SSV Ulm 1846 (Germany)
 University of Education, Weingarten (Germany)
Google Scholar profile: https://scholar.google.com/citations?user=IQ44XRMAAAAJ&hl=de
German soccer seems to be in a process of change. Since the winning of the world championship in 2014 the German soccer association (DFB) is struggling hard to keep pace with other nations like Italy or France. As a consequence, the DFB is continuously reforming its scouting and training system, e. g. by establishing academies and integrating science-based training methods into the development of talents. Especially with regard to training methods it seems to be significant to keep in mind that there are different performance factors in soccer which are more or less relevant for planning and designing the training process. No matter which perspective is taken, tactics are a key component in soccer as in any other game; thus, all participants need appropriate instruments to teach and improve game intelligence and creativity (Memmert & König, 2019).
Before this background we decided to apply TGfU as a rather school-based teaching concept to top level adolescent soccer teams and evaluate it in this setting. In doing so, we wanted to get a first idea of how players and coaches experience and evaluate this approach. This seems to be quite interesting and innovative because usually players in clubs are not used to develop their own thoughts on tactical solutions in an analytic process during games. As a result, we believe that cognitive activation through TGfU-based reflections may be a benefit for developing the players’ tactical competence and their motivation.
2 Methods of Teaching Games
Traditionally, there have been two opposing approaches for teaching games, namely skill-orientation and deliberate play. Whereas the first pursues the objectives of overlearning and stabilizing skills in rather isolated and standardized situations in order to apply them in game situations, the second method confronts learners from the very beginning with “real game situations” and assumes that skills are learned more or less along the way. Meanwhile, this dichotomy has been overcome and both positions have been integrated into the fruitful concept that “game appreciation and the development of tactical awareness should precede development of the motor skills of a game” (Rink, French & Tjeerdsma, 1996, S. 399). However, there is still the question of how to implement this idea in a training session.
TGfU, as one interpretation of the game-based approach (cf. http://www.tgfu.info/consensus-statement.html), may be regarded as one, if not the best concept of realizing playing before practicing. The original concept (Bunker & Thorpe, 1982) recommends proceeding in a circle (1 teaching unit) or a helix (several units) to organize the issue at hand. In addition, TGfU wants to enhance its learners’ tactical knowledge by integrating him or her into the teaching process with questions aiming at an analysis of specific game situations. With regard to quality issues in PE this proceeding is meanwhile described as cognitive activation, a teaching approach which aims at developing and acquiring cognitive-reflective dispositions (Herrmann & Gerlach, 2020) to develop pupils’ physical literacy.
With a view on Germany, the implementation of TGfU can nearly exclusively be observed in Physical Education; in contrast, there seems to be almost no application in the setting of competitive sports. Regarding coach education courses for instance, especially those for youth coaches, the respective curricula do not take TGfU strategies into account. However, and relating to international results we might assume that utilizing TGfU in adolescent team sports will improve the tactical behaviour of players. This seems to be evident considering the work of international authors more closely because they point out that the benefit of TGfU and its offshoots is the tendency to develop thinking players (Gréhaigne, Godbout, & Bouthier, 1999; Howarth, 2000; Kirk & MacPhail, 2002). Thus, we assume that players’ adaptive skills and tactical understanding can be trained more effectively when coaches use methods and variations of the TGfU approach (Light, 2005, p.179).
3 The Research Project
Idea: In general, coaches and managers in the DFB youth development centres work in a very player-centred manner, i.e. the players are put at the heart of all processes concerning training and management. As a consequence, our research project focused on the idea of a potential connection between tactical impulses implemented by means of self-reflection and open coaching – as pursued by the TGfU approach – and the development of young soccer players. Thus, our research aims were on the one hand to find out potentials for the further development of young talents in soccer and on the other to stimulate the discussion about the teaching of tactical intelligence and creativity among practicing coaches in top level adolescent soccer. Our research question read as follows:
“Which elements of the TGfU model are relevant for improving individual tactical competencies in top level adolescent soccer?”
