TGFU and Game Sense: Same, Similar, Different

TGFU and Game Sense: Same, Similar, Different

Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) emerged from the collaboration of Rod Thorpe, David Bunker and Len Almond at Loughborough University. Since its articulation in the Bulletin of Physical Education in 1982 it has been advocated with enthusiasm in physical education literature as an enhanced approach to games teaching. The approach “flipped” PE teaching from a linear technical-before-tactical games experience, described by David Kirk as sport-as-techniques, to a tactical-before-technical experience initiated by the understanding of the game. This is illustrated in the diagram below.
                                                         1. Game

2.Game Appreciation                        Learner                                     6. Performance

3.Tactical Awareness                                                                          5.  Skill Execution

                                           4. Making Appropriate Decisions

The term ‘Game Sense’ was used by Thorpe and West in 1969 as a description of game intelligence and as a games teaching performance measure. It was also used by Rick Charlesworth in 1993 to describe the product of athlete development. Initially then, game sense was a description of the objective or outcome of sport teaching/coaching. In the mid 1990’s Rod Thorpe visited Australia to work with the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) to develop a new approach to sports teaching that focussed on developing “thinking athletes”. This is well explained in the original ASC Game Sense videos.


The distinctiveness of the TGfU model is sometimes suggested as belonging with its guiding pedagogical principles. These are the same pedagogical principals used in the explanation of a Game Sense approach in the 1997 Game Sense workbook:

1.      Sampling: The use of modified games and sport as a way to experience adult versions of games;

2.      Exaggeration: Changing game structures, such as rules, equipment and play space, to promote, exaggerate, control or eliminate certain game behaviors to enable teaching through the game;

3.      Representation: Small-sided modified games structured to suit the age and/or experience of the players; and

4.      Questioning: Prompting student thinking and problem solving by questions so that knowledge of what to do, when to do it and why to do it develops and leads to the question of how to perform movement in the context of play.



Similar to TGfU, the Game Sense approach groups games of similar tactical construction/principles of play via game categories - Invasion (eg. football, netball), Net/Wall (eg. tennis, squash, volleyball), Striking/Fielding (eg. cricket/baseball) and Target Games (bowls/bocce).
The CHANGE IT acronym from the ASC elaborates the pedagogy of Exaggeration. Modify/Adapt (Change) the following constraints so that the activity sets the challenge, the game poses questions (tactical problems), and the players are challenged to respond (answer)
C - Coaching style
H- How the game is scored
A - Area of the playing field
N- Number of players
G- Game rules
E- Equipment
I - Inclusion
T - time to perform actions


The emerging skill acquisition perspective situating games as dynamic systems from which  play is emergent behaviour resulting from the interaction of the game constraints ( which are; person, task, environment constraints) has been linked to TGfU as a non-linear pedagogy. But as the TGfU six-step cycle of learning (above) shows, TGfU remained a linear pedagogy – tactical to skill. A Game Sense approach, however, was explained by den Duyn in 1997 as pursued via the coupling of movement technique to game context, Technique + Game Context = Skill (Game Sense).  This may be a  fine distinction, but  a distinction that seems more consistent with the information-movement coupling in representative games encouraged by a constraints-led approach to skill learning.

Game Sense can therefore be talked about as both the objective of teaching/coaching sport related games for understanding (or, for the development of “thinking players”) and as a sport pedagogy. For more detailed explanation and examples of the application of game sense in sport games teaching and physical education the following suggested resources are a good start.

Suggested Resources

-Developing basketball game intelligence

- Developing game intelligence in soccer

-Developing Game Sense through Tactical Learning: A Resource for Teachers and Coaches

-Game Sense: Pedagogy for performance, participation and enjoyment

-Play with Purpose- a guide to using a game-centred approach in middle years and secondary physical education

-Play with Purpose: Developing game sense in AFL footballers

-Transforming Play: Teaching Tactics and Game Sense



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