THE TEACHING CONTINUUM AND A LOOK AT GAME THEORY IN SPORT.

Training and Exercising, they are not the same thing. It’s almost certain however, that every coach will have to start out with facilitating Exercise before they are able to operate in an environment where they can coach people who actually wish to Train.

In this country, once you put aside work-related physical exertion, what you are left with is recreational exercise or game play. Seldom are these two things part of a greater design; the physical stress is not organized in any purposeful way, they are not training, they’re just playing and having fun. This happens even in a gym environment, the chunks of machinery are ‘played on’; the environment being more like a theme park that an actual place of training with purpose.

The Exercise Industry has environmental pressures that craft it, and its sources of employment will reflect this phenomenon: that the majority of job placements will require skills for facilitating Exercise rather than Training.

It is probably not what drew them there in the first place though, a significant factor attracting people to become Personal Trainers and Exercise Scientists is the opportunity to work with athletes or ‘fit-people’, or at least create them. When they get there, they often find that neither their skills, nor the market place is really suited to the teaching of skills and training at all.

Before they ever DO arrive at that end point, along the way they will have to facilitate exercise: cheer up though, Exercising instead of Training happens at the very highest levels of professional sport.

 

They may not be able to help the Under 10’s though.

 

Coaching a kids sporting team is not going to delve into skill development in the way that someone might conjure end-range professional sporting excellency. It has a lot more to do with group management, communication and proper perspective on overall social goals than anything else. Its quite likely that the very best soccer coaches in the world may create a total failure by any measure of a local kids under 10’s soccer team, yet a cross-sport coach, superbly experienced with the age group albeit in a sport with different content of skills and game theory, could be on the contrary very successful.

It might seem counter-intuitive, but I’d rather the best under 10’s netball coach in Australia coach my kids soccer team than Sir Alex Ferguson.

Why? Because at that level, the skills within the sport are secondary to the actual theory and practice of trying to play the game. Although admittedly, Ferguson may well be more of a project manager than a technical-tactical expert.

Here is the continuum for the coaching of sportspeople and sporting participants: Those whom are exercising. It is not necessarily restricted to be a pedagogical theory. Any population of low training history will best progress through a similar model.

 

Simple Game theory > Addition of rules > Addition of further rules.

 

Simple Game Theory is the basic explanation of the flow and aim of the game. Below you will see a list and brief of game types and their structure. These are referred to as ‘Categories‘ in the original literature.

Addition of Rules is the method of limiting the game with certain rules which will necessitate the use of certain skills. These are referred to as the development of ‘Units’ within a category.

Addition of Further Rules is the method of considering the sequence of how rules are added in order to develop skills and types of play by the participants. These should be achievable and coherent in progression and in the original theory are interactive with the participants. There is feedback in deciding what rules may be implemented. For example in an ‘Invasion Game’, you may add a rule where each participant must touch the ball before the team can score in order to develop team cohesiveness and limit dominant players from overwhelming the game.

This approach, in its original form is called the, ‘Teaching Games for Understanding’ (TGfU) approach. A full account of the original theory published by Bunker and Thorpe (1982), as well as its development and use in Australia can be read about here.

 

Modified games are common amongst youth sport. Some sports have made decisions that limit contact (weight classes creating sub-categories of age groups), that ensure equality in possession (scorer kicks off) and that reduce the difficulty of skill (tee-ball, bumper bowling).

Nobody wants to watch a game of kids baseball where the players cannot hit the ball at all because the pitcher cannot throw one over the plate. Tee-ball doesn’t develop the skill of pitching….. it doesn’t try to, the pitching gets better as they get older and are in the practice of throwing the ball in the act of fielding. It works well. Kids hit, run the bases and field in Tee-ball and they are getting the basic principles of the larger game.

 

 

In the past I have coached Flag Gridiron. The forward pass is not a skill that easily transfers from other common Australian sports and without a grounding and experience in the sport, its structure and terminology can make the potentially quite organized and precise flow of the game, turn into a considerable mess.

 

So I don’t push it. Instead, the starting point is a simple game with a series of initial rules.

* All possessions start in your own scoring area (except interceptions)

* Unlimited forward and backwards passes.

* Cannot run with the ball.

* All passes must be overhead.

* Catch the ball in the opponents scoring area to register a point.

* If you drop the ball, the other team gets it from their scoring area.

* If the other team knocks the ball down, you get the ball back where you threw it from.

* If you intercept it, you start at that spot.

 

 

What I have described there is basically Ultimate Frisbee with a gridiron ball. It develops catching and over head throwing skills as well as the game strategy of trying to move the ball to free team mates in empty space.

Ultimate Frisbee is a type of ‘Invasion Game’. Game categorization is well worth considering when it comes to your favourite sports. This is by no means however a universally accepted system as it leaves out a number of popular games and sports that can be sub-classified as i have below. Overall however, it is important to consider the structure, flow and aim of the game from the skills and environment within it.

 

Invasion Games

Soccer, Hockey, Football codes; any game where the object is to move the ball into the opponents’ scoring area. Ultimate Frisbee.

 

Target games

Golf, darts, lawn bowls, Archery, Curling.

