Many traditional physical education lessons focus intently on movement or motor skill development because these are seen as the building blocks of improved performance. However, teachers of these lessons usually assume that the students can see the connections between these skills and the games they are playing; they also often assume that this connection is so obvious that the students will put effort into developing their skills in drills and other small group activities before they have even played a game. However, in these typical situations, there is little or no team affiliation, and there is no season; thus many students see this form of skill development as something they just have to do for the teacher in order to stay out of trouble.
When team performance in the game is analyzed, a key area that is usually identified for improvement, apart from tactics, relates to skills. Students should be given the time to think about which skills are important to the game via the Game Skills Review. The skills that the teacher deemed must be included in the game when it was created should be amongst these. Other skills will, of course, also emerge as important in relation to the design of the class game.
Game Skill Analysis and Feedback
When students realize that they, as a team, need to develop a particular game skill in order to improve their team’s performance in a season of games, then they are usually much more motivated to engage in the effort required for practice. But improving performance of a game skill usually involves more than just doing it repetitively. It requires developing a better understanding of how the skill works (the techniques of the skill) and receiving feedback on how the student is actually performing the techniques.
The basic techniques or parts of a game skill are usually fairly obvious to students, and yet they are often conveyed to students as if they are teacher-derived facts to be learnt. This situates these techniques outside the everyday experience of young people. However, these techniques are familiar to many of them although many would not have stopped to observe and think about them.
Thus the first task in helping students to develop a game skill is to have them observe each other executing it in a controlled setting, such as throwing a ball to a partner to catch and return (or passing and receiving for older students). In this early analysis, the situation they observe will be fairly static: standing still. As their understanding progresses, these observations may be more accurately contextualized in mini-games and eventually in the season games. You will probably find that when the skill is contextualized in the game it changes subtly (or even significantly). This is why we have called them game skills rather than fundamental or foundational skills.
When students are observing each other, they should be watching the main parts of their teammate’s body for what is going on:
Eyes—where are they looking or what are they looking at?
Arms and hands—what are their arms and hands doing?
Legs and feet—what are their legs and feet doing?
Torso—what is the main part of their body doing?
These observation activities can involve experimentation; they shouldn’t simply be aimed at somehow determining the right answers. Trying different ways to perform the skill by doing different things with eyes, arms and hands, legs and feet, and torso, involves much more thought. Students will recognise amongst their teammates and classmates a range of techniques from which to choose. And for older students especially, it should become apparent that different techniques, even though part of the same skill, may be better used in different parts of the game. For example one type of throw may be important when scoring, another type when passing.
Drawing stick figures to portray the movement can be helpful. This is a task that could be supported by teams using their whiteboard and then sharing these drawings in class, for instance by the teacher taking photographs of the whiteboards and displaying them on a large screen. Multiple versions of this sheet can be used for the same game skill as students refine their understanding of this skill as it is used in the game.
Once the skill has been analyzed in a basic way, students in their teams can be asked to develop ways of practising this game skill. These activities may be drills or mini-games. The important thing is for the activity to involve repeated use of the skill in ways that are similar or identical to those of the class game. During these activities, students can be watching each other perform the skill.
Curriculum Integration Activity
Students can use a technology tool such as a digital camera, flip camera, video camera or something similar to record each other performing the game skills. Create a checklist of all the steps required in the skill and rate each other on each performance against those steps.