PhD Candidate Brock University/ Instructor, Mount Royal University
In Canada, participation in sport and physical activity declines in children at approximately 11-14 years of age (CFLRI, 2017; Colley et al., 2016; Comte et al., 2013). Limited research has explored pedagogical approaches that can support youth physical literacy and engagement in recreational sport and physical activity contexts. While there has been a high degree of proliferation of curricula, training and materials developed by different organizations intended for recreation organizations and coaches (Active for Life, 2021; Graham & Pask, 2013), there is very little peer-reviewed literature available on the types of pedagogical approaches used to encourage youth physical literacy in recreational contexts. Pedagogical models and theories that have gained traction in physical education for supporting physical literacy outcomes have potential to transfer to recreational sport contexts. This includes the TGfU model.
Three studies were conducted between 2018-2020 involving 41 youth 9-15 years and 26 YMCA stakeholders. For my first study, I completed 18 interviews that focused on exploring the experiences of youth and YMCA coaches involved in YMCA recreational sport programs. In my second study, 31 youth participated in a series of focus group meetings exploring what approaches to physical literacy resonate amongst youth. In my last study, a youth-informed recreation instructors training was designed, developed, and co-created with six YMCA stakeholders over the course of seven focus group meetings.
As I completed the first two studies which involved interviews and focus groups with youth and YMCA coaches, it became evident that some of their perspectives, experiences and ideas had strong alignment with the goals, principles, and methods of the TGfU approach. I want to highlight two patterns that I observed throughout my research and their connection to the TGfU approach.
1. Experiences of wandering ghosts
Feelings of exclusion were described by a few of the girls participating in the research. The following excerpt was a story shared during an interview with a 12 year old girl participating in a co-ed basketball sport camp:
“Sometimes I kinda felt like wandering off to the side and dribbling on my own without playing a game with everyone else. I guess before the rule [pass to a girl before you shoot] happened, we [the girls] just felt like little wandering ghosts having nothing to do, because it was always like two, three people on the team that would constantly pass to each other. Some of the younger kids, they didn't get passed to… just the older boys, they would get the balls passed to them.”
The term ‘wandering ghost’ seemed to perfectly capture the embodied experience of youth who were participating, yet not included in the game. The mention of a rule that was put in place – ‘pass to a girl before you shoot’ also demonstrates that coaches were aware of the exclusion that the girls and younger boys in their program were experiencing and thus the rule was their attempt to modify the game to support inclusion. However, this rule is problematic as it implies that women and girls are not as competent playing the game and thus require special rules to ensure they are passed to.
In traditional formats of teaching sports and games, it’s common to see large group games. In large group games, it’s typical to see the same few kids getting the ball. Use of a TGfU approach helps address issues of exclusion that some participants feel, especially those who may not be as experienced or highly skilled in a particular sport. Through use of modified game formats that are based on the developmental age and stage of the participants while relying on smaller groups (vs. large group games), TGfU helps address issues of exclusion. Although TGfU may not address deeper issues related to gender and gaps in participation, it helps set the coach or instructor up for success because inclusive practices are embedded in the methods of teaching.
2. Youth preference for games
Another interesting perspective shared by several youth participants highlights their preference for games-based approaches instead of emphasis on skills and drills. During focus group meetings with youth, I presented different types of throwing activities and asked youth about them afterward. Below are a few quotes from youth about their experiences and perspectives:
“Because in games, it makes you feel like you are having fun instead of just being forced to do something.. The word game just makes you feel like you are already having fun.”
“I think if you're going to do a drill, don't overwhelm it. Don't keep doing different drills that leave you like only five minutes to play…because in our gym class sometimes I've noticed that majority is just learning the game and the coach talking and doing drills and then you only get five minutes of game play.”
“When coaches do warmups, everyone's fine when they do it for five minutes… but doing it for 20 minutes is very annoying to youth”
Several youth participants remarked that when too much time is spent on drills, it takes away from the fun and enjoyment of the program. Games-based approaches, such as TGfU, are often considered an alternative approach to the traditional models of sports and games instruction which tend to use highly prescriptive and directive forms of instruction (Harvey et al., 2010). Although the TGfU approach emerged 40 years ago, its use in recreational sport environments remains limited. Very few recreational sport instructors have been trained on the methods and principles of TGfU.
During my last study, I presented the TGfU model to YMCA staff. They were excited by its potential to offer a practical alternative to the skill-focused, traditional ways of teaching sports. The majority of the YMCA staff participants involved in my last study had many years of experience with delivering and managing recreational sport and physical activity programs, yet only one staff had previously been exposed to the model. Although TGfU may be ‘nothing new’ for many physical literacy researchers and physical education teachers in Canada, a research to practice gap appears to exist for the recreational sport sector. Thus, there is enormous potential within this sector to advance use of the TGfU model as a way to support more engaging, inclusive sport experiences for youth.
Active for Life. (2021). Resources. Retrieved from https://activeforlife.com/resources/
Canadian Fitness & Lifestyle Research Institute. (2017). Bulletin 01: Physical activity levels of Canadian children and youth. Retrieved from https://cflri.ca/sites/default/files/node/1558/files/2014-2016%20CANPLAY_Bulletin%201%20-%20PA%20levels%20of%20children%20and%20youth.pdf
Colley, R.C., Carson, V., Garriguet, D., Janssen, I., Roberts, K.C., & Tremblay, M.S. (2017). Physical activity of Canadian children and youth, 2007 to 2015. Statistics Canada Health Reports, 28(10), 8-16. https://www150.statcan.gc.ca/n1/pub/82-003-x/2017010/article/54876-eng.pdf
Comte, M., Hobin, E., Majumdar, S.R., Plotnikoff, R.D., Ball, G.D.C., McGavock, J., & the MIPASS and Healthy Hearts Investigators Teams (2013). Patterns of weekday and weekend physical activity in youth in 2 Canadian provinces. Applied Physiology, Nutrition and Metabolism, 38(2), 115-119. https://doi.org/10.1139/apnm-2012-0100
Graham, K., & Pask, A. (2013). Maximum engagement in games and activities. The Pacific Institute for Sport Excellence (PISE). Retrieved from https://activeforlife.com/content/uploads/2013/11/PISE_MEGA_Document-9.pdf
Harvey, S., Cushion, C.J., & Massa-Gonzalez, A.N. (2010). Learning a new method: Teaching games for understanding in the coaches’ eyes. Physical Education and Sport Pedagogy, 15(4), 361-382. https://doi.org/10.1080/17408980903535818
I’d like to thank Brock University, YMCA and Mitacs for their financial support. I want to express my sincere appreciation to all participants involved in the research and to the YMCA stakeholders for their dedication to this work. I’m also extremely grateful to my supervisor, Dr. James Mandigo and all members of my PhD dissertation committee for their guidance and support.