill approach to coaching. Those approaches when used predominately in soccer training tend to produce robotic players. They are technically competent, but not masterful and they are adequate tactically, but not savvy. The guided approach within the TGfU model tends to develop players who are more intuitive (tactical awareness) about their sport.
 
TGfU = Games Sense and Games Concept
 
Tactical Awareness = core principles of play, problem solving, guided discovery with a coaching method of "Don't tell me – show me."
 
What are the stages of tactical development? How do they lead to tactical awareness? It begins with physical activity which leads to intrinsic motivation so the practice environment is of huge importance. The TGfU approach produces greater intrinsic motivation over the skills based approach. Girls respond well to the task approach and boys prefer an ego orientated environment. In other words the performance versus outcome culture in sports. Part and parcel with our sports culture is the belief of many coaches that skills must come before tactics when in fact we could approach soccer from the other direction. This is the idea of developing soccer literacy with our players. Some traits of being soccer literate include playing with poise, confidence and enthusiasm. Within the concept of soccer literacy are the metacognitive processes of critical thinking, problem solving and decision making. Key goals of soccer literacy include enhancing overall performance, enjoyment, creativity and autonomy. The skills based approach to coaching soccer had focused on block practice. In the games-like approach that US Youth Soccer advocates skills practice is done in a random practice fashion. The immediate effects of practice (random or block) are similar, but long-term retention shows lasting affects with the random approach. Children report that games (random) as more stimulating than drills (block).