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Teaching Games for Understanding

“There is no greater power on the field than a players’ intelligence.” – Horst Wein

Teaching Games for Understanding (TGFU) is a learner-centered model of teaching, which is intended to provide learners with an understanding of the technical and tactical skills necessary to be successful across a wide variety of games and the motivation to continue participation (Mandigo, Butler & Hopper, 2007). The TGFU curriculum model developed by Bunker and Thorpe (1982) consists of a six-step process including: (Mandigo, Butler, & Hopper, 2007)

Game: A modified game is developed based on the developmental needs of the players.

Game Appreciation: Players begin to understand how rules, skills, and tactics influence each other.

Tactical Awareness: Participants learn both offensive and defensive tactics to help gain advantages over opponent.

Decision Making: Players begin to apply their knowledge in terms of when and how it is appropriate to execute certain tactical functions.

Skill Execution: Within the context of the game, players learn which technical functions need to be improved in order to “succeed” in the game.

Game Performance: The application of the previous steps in order to perform in an advanced form of the game. Specifically, the coach must provide specific feedback to the players in order to reinforce the execution of technical/tactical skills.

The idea is players must demonstrate “physical literacy” in terms of applying the correct technique in a given tactical situation, which therefore requires players to demonstrate game intelligence. Specifically, Mandigo, Butler, and Hopper (2007) cited Marget Whitehead’s work The Concept of Physical Literacy (2001) by stating “Physical literacy requires a holistic engagement that encompasses physical capacities embedded in perception, experience, memory, anticipation, and decision making.”

Within the context of soccer, TGFU is a proficient model in terms of developing players technically, tactically, physically, and psychologically. Coaches must stimulate players with the correct games or exercises in order develop competent players in all phases of the game. Louis Van Gaal said, “What is important is that a coach and a team have a specific concept. You need to know why you practice a specific drill. Only then can you decide the right time to use it” (Kormelink & Seeverens, 1997).

Too often, coaches instruct players in an authoritarian style, which has little transference to players activating independent thinking. TGFU is the perfect model for players to learn and acquire the necessary technical and tactical functions within the context of a game that requires constant decision-making. Through the TGFU model, coaches can guide players with appropriate questions to help solve the problems (both technical and tactical) that arise while generating great enjoyment about the game. “Instead of being a technical-tactical coach who tells his players what to do in particular situations in the match, he is more like a teacher who, apart from stimulating the technical, tactical and physical capacities in his players, assures that they understand what they are doing and why they are doing It and not the other way around. Instead of concentrating only on how to execute the skills, now coaches guide their pupils in improving at the same time their capacity to read the game (their perception skills) and also their decision making” (Horst Wein, 2004).


Kormelink, H., & Seeverens, T. (1997). The Coaching Philosophies of Louis van Gaal and the Ajax coaches (pp. 2-3). Spring City, Pa.: Reedswain

Mandigo, J., Butler, J., & Hopper, T. (2007). What is Teaching Games for Understanding? A Canadian perspective. Physical & Health Education Journal, 73(2), 14-20.

Wein, H. (2004). Developing game intelligence in soccer (p. 310). Spring City, PA: Reedswain Pub.

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