Informing Game Sense pedagogy with dynamic systems theory for coaching Volleyball

This is an extract from Pill, S. (2016). Informing game sense pedagogy with dynamic systems theory for coaching volleyball. In J. Bruce & C. North (EDs.), 2015 Game Sense for Teachers and Coaches Conference Proceedings (pp. 127-142). Christchurch, NZ, November 19-20, 2015.

Dynamic Systems Theory (DST)
DST explains how assumptions of the Game Sense approach (GSA) about tactical and technical learning in games might be supported. Team sports such as volleyball have been explained as examples of dynamic systems (Laporta et al., 2015). The interactions between the two opposing volleyball teams lead to the emergence of situated momentary dynamics. This specificity of momentary conditions creates game events that are unique and inherently variable from moment-to-moment. That is, behaviour is emergent from the dynamics of the moment.
The individuality of player ability and how this combines collectively to bring about tactical responses through the system of ball movement in play suggests the need for the coaching of situation-orientated patterns of play based on the classification of teams in offense verses a defence situations. DST can offer a heuristic for the GSA approach by focussing attention on new ways to solve questions of motor development for volleyball competency and expertise as problems of information-movement coupling, which can also be thought of as perception-action coordination of interceptive actions. These are actions that involve coordination between the player’s body parts, and/or an object, and/or surface, and/or or target in the environment (Davids et al., 2002) - such as performing a forearm pass in volleyball. The dynamic systems theory postulates that ‘purposeful movement’ stems from the interaction of the personal coordination dynamics of the player with the task factors and goals, and environmental factors (Ives, 2014).
A highly deterministic coaching approach focusing on predictability through player replication of a single and often idealised model of movement coordination response, frequently referred to as a ‘technique’, does not cater for the situational potential of the moments in the game when an on-the-ball action response is required. These moments are by definition inherently complex and dynamic, and therefore characterised by variability.
There is a paradox between volleyball coaching for certainty of players actions through a common optimal movement pattern as a template for movement skill and game unpredictability (Handford, 2006) .

Using the Game Sense Approach to inform Volleyball Coaching - Practical Applications
If the game of volleyball is accepted as ‘unpredictable’, and it is accepted that the ‘traditional’ approach focused on the certainty of movement reproduction contradicts the inherent nature of the game, another ‘teaching’ approach is necessary. Most of the GSA research to date has been with invasion games, and there is a need to explore pragmatic and theoretical questions across and within the game categories (Invasion,

            Representation is the pedagogical practice of the reduction of complexity in the game without losing the logic of the system of play. The example of representation of volleyball in Figure 1 demonstrates the introduction of the logic of three contacts to set up the ‘attack’ shot over the net into the opposition court space with the complimentary defensive principle to keep the ball off the floor. The game rules assume the players have developed coordination and control of the ‘fundamental movement skills’ of overhead and under-arm catching and overhead and under-arm throwing.

            The game illustrated in Figure 1 demonstrates simplification of the motor actions in the game so understanding of the game can be introduced before players focusing on coordinating their movements into more sophisticated ‘sport specific actions’. Simplification of the game also occurs when the game is made small sided. In this example, simplification is demonstrated by reducing the number of players from 6-a-side to 3-a-side. The small sided nature of the game increases each player’s potential for ball contacts and therefore the possibility of a higher practice volume than a 6-a-side game. Simplification could also occur by playing in a modified environment, such as on badminton sized court with net at full height. Modifying the game environment to a reduced sized court space results in each player having to defend less space and an increased likelihood of rallying continuing as the ball is kept off the floor; also achieving the desirable skill learning outcome of an increase in the volume of technical and tactical actions performed during the game.

Shaping play
            Shaping play refers to the use of cue reinforcement, feedback, questions, practice tasks and game modifications to guide player game development (Rushall & Siedentop, 1972; Thorpe et al., 1986). To shape play teachers/coaches must:
1. know the desired game behaviour;
2. appropriately sequence the steps;
3. be able to use ‘primes’, such as metaphors (like, ‘look through the window’, to direct the positioning and shape of the hands in preparation to make a finger-pass/set), cues (for example, ‘press’, to remind of the need to develop power from the floor when jumping) and questions, to guide performance; and
4. reinforce game learning with sufficient volume of play and practice (Rushall & Siedentop, 1972).
These behaviours speak to the necessity of well-developed pedagogical and content knowledge on the part of the volleyball teacher/coach. Shaping play may involve the constraint of space to encourage (shape) game behaviour. For example, constraining the court size to wide and short to change the way players look for space to play the ball into the opposition court.

            Exaggeration refers to the modification of ‘secondary’ rules that do not change the essential nature of the game, to focus player behaviour on a desirable movement model or tactical response (Thorpe et al., 1986). An example of a ‘primary’ rule of volleyball would be that each team is allowed a defined number of ball contacts (touches or plays of the ball) on their side of the court – normally set at three. As an example of exaggeration, a target area has been defined in each team’s court and three points is allocated if the team can get the ball to ground in their opponents’ defined area. In this example, the scoring is exaggerated to encourage a particular tactical behaviour.

Progressing play
            Progressing play involves the progress of players from simple to more complex game representations over time. For example, at the novice level ‘setting to attack’ involves playing a hittable ball to a front court player who will ‘set’ the second play of the ball to a third player that hits the ball into the opposition court. Further along the development progression, the player taking the ‘set’ may perform a front set in the direction they are facing or a back set to a hitter behind them as a means of attempting to unsettle the opposition defense. At a more advanced level, teams may play a designated ‘setter’, and if that player happens to be in rotation starting in the backcourt they will need to come from the back row to the front court to set up the attack.

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