 

Net wall/Court games

Tennis, Volleyball, Squash

 

Strike and Field games.

Baseball/Tee-Ball and Cricket.

 

Racing

These can be adversarial, or non-adversarial. Consider the difference between short track and long track speed skating. Long track speed skating is 2 contestants on opposite sides of a rink racing against the clock. How one person goes does not effect the other. Short track speed skating is 5 people skating…. 4 fall over, the 5th skates to victory.

In that sense, you can see how something like Drag Racing has more in common with the game theory of Rowing than a different kind of motor sport: Formula One is a little more like a Roller derby.

 

Aggregate totalization games

Weightlifting and Powerlifting: a competitor performs a task that accumulates a total score. Your result does not impact the competitive task of the opponent but the decision-making on attempts and success/failure does.

 

Figure and Form games.

Sports where points are awarded by judges based on positions held and passed through in conjecture with tempo. Platform diving, Gymnastics, Figure skating, Bodybuilding, Surfing.

 

Combat.

Adversarial games with a zero sum result. Boxing, wrestling. Skirmish, Laser tag. As you do better, your opponent does worse.

 

Hunting.

Bass or fly fishing.

 

Some sports involve a combination of several game types, and some will hold different game types within the same sporting body.

 

For example, Biathlon is both racing and target shooting. Equestrian involves both dressage, which is a ‘Figure-Form’ sport as well as Racing. Modern Pentathlon involves Target and Racing and Figure-form. Outdoor Woodsmen sports involves wood-chopping, which is a form of Racing, as well as the adversarial Log rolling: you fall in the water and I win.

The Nash Equilibrium in sport may be a concept we pursue in the future.

 

Game Theory is a deep rabbit hole to go down in sport. It necessitates the consideration of the strategy involved in zero sum outcomes and Nash Equilibrium. Is the sport adversarial? Does my outcome in the game directly impact the outcome of one other, or multiple other players? Do I periodically co-operate with some opponents during the game.

So that might all be a very fascinating way to look at sport and recreation and it may well stimulate an attempt to categorize every sport you can think of, but that’s not actually the full purpose of this article.

Its actually about a comparison of the teaching continuum that you would use for the skills within the sport as opposed to the continuum for laying out the game theory and flow first; then using THAT as a precursor to developing skills.

For someone who is exercising, the approach to their participation is to show them, explain it and then involve them. It’s usually a case of having to win over someone’s interest or serve the initial interest that they arrived with. This is the case of the dad coaching the soccer team, or the teacher battling through a sports gala day “Ooft”, those days are tough.

In those situations you’re not going to perfect running, striking or kicking. You’re not going to fix any skill AT ALL. All you are doing is facilitating a game being played.

It’s largely group management skills.

 

Alternatively, here is the progression for Training and the Coaching of skills to Athletes whom are training.

Static > Locomotive > Tonic OR Dynamic/Ballistic.

 

‘Statics involve the terminal or key transitionary positions that the body must fit up in or pass through. In golf, your stance and addressing the ball, in Weightlifting the various positions of the bar at the thigh, front rack, first pull position and over head. For a runner, the positions of the foot and the arm and the interface with the ground.

Importantly, in ‘Statics’ there is a need and an opportunity to develop flexibility. In the framework for Gymnastics coaching in Australia, ‘Statics’ is a Dominant Movement Pattern (DMP). These ‘Statics’ may be isometric in nature, so don’t just think of them as some lazy simple dance move frozen in time.

 

‘Locomotive’ describes the steady state transitions between static positions. For something to be locomotive, it needs to be sufficiently light in resistance. Movements that may go on to become Tonic or Ballistic should first be practiced Locomotively. For example an heavy barbell exercise will of course be repped more lightly in a locomotive fashion; or it certainly could be. Other movements will never become Tonic or Ballistic but continue on an extended Locomotive progression eg Rowing, Swimming.

 

‘Tonic’ describes a loaded or constantly resisted movement that the muscles are contracting against. Generally, there is a degree of resistance that influences what sort of actions would be Tonic for some and Locomotive for others. Swinging a tennis racket and practicing your backhand COULD be Tonic for some people, Locomotive for others; you get the general idea though.

Importantly, some skills may NEVER be attempted or prescribed in a Tonic fashion. That same Tennis backhand will never be applied to Tonic resistance. Alternatively, some Tonic prescriptions will never be performed Ballistically.

 

‘Ballistic’ or ‘Dynamic’ movement is characterized by significant and relatively high velocity in the context of the Tonic and Locomotive movements. Jumps and Throws immediately come to mind. The forces created in Ballistic (flight and launching) and Dynamic (opposed directional movements) are greater then those found in Tonic and Locomotive ones.

As with the Tonic prescriptions, some skills may never become Ballistic or Dynamic, and may present the end point in the skill acquisition.

 

You can apply, and in many cases probably already do apply, that basic model to the acquisition of skills or the re-visiting in perfecting them. If you don’t, then its food for thought.

What you absolutely MUST do, is understand when it is time to attack development from a Game theory end and when it is time for perfecting skills in a Training environment.