Developing Thinking Players
The genesis for the Developing Thinking Players (DTPIM) game-based pedagogy (Gordon. 2015) is the Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) model (Bunker & Thorpe. 1982). DTP™ is also aligned with the core tenets of game-based philosophy. Where DTP™ differs from many game-based approaches is in its strong emphasis on developing tactical understanding and good decision-making during the initial stages of learning the game. These two areas are the framework from which a mature sense of the game is developed (Gordon, 2015). Developing tactical understanding and decision-making with players who may have limited skills and/or knowledge of the game is achieved in the DTP™ approach through extensive use of modified equipment and rules. This chapter will describe the DTP™ approach and use coaching baseball/softball as a context to illustrate DTP™ in practice. While baseball/softball is used in this instance, the principles of DTP™ are applicable to most other games and sports.
A tenet of the DTP™ approach is that with modifications to equipment and rules players can develop sophisticated tactical understanding, independent of their levels of skill and experience. For this reason, the DTP™ approach keeps tactical understanding at the forefront of coaching sessions, as this can be the foundation from which all other learning occurs. Tactical understanding is also an area of games and sports that many participants find both challenging and engaging, and gaining tactical appreciation adds an element of enjoyment to the experience.
Strongly associated with developing an understanding of tactics, is the need for players to become good decision makers so they can successfully act on that understanding. To become good decision makers, players need to have opportunities to practice making decisions in authentic practical contexts. This should include having the opportunity to experience the outcomes of their decisionmaking, either positive or negative, and to reflect on what, if anything, they would do differently if they found themselves in a similar situation in the future (Araujo, Hristovski, Seifert, Carvalho & Davids, 2019).
Modified equipment and rules
One criticism of games and athlete centred approaches is that learning tactics will be limited because ‘an initial level of control of a ball is necessary before tactics can be employed in most elementary game settings’ (Turner, 2018, p. 130). The DTP™ approach addresses this through extensive use of modified equipment and rule changes. This allows players to concentrate on developing a level of tactical understanding and decision-making. A player learning baseball or softball, for example, needs to be able to consider ‘what is' the best decision tactically when deciding which base to throw the ball to. The opportunity to carefully consider the options will be lost if concerns around a lack of proficiency in using a glove to field a hard-hit ball distracts, and possibly overwhelms, a player. It is for this reason that in coaching the baseball or softball activities presented below, there will be differences from the normal game in the equipment used, and in the way that the activities and games are played. In the initial stage, with inexperienced players, soft easily caught balls are used and for many of the activities the ‘batter’ throws the ball, with a single bounce, directly to a fielder and no gloves are used. At all times the intention is to establish a practical context that allows players to consider, and then enact tactical decisions.
A decision on the degree to which equipment will be modified is dependent on the level of proficiency that the players have. In a situation where you are working with skilled players, who are fully capable of concentrating on their decision-making, there may well be no need to modify equipment.
The DTP approach is a holistic approach underpinned by the understanding that learning appropriate physical skills is an important part of developing quality players. It is based on a belief that the motivation to learn physical skills is enhanced when players have a clear understanding of why the skills are important within the game context. A player who knows that they need to successfully field the ball, pivot and throw accurately to second base to get the lead runner, but fails to achieve this in an authentic context, will then be motivated to learn how to do so. This motivation will be higher than if the skills were taught in isolation with no game related context to place them in (Konings & Hettinga, 2018).