A Tactical Games Approach – Revisted

A Tactical Games Approach to teaching Games

The tactical games approach aims to improve children’s understanding of the game by combining tactical awareness and skill execution. It does that by placing them in a modified game situation with a tactical problem to solve.

The rationale for a tactical games teaching in PE and school sport is threefold. First it develops interest and excitement in comparison to traditional technical focused teaching of games. Second it expands knowledge from ‘how is the technique performed’ to also include ‘what to do I the game’. Third a tactical focus may help children transfer principles of play from one game to another in the same games category.

How to implement a Tactical Games Approach

The format of the lesson is in three stages as represented in the diagram above. Provide a tactical problem through a developmentally appropriate modified game, use of questioning to develop tactical awareness and the identification of skills to practice to bring about success and then the practice of those skills before being put back into the game form.

Mitchell et al (2013) emphasise four key teaching behaviours needed to implement a tactical approach to games teaching effectively:

1. Consider the tactical problems to address and decide on the complexity of these problems

2. Practice the skills required to solve the tactical problem after the pupils have experience the game

3. Explicitly link the game form, tactical problem and skill practice through your questioning and the dialogue they generate.

4. After the practising of skills, allow time back in the game to apply them.

    • I would add observation as a key teaching behaviour. Stand back and watch as this will provide you more information to allow you ask more informed questions.

An example from after school rugby session

I last wrote about a tactical games approach back in October 2015, however through reading, planning, practising and reflecting it has been refine. This is an example of an U18 after school rugby session with some  ideas how to further develop tactical awareness, facilitate problem solving and be flexibility with tactical complexity both for groups and individuals.

Basic Set Up
10 v 10. Full Rules.1 point for a try.3 points for completing a task.5 points for completing a line.
• Each team can complete any task at any time.
• However they must clarify which one they are focusing on in the period of play (10-15mins) to staff.
• They must complete 2 periods of play before they change their focus.
•Between the 1st and 2nd period of play, the group must decide on the skill to develop. This can be done with the assistance of the member of staff
• Extra 3 points available if completed in 1 period.
• Within each team, there must be three smaller groups of 5.
• In between each period of play the team must split into its smaller teams to discuss focus then feedback to other group.
• Any player at any time can call a time out in play. Each team then has 60 seconds to have smaller team meetings.
• Both time-out or end of period team talks must end with the players telling staff what they are focusing on.


Staff, Players and non-players responsibility
•Staff to referee.
• Staff and non players can observe attempts at tactical problems, strengths and areas to develop
• Staff to use reviews to guide interactions with players
• Non players can lead team talks both, especially during the periods of play
• Ensure players formulate solutions to tactical problems and decide  which skills to work on
•Staff, non-players and players can share the responsibility of leading skills practice, depending on the knowledge and experience of the group


Developing tactical awareness
• There is a point available if a team’s captain can correctly tell a staff member what tactical problem the opposition team is working on.
• If correct, that team can then prevent that tactical problem being solved over two periods of play they can gain an additional point, gain a superpower or add a ‘secret rule’ to the game.


Examples of ‘secret rules’
• Turn over if ball touches ground
• Turn over if ball goes above head height from pass
• Turn over if player runs backwards/sideways
• Turn over if 1st receiver doesn’t communicate intention in attack
• Turn over if carrying ball 1 handed


STEPing up the tactical complexity
• Change playing area (width, length, shape)
• Change ball after each period or try (football, small weighted ball, tennis ball.)
• Bibbed players always playing on attack or defence (over or underload).
• Change restarts (1 v 1 scrum, 2 v 2 line outs, place on pitch etc.)
• On command drop current ball being played & find new one and play


Individualising tactical problems
Give individual players tasks they can’t tell others about. Award points for completing those tasks. For example:
• Make 3 interceptions
• Box kick 5 times
• Never let the ball go to ground in your possession
• Make 5 pop passes from the ground
• Chip to yourself 3 times


Superpowers – add complexity or balance play
• Player can call freeze & opposition have to stay still for 3 seconds..
• Pick opposition players to wear a bib. If tackled in possession of ball immediate turnover.
• Pick own player to wear a bib. Allowed to be offside.
•Turn and burn – if your team scores they keep possession and can immediately start attacking the opposite way


Final point – allow the players a say. Most of the ideas above (and the solutions to the problems) came from them. It’s amazing what they can come up with if you create the environment that supports them speaking up and sharing.

Mitchell, S. A., Oslin, J. L., & Griffin, L. L. (2013). Teaching sport concepts and skills: A tactical games approach for ages 7 to 18. Human Kinetics.

2 thoughts on “A Tactical Games Approach – Revisted

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