What is Teaching Games for Understanding?

The Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) approach was developed by researchers at Loughborough University in the United Kingdom to tap into children’s inherent desire to play. Bunker and Thorpe (1982) developed TGfU around the concept of teaching kids games by playing games. TGfU is an inquiry-based approach to teaching and prioritizes decision-making through gameplay over skill refinement and development.

TGfU provides a learner-centred approach that puts the needs and abilities of the participants first. It increases the students’ levels of enjoyment and participation, all the while providing them with the skills they need to move confidently in a wide range of physical activities. Teachers should introduce participants to games before teaching skills, with the assumption that they are already intelligent participants. Rather than playing full adult versions of sports, simplify the games aiming to match the challenge level of the game to the participants skill level.

Butler et al. (2008) identified six basic teaching games for understanding concepts:

  • Teach games through games.
  • Break games into their simplest format – then increase complexity.
  • Participants are intelligent performers in games.
  • Every learner is important and is involved.
  • Participants need to know the subject matter.
  • Need to match participants’ skills and challenge.

The TGfU cycle incorporates 6 key stages:

⚽️ Game Focused
Learning takes place in a game where the educator teaches the students through a modified game where the rules are designed to develop skills as well as tactical understanding.

⛹🏼‍♀️ Game Appreciation
By participating in a modified game, learners to develop an appreciation of the rules that shape the game.

🥅 Tactical Awareness
Through the game students are encouraged to identify attacking and defending strategies, and to implement successful tactical action.

🤔 Decision Making
Students learn and practise making decisions in action, in response to different situations.

🤾🏽‍♂️ Skill Execution
Students identify and practise the skills needed to improve their play through the game.

🏆 Performance

Opportunities are provided to put it all together, apply the skills, exercise decision-making, and employ tactics in game situations.

Thematic Approach

TGfU advocates a thematic approach to teaching games. Rather than teaching sport-specific units (e.g., volleyball, soccer), students gain skills and knowledge to apply to different sports by playing a variety of games associated with 4 game categories:

⛹🏾 Invasion/Territorial Games
🏏 Striking & Fielding Games
 🏸 Net & Wall Games
🎯 Target Games

These categories represent games and activities that are similar in structure. By exposing children and youth to the primary rules, fundamental skills, and tactical problems associated with each category, they become literate in a variety of games, activities and sports and develop an understanding and competency of the skills and tactics associated. 

When using a games-based approach we hope to encourage thinking, decision-making, and problem-solving by participants to have them learn in and from play. We are aiming to place the participant in situations where decision-making and problem-solving are central to successful game performance. This can be done effectively through the use of questioning to stimulate thinking about the game. Stopping games at regular intervals allows the participants to reflect on their play and how they could be playing more effectively.

A lesson using TGfU differs from a “traditional” physical education lesson. The traditional approach uses a warm up, followed by skill practice and finally a game. It assumes that once participants learn the movement skills required of the game, they will be able to play the game successfully. The TGfU approach places the emphasis on play, where participants are presented with problems to solve, requiring students to make decisions. The teacher prompts students with questions and game modifications rather than simply teaching them isolated skills and game rules.

Want to learn more about TGfU?

If you are looking to dive deeper into TGfU and explore how you can implement it in your teaching why not take our FREE Introduction to Teaching Games for Understanding online course. This easy to follow online course will provide deeper insights into how to plan and teach a TGfU unit with examples of games that you can play, strategies for designing purposeful questioning to enable your students to transfer their learning across different sports and activities. 

📜 D
id I mention you can also get a certificate of completion for your records when you complete the course?

To start this course simply click the button below to create a FREE account and then start learning. Once you have completed this course, your FREE account also gives you access to a number of other FREE online courses that can help you improve your teaching practice.

Do you like Podcasts?

I also recorded a podcast on the topic of Teaching Games for Understanding which you can listen to below or by subscribing to The PhysEdcast podcast on any of your favourite podcast providers.

Nathan Horne is a physical & health educator, currently based in Canada. Nathan is also a pedagogical coach, consultant and the founder of iPhys-Ed.com & The PhysEd Library. Be sure to never miss out on any of iPhys-Ed.com’s future posts by connecting with us via TwitterFacebookYoutube or Instagram.
Nathan can be contacted on Twitter @PENathan or via 

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