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Why use a Games Based Approach?

Players are required to make numerous decisions within a game. Unlike drills, which tend to be repetitive, follow a particular mattern of movement and are coach directed, the decisions that the players make in games are not pre-determined and the outcomes are uncertain.

Games provide excitement through their realism and they engage. They can be manipulated to challenge the players appropriately. Games give the players the opportunity to develop their craft for the match.

At the Games Development Conference in January 2017, Limerick Senior Hurling Coach, Paul Kinnerk outlined his philosophy behind using a Games Based Approach.

(Relevant clip is from 3m 32s to 12m 39s)



There are 3 aspects to the Games-Based approach promoted by the GAA.  

  • Firstly on a macro level the coach uses training sessions in between games to help players improve upon aspects identified in the games as requiring attention.
  • Secondly the coach applies a philosophy of emphasising games-based activities in their coaching sessions. The coaching process should start with the Game and when necessary the coach “Freezes” the Game and using the appropriate activity from the Coach10 Activity Wheel (see below) they “Fix” the skill before going back to play the Game.
  • Thirdly, the Coach uses a 'Guided Discovery' as opposed to 'Instruction' based approach when communicating with players.

What does a Games Based Coaching Session look like? 

A Games-Based Coaching Session follows this basic structure:
  1. Play the Game
  2. Freeze the Game
  3. Fix the Skill
  4. Fuel the Will
  5. Play (Resume) the Game
We use the 'How-to-Coach' Skills throughout this process to gather and share information. They help us to communciate effectively with our players and engage them in effective learning. The 'How to Coach' Skills are:
  • Build Rapport. (Learn more here)
  • Explain (Learn more here)
  • Provide Demonstration (Learn more here)
  • Observe (Learn more here)
  • Analyse & Make Decisions (Learn more here)
  • Generate & Provide Feedback (Learn more here)

You will notice that some of the How to Coach Skills overlap with the stages of the Coaching Process.

How do I make a Games Based Coaching Session work?
1. Play the Game
The first element is to 'Play the Game'. Employing a Games-Based Approach means that as a coach you build your coaching session around games. This is reflected in playing a game in the early stages of the session. Depending on the playing numbers and facilities available to you, this game may be full sided, or small sided, or may have specific conditions attached to the playing rules. Coaches should allow this game to run for 7 - 10 minutes (at least), so that the players have an opportunity to get into the game, and the coach can OBSERVE and ANALYSE and see patterns emerge which may be the focus of subsequent activities.
2. Freeze the Game
Once sufficient time has passed, and the coach has had the opportunity to observe and analyse the play, the coach should 'Freeze the Game'. This means stopping the game, and calling the players together.
Sometimes, where a coach wishes for the overall game to continue, it is possible to 'Freeze the Game' for individual or smaller number of players.
3. Fix the Skill
Once the coach has 'Frozen the Game' and called the players together, collectively players and coaches attempt to 'Fix the Skill' deficit. This refers to identifying an intervention which may solve a problem which, once rectified, can allow the game to be played at a higher level. As can be seen from the below, the coach can use both DEMONSTRATION and EXPLANATION to get their message across to the players.
Interventions may be related to any aspect of the Total Playing Performance (TPP) Model and coaches can organise particular activities to improve each particular issue. It is the skill of the coach to be able to observe and analyse play and choose an impactful intervention. We use the Coach 10 Activity Wheel to help us identify an oppropriate intervention.

4. Fuel the Will
Having identified the deficiency, and outlined some activities to remidy the problem, the coach will 'Fuel the Will'. Through BUILDING RAPPORT and GENERATING FEEDBACK the coach attempts to increase confidence and motivation.
The process of 'Fuelling the Will' is important, as at this stage of the session a game has been played, some issues identified and interventions attempted. At this stage players are attempting to master the skill required, while dealing with the emotional impact of their performance and any adversity that may arise from play.
5. Play (Resume) The Game
The final step in the Games-Based Approach is to 'Resume the Game'. This involves moving back into the game like format, perhaps restarting the game that was initially frozen, or progressing that game based on the intervention emloyed.

How do I decide on the intervention or the type of activity to be used?
The intervention employed after you 'Freeze the Game' should be focussed on the issue that you identified. The activity type chosen is dependent on the context, i.e. whether you are dealing with Child, Youth or Adult players and also on the intervention needed. 

How do I Adapt an Activity to change its focus?
To adapt any activity to suit the intervention required, coaches can use the STEP method. STEP is a method used to adapt the practice in order to meet the needs of the group or a specific player. Adjust any of the following aspects of the practice in order to present different challenges for players and to meet individual player needs:
1. Space
Increase or decrease the size of area
Change the shape of the area (for example, a circle can encourage players to move around an area and not stand in corners as young players may do in a square or rectangle)
2. Task/Time
Increase or decrease the time in which to achieve a target, or the time in activity versus recovery e.g. play for 60 seconds, recover for 60 seconds; play for 60 seconds, recover for 20

Vary the task to meet individual player needs (e.g. try to pass the ball using a different kick)
Suspend some rules – for example, allow players to throw the ball in order to embed the principles of play, then gradually re-introduce the full rules.

3. Equipment
Infferent equipment for individual players. For example, use different size balls.

4. Players
Increase or decrease number of players
Play unopposed, or with passive players
Use different numbers in each team to create over or underload and increase or decrease the challenge.

