The use of Heuristic Practices and specifically Teaching Games for Understanding (TGFU) within learning environments has been an ever increasing methodology applied by teachers and coaches for over 20 years. Ever since Bunker and Thorpe voiced their frustration and concern of the skills first approach, a paradigm shift has been present which sees games being used as a means of facilitating both technical and tactical improvement within players. Skills first methodologies (whilst they promote a solid technical grounding) are often developed within an environment that is removed from the context within which they will be utilized. Even when skills are mastered, learners will face a challenge attempting to transfer them into a game environment that requires the need for proactive decision making in the face of a multitude of contextual interference.
Kirk & MacDonald (1982) suggest that the non-situated nature of a skills first approach fails to appropriately prepare learners for the complexities of games. Within the coaching domain, a skills first orientation also led Lyle (2002) to contend that the coach was the primary decision maker, typically prescribing large amounts of instruction feedback and demonstrations (Williams and Hodges,2009). Whilst early behavioristic thoughts on learning suggested this may have been an effective model, the more recent practical application of constructivist learning theories strongly questions the belief that a high amount of coach led instruction promotes learning. It is suggested that an over emphasis of this behavior limits learners’ opportunities to proactively develop their own decision making capabilities. Understandably this is highly problematic considering cognitive skills such as these are widely considered to be central to successful in game performance (Cope and Harvey, in press). Games based approaches to coaching then are valuable as they situate the learner at the center of the learning process. As a result of this shift, the coach’s role transitions to one of a facilitator responsible for utilizing questions to stimulate higher order thinking and understanding relative to the decisions their players must make.
Findings from a host of studies (Cushion & Jones, 2001; Potrac et al, 2007) that used Systematic Observation in an effort to attain an understanding of the use of questioning by soccer coaches found that it is a rarely utilized tool and even when it is applied it is typically closed in nature meaning players are just reciting information and not benefitting from the advantages effective questions can offer.
In order for questioning to be effective it is suggested it must be planned, purposeful and closely aligned to the objectives of the practice. It should enable learners to reflect on their performance in action and subsequently make any amendments necessary to solve problems and improve their performance. Effectively utilizing this approach within a TGfU setting should therefore ensure learners are well placed to develop their critical thinking and decision making skills considering effective questions should ignite thinking and challenge understanding (Cope and Harvey,in press).
Should coaches commit to utilizing and mastering this approach, integrating lots of what, why and how questions into their practice, it is suggested that the players they develop will be well prepared to deal with the complexities associated with their game. Considering Decision Making is a mental skill widely believed to be synonymous with separating good performers from great, it is hoped that the content of this article will challenge coaches to question their current pedagogic practices and better utilize heuristic practices to facilitate player development.