Method: In the empirical study we cooperated with the management of a youth training centre and the respective U12, U14, U16 players and coaches of a German professional club (1st league). The players and coaches were introduced to the TGfU topic by watching a video about implementing TGfU principles and methods into a training session of the U19 Bundesliga team of SSV Ulm 1846; the main issue of the recorded training session was “offering and free running”. After having attentively viewed the video recording, all participants were questioned using semi-structured interviews. All interviews were transcribed and analysed via Kuckartz’s approach (2014) of Qualitative Content Analysis to get insights and impulses on different estimations and viewpoints.
Results: All three coaches regard the TGfU approach as an opportunity for high learning effects in the tactical context. Likewise, the players assumed a high potential of TGfU approaches in training sessions nearly unanimously, especially in the context of understanding tactical questions. They said that they would like to be trained more regularly with tactical elements in such a manner. This coincides with Uppal & Vaconcelos (2012) who emphasized the positive impact that the TGfU model can have on improving the cognitive and affective domains of students in physical education, which then leads to more positive experiences and increased intrinsic motivation.
Subsequently, our participating coaches regard the application of the TGfU model as a process that should be boosted. For coaches the cognitive functions of the players are trainable parts (Memmert, 2020), which can be developed through the TGfU framework. For the coach of the U12 team it is even a quality feature that players can play and think at the same time at that level. As to the practical implementation, the participants mainly rely on small-sided-games and their advantages. Integrating questions and self-reflection is a relevant component of TGfU’s commitment with the players. The player is placed at the centre of the learning environment to acquire a more meaningful learning and take responsibility for his own learning (Mc Askill, 2012, p. 255). In our analysis, this result poses a challenge for the coaches’ communication. In particular, the time required under the framework conditions in a youth development centre and also the use of open-ended questions are of concern for them.
With regard to the project in general, we are now able to account situations and principles that speak for an application of the TGfU model in top level adolescent soccer from the perspective of coaches:
- The coach teaches tactical knowledge and tactical basics following the principle “from playing to playing and exercising” by implementing relevant skills in target games.
- The coach ensures that in the training sessions the players mainly play with a certain nearness to the true game and a maximum number of ball contacts.
- In his coaching and through choosing adequate training forms, the coach sets tactical impulses so that players can develop an understanding of the game.
- The coach sees cognitions as trainable factors of his players. The tool for diagnosing cognitive capacities in the process of training control are specific games or game test situations that create stress situations and time pressure for the players involved.
- The coach is responsible for and ensures an open exchange about the tactical features of the game with his players, including coaching feedback for both the group as a team and the individual players.
- The coach does not simply conclude training sessions and individual training forms, but takes time for joint reflections based on technical-tactical contents. The issues for reflection are close to the game and can therefore be transformed easily into the individual game performance.
- The coach acts and leads in a player-centred way, i.e. players’ interests and views are taken into account in the planning and implementation of training sessions. The adolescent players are also introduced to background information and considerations of the coaches on the specific focal points in various training sessions.
4 Summary and Perspectives
Our analysis was based on two starting points: first, we analysed the situation of soccer in Germany and could observe that the DFB is struggling hard to keep pace with other nations; this especially applies to the technical and tactical development of young players. Second, we observed that TGfU and its variations do not play a role in the education of youth coaches in Germany. As a consequence, we conducted a research project on the implementation of training sessions based on the TGfU approach in adolescent top level soccer. Based on our results we finally want to frame three demands for the future although we know that our research is limited due its case structure:
- As to coach education we believe that an integration of TGfU as a teaching method is absolutely obligatory because it will bring additional training effects especially in U12 and U14 teams.
- With regard to research we encourage sport associations to critically examine the development of their young athletes, in particular with regard to their tactical and cognitive competencies.
- Finally, and with a look at a fruitful cooperation between science and praxis, we want to encourage researchers and coaches to approach one another for the benefit of soccer or any other game.
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