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Teaching ‘game sense’ the key to team sport training

Thursday, August 2, 2012
Teaching ‘game sense’ the key to team sport training

Drills are out and game simulations are in – according to new research on sports coaching by a Massey University researcher.

Dennis Slade, of the School of Sport and Exercise, is a world leader in the area of “games for understanding” – a technique that uses simple versions of games to teach, rather than skills exercises and drills.

He is completing a research project studying the coaching techniques employed by the top international hockey teams at last year’s Champions Trophy event. Mr Slade interviewed the coaches of the eight teams and observed training sessions.

“Seven of the eight teams there all used this empowering technique,” he says.

“Giving players ‘game sense’ – where they know exactly what to do in any situation – is the key.”

The best team in the world, Australia, based all of its practice around scenarios from games. “They made up scenarios that reflected an aspect of what happens in a game. Then, when you watched the actual game, you could see those scenarios playing out.”

Australia practiced various versions of these scenarios, Mr Slade says. “It ensured their attack was not predictable and therefore difficult for opponents to prepare for. Their approach also forces opponents to have flexible attacking and defending options too – not something you can achieve through a drill.”

Some teams, such as Australia, placed an emphasis on attack while others, such as Germany or Spain, focused on defence and counter attack, he says. “But they all used this ‘game sense’ approach to training.”

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Pakistan was the only team at the tournament that used repetitive drills as the main training device. “It was evident that the team was not responding as well.”

He carried out this same research in 1999 and drills were the main training technique used then. “For example in a goal scoring drill, players would run up unopposed to the goalkeeper and try and score a goal – now this rarely happens in an actual game. It bears no resemblance to the game at all.”

Now, practice better reflects what happens in a game and these repeatable scenarios give players the field vision and understanding required to make the right decision at the right time, he says.

The research, funded by SPARC, was presented at the Teaching Games for Understanding Conference at Loughborough University in the United Kingdom last month.

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