Practice, Practice, Practice: Too Repetitive?

Author: Mark Allemand, ASEP Marketing Director


'Games approach' engages athletes and minimizes boredom

How frequently have you heard athletes say, "I love playing the games, but I hate practice"? Does 'practice' have to be synonymous with tedious drills…standing in line to wait your turn…stifling kids' intrinsic motivation to play?

"There's a quiet revolution going on in coaching," says Rainer Martens, Ph.D., in his book Successful Coaching, Third Edition. "The traditional approach is being ousted by the new games approach," he says, which emphasizes learning the game through game-like practice activities that "create realistic and enjoyable learning situations." Martens says that as athletes play, they learn what to do; this is called tactical awareness.

The games approach, sometimes called "play practice" or "minor games," has been around for 15 or 20 years, according to Jack Halbert, former head of the School of Physical Education and Sports Studies at the University of South Australia and currently of Human Kinetics Australia. Halbert recently visited Human Kinetics/ASEP headquarters in Champaign, Illinois, where he conducted a clinic for ASEP staff members on the games approach.

Two drawbacks to the traditional method of coaching led to the development of the games approach, says Halbert. Coaches were having difficulty motivating athletes and keeping them focused on practice. "While waiting to take their turn in drills, what are boys doing? Kicking each other in the pants," muses Halbert. Also, the drills athletes did perform had little transfer value to the actual sport. "Consequently, there were athletes who did well in practice, but couldn't play the game," Halbert says.

The games approach requires skillful analysis of the game by the coach to structure game-like situations so that players learn what they need to know to play well. Coaches do this using three methods: shaping play, focusing play, and enhancing play.

Shaping play is about teaching through the game. For example, a basketball coach may vary the number of players (three on one, three on two, three on three), size and shape of the playing area (full court, half court), or scoring (reward points for hitting the backboard for younger athletes), to emphasize certain aspects of the game or increase motivation.

Focusing play allows a coach to zero-in on key elements of the game. One technique is the "freeze replay," in which play is stopped and "rewound." By questioning players while replaying a play, the coach is able to help players identify the key components of a good play.

Lastly, a coach may present challenges for athletes to enhance play. By restricting scoring from within the lane, a coach can emphasize perimeter play. Another example would be to emphasize passing by requiring three passes before a player can shoot.

Through shaping, focusing, and enhancing play, the games approach is "a more holistic approach to learning a sport, focusing first on helping athletes understand what the game is all about, and then helping them learn how to play the game," concludes Martens.

Additional Games Approach Resources
ASEP's Coaching Principles course (which features Martens' Successful Coaching as its text), and Coaching Youth Sport courses (baseball, basketball, football, soccer, softball, tennis, volleyball, and wrestling) incorporate the games approach in their curricula. ASEP also offers a line of Games Approach to Coaching Sport videos.

In addition, ASEP's Coaching Sport Technical and Tactical Skills courses (currently under development and available beginning in 2005) all incorporate the games approach and are geared toward high school, Olympic, and club sport-level coaches. These sport-specific, online courses are the third component in ASEP's Bronze Level certification, along with Coaching Principles and Sport First Aid.


Successful Coaching, Third Edition