The game-based approach and the instrumental genesis

The technological approach only makes sense if disseminated among the coaches’ and researchers' community by sharing experiences, results and reflexions. The use of games as technology needs to be tested in different contexts as part of an instrumental genesis (Rabar-del, 1995; Eloi & Uhlrich, 2011). This pedagogical process requires a double movement. First, the instrumentation phase, or the period during which the athlete confronts the instrument/game proposed by the coach, tests its properties and experiences what the tool allows him/ her to achieve. Instrumentation refers to a process oriented towards the athlete him/herself. This period involves various grouping and experiments, which is most often carried out through trial and error.

The next phase that overlaps with parts of the previous one, encompasses the period during which the athlete contributes to the evolution of the artefact. This is the period of instrumentalisation that contemplates the shift to the stage when the athlete constructs a repository of the appropriate or ineffective responses. This phase requires more technical proficiency and tactical instructions. Instrumentalisation is a process directed towards the artefact, concerning its utility, contradictions and evolution. Here, the athlete’s power for innovation is expressed through a process of personalising the artefact in order to adapt it to his/her own use. This distinction of two complementary periods allows the coach to have a glimpse on the process of instrumental genesis as a plurality of transformations whose purposes are distinct or even antagonistic, albeit complementary. Vygotski’s instrumental theory can be a useful intellectual guide through the concepts of sign, consciousness or experience (Vygotski, 2014).

The practice: Two examples

In volleyball, a game is 2 against 2 (1 + 1). Each duo can touch the ball a maximum of three times to put the ball into the opponents’ court: the ball can, however, be returned directly or after two touches. In our situation, the game's governing laws are those of volleyball, but a new rule is introduced. The player who returns the ball into the opponents’ court will be momentarily considered ’dead". To get a new "life" and continue to participate in the game, the player concerned must touch one of the two marker cones, which are located in the two angles at the back of the court. During the time when the ’dead" player is attempting to touch a marker cone, the other player in the team is alone to defend their full court.

What the coach is looking for is a succession of predictable situations where one side outnumbers the other (2 against 1), without influencing the unpredictable positioning of the opposing player left alone. The predictability of the situation when one side outnumbers the other is caused because all the actors know that the player returning the ball into the opponents’ court is temporarily out of the game. The unpredictability is relative to the freedom of movement and position of the defender who remains alone during the short period of time. Assimilating information is encouraged by the certitude that there are determining factors of space and positioning to be recognised. However, everything happens within a short period of time, as the team in offense takes advantage of the temporary superiority and play the ball accordingly. Besides the physical and technical constraints, the coach is interested in the decisional constraint, which involves translating the assimilated information concerning the opponent into a tactical choice regarding the alternatives of attacking the opponents’ court or making a pass to the partner. The role of the coach is to understand when to intervene to help the athletes to see and interpret what is happening in front of them. Depending of the context, the education of seeing and consequently, of the ability to make a good decision, takes time and the deliberate action of the coach.

In basketball, a fast-break situation of 4 against 3 (+ 1) or 3 against 2 (+ 1) is a common game situation. Like in the volleyball example, when a team recovers the ball possession, one of the defence players is "dead' and must touch a pre-determined mark to be able to continue to play. The temporary advantage of the offense is predictable but not the defensive reaction. Because of the high speed of the game, it is hard to collect information and make the right choice. Once again, the coach must find a balance between the need to guide the players to see and make the good decision and when to let the athletes find and discover the possibilities of the game.

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