When learning to play a sport, practices should mirror the conditions of the game as much as possible (e.g., either a modified form of the game or the parent game depending on the previous experiences of the students) and provide students with maximum opportunities to actively engage in the activity (Launder, 2001). Team coaches can direct team members to warm up by practicing the individual techniques of shooting, passing, trapping, serving, and so on.
The focus of the team practice then shifts to developing both technique and tactics by having teams engage in small-sided scrimmages. For example, you can set up practice tasks such that students can develop tactical awareness by having games with uneven sides (e.g., 3v1, 3v2, 4v3). Those same games can be used to focus on teams learning to maintain possession (possession games) or scoring (go-for-goal games) (Launder, 2001). You can organize these so that they flow continuously rather than experience the multiple stop–starts so typical of drill-based technique practice, thus optimizing the time spent in actual practice.
Whenever possible, the practice tasks in the guided-practice format should be designed such that they can be used later on at the team level once teams conduct their own team practices. You can help team coaches develop more focused team practices by providing them with team practice cards. They can then use these cards to organize their team practices. As shown in figure 2.2, team practice cards provide the necessary information for team coaches to organize a modified game, including game rules, suggested variations, scoring rules, and possible questions that they (or you) could ask team members during short breaks in the action.
The practice cards are based in part on the Launder’s (2001) concept of shaping play. Teachers can shape game play by arranging game conditions so that they encourage students to use certain techniques and tactics. For example, in pickleball or tennis, students could play a cross-court versus down-the-line game. One player would earn a bonus point when a winner was scored using a cross-court shot, while the opposing player would earn the bonus point if a shot down the line was used. Thus, game play skills are developed by deliberately modifying any combination of game rules. By using this game-oriented approach to practice, students practice not only the various strokes, but they also decide when the particular shot is best used. Team practice cards should be supplied to teams in their team binders at the outset of the season. You will find several examples of such practice cards in the online resource. As you gain more experience with using a game-based approach to teaching games, you will be able to develop your own practice games.
The free throwers vs. rebounders game example in basketball (see figure 2.3) shows how players are encouraged to practice multiple techniques and tactical moves. Such games provide an excellent opportunity for you to assist team coaches in getting their players to consider how and where they move to create the advantage over the opposing team as well as how and where to pass. Obviously the defense gets ample chances to hone guarding and communication skills.
A variation of the team practice card that could be used with students who have more experience or are more advanced is the use of action fantasy games (see figure 2.4). Launder (2001) introduced the concept of using action fantasy games to enhance play. Using the names of real athletes and teams, you create actual game scenarios that students enact. For example, in a basketball season, you might provide an NBA finals game 7 scenario in which the Los Angeles Lakers are down by four points against the Cleveland Cavaliers with 1:30 left on the clock. A team splits up into two subteams that represent the Lakers and the Cavaliers. The team coach presents the scenario (with any additional rules) to both teams. Each team gets 30 seconds to determine how to approach this game situation, and then the scenario is played out. The scenario could be repeated following another brief time-out during which each team discusses any possible adjustments.
With a little creativity, you can create an endless array of game scenarios that give students the opportunity to come up with their own way of solving the problem presented. For example, in a court game such as tennis or pickleball, you could have Venus and Serena Williams face Kim Clijsters and Ana Ivanovic in a doubles match. Depending on which duo is ahead in the scenario, each needs to approach the game’s situation differently. Notice again how this affords increased involvement by students in how they learn to play the game—within this games-based context, both technical and tactical moves are practiced. Not only do students practice their dribbling, shooting, passing, rebounding, and catching, but they also practice defending, moving off the ball, supporting the ball handler, and making decisions on whether to shoot, drive to the basket, or focus on maintaining possession.
This games-based approach to practicing techniques and tactics has important benefits. First, it affords students the opportunity to engage in game play more often, which generally is more motivating to students. Second, students likely will reach higher levels of physical activity compared with the more static drill-based practice of isolated techniques that is so pervasive in most physical education lessons. And third, the intensity of the physical activity is likely higher during modified games. Especially given students’ natural physical activity patterns, they will welcome brief time-outs during which their team coach (or you) can address aspects of game play by way of a short question–answer discussion.