Can I use a Games Based Approach to coach technical issues?
Gaelic games are among the most technically demanding games in the world. Hurling and Gaelic football stand apart from other sports as, to play the game well, all players - regardless of playing position - are required to master the techniques of the game. Performing the techniques of Hurling and Gaelic football requires excellent hand-eye, eye-foot and hand-foot coordination. The best players are also able to perform the techniques using both sides of their body - their left and right hands and their left and right feet.
Developing the techniques of Gaelic games requires practice. As already outlined, it is the role of the coach to ensure that the activities that take place during coaching sessions are pitched at an appropriate level - high enough to challenge a players’ technical ability, but not so high that the player does not have a realistic chance of success. 
This is not an easy job for any coach, and even the most experienced coaches can get it wrong from time to time. To assist coaches, the GAA has outlined the Coach 10 Activity Wheel, which identifies progressive forms of activity which the coach can use in coaching sessions. Within each different type of activity, coaches can increase or decrease the difficulty using a simple formula – the STEP formula.
Prof. Niall Moyna has discussed such issues related to skill development through the game at the Games Development Conference in January 2017:
(Relevant clip is from 15m 25s to 27m 21s)

Can I use a Games Based Approach to coach decision making and team play?
Again, yes. The Games Based Approach is a key element in coaching tactical prowess and team play. Tactical Prowess is the ability to weigh up match situations and decide on what option to take and when to take it - for example, to shoot for a score, carry the ball, pass it on or play it into space when in attack; or place the opposition under maximum pressure when defending.
Tactics are a set of plans designed to maximise your strengths or target an opponent’s weaknesses to gain an advantage in a match situation. Developing Tactical Prowess is about enabling your players to make good tactical decisions on the field of play. A lot of emphasis is placed on developing the technical abilities of players - especially at younger ages. As the players develop and are exposed to more competitive situations, the coach should focus on the development of decision making and problem solving skills - developing the players Tactical Prowess.
In order to develop Tactical Prowess, it is important that the players have the ability to perform the techniques of Hurling and Football. This will ensure that in any given match situation, the player will have the ability to perform any technique correctly. In analysing any match situation there are two key questions to be asked:
  • Did the player choose the correct technique to perform?
  • Did the player perform the technique correctly?
If the player chose to perform the correct technique i.e. play the ball to a team mate first time instead of taking possession, but performed the technique incorrectly there may be a problem with that players Technical Proficiency. If the player chose to perform an incorrect technique for the situation that was facing him/her, (but performed the technique correctly) the player needs to develop their Tactical Prowess. In order to develop a players Tactical
Prowess, there are a number of different types of activity that can be performed.
When players understand the problem that faces them in the game situation, and have the appropriate knowledge available to them, the player is ready to make the appropriate tactical decision to give his/her team an advantage. In Hurling and Gaelic football it is rare that a player will have a prolonged period of time for this process to occur. Therefore the best way of developing a players decision making skills is to expose them to game situations in training. 
Developing Tactical Prowess
Making good decisions on the field of play involves using a set of tactical skills that can be developed with good coaching. To develop tactical prowess, players need to have the ability to read the play or situation, develop the knowledge needed to make the correct tactical decision and apply their decision making skills to the on field situation.
  • Teach the Tactics – in whole, then in part
By teaching the overall game tactics and then breaking the tactic down to its constituent parts players can see how they fit into the overall game plan, rather than teach each player their role and then outline the overall game plan.
  • Observation
Players can observe both themselves and other players in game situations, and the decisions that they make in each situation and analyse the options available, the decisions made and the outcome of the decisions. This can also help players to establish the tactics employed by other players and teams, and devise plans to counteract these tactics.
  • Variable Practice
Incorporating the principle of variation into training can result in players being forced into decision making on a more regular basis than if they were performing the same tasks consistently.
  • Controlling feedback
By providing occasional feedback to players in training situations and instead asking questions of them, the coach can compel the player to correct errors themselves, forcing them into the decision making process on a more regular basis. If the coach constantly provides feedback to the player, there is the danger of over analysing the performance (paralysis by analysis), or the player may become reliant on the coach to solve all problems as they arise, depriving them of the opportunity of developing their decision making skills.
Developing Team Play
Depending on your philosophy of coaching, you will have your own opinions as to the best ways to maximize your team’s chances of success. The team strategy you come up with will depend on the skill level of your players and the anticipated strengths and weaknesses of your opponents. Teams who have a clear understanding of their strategy will have a better sense of the kinds of decisions that are consistent with that strategy.
  • Variable Factors
Tactical decisions do not occur in a vacuum but are always made within the context of a particular competition. That context usually varies from one competition to the next because of a number of factors, including the quality of the opponent, pitch conditions, weather conditions, time left in the game, and score. 
  • Presenting Your Team Strategy
Depending on the maturity of the players that you work with, it is a good idea to obtain feedback from some of your players before sharing your strategy with the entire team. Once you and your team leaders have settled on a strategy you think the team can commit to, it is essential to present that strategy in as clear a fashion as possible and then reinforce it on a regular basis. Once you’ve communicated the strategy to your players, remind them of the key ingredients at timely moments during training sessions. 
  • Clarifying Individual Roles and Identifying Strengths and Weaknesses
Players will have a better idea about the most appropriate decisions they should make during competitions if each has a clear understanding of his or her role on the team and an appreciation of his or her individual strengths and weaknesses. You can clarify these issues through feedback between you and each of your players. 
Be consistent in what you say and what you do by giving each of your players a role that conforms to his or her strengths. In addition, you can demonstrate a sincere desire to see your players improve by suggesting some ways each might work on specific weaknesses. 
Damian Young, former Tipperary Hurler and lecturer at Setanta College delivered a session at the 2016 Games Development Conference outlining many of the issues related to developing tactical prowess and team play.
(First Relevant clip is from the Start to 9m 20s..........Second Relevant clip is from to 19m 50s to 29m 09s)