Teaching Striking and Fielding Games in PE Using a Game Based Approach

Recently I had the opportunity to present a workshop on striking and fielding games using a game-based approach, as game-based approaches emphasise inquiry oriented processes, such as well considered teacher use of questions to provided 'guided discovery' of game understanding, consistent with the expectation in Australian HPE curricula that all subjects teach for critical thinking and problem solving abilities.

I started the process of planning for the workshop by considering the 'logic' of striking and fielding games, rather than thinking about the technical motor control elements of striking and fielding. Grehaigne, Richard & Griffin (2005) describe how team games have an 'internal logic': that is, specific principles of play that describe the nature of play.

I proposed that all striking and fielding games have the common principles of play:

  • Score by making 'runs'
  • Batter defends a 'wicket' or 'plate'
  • Fielders get batters 'out'
  • Fielders attempt to stop batters making 'runs'
  • A batter cannot be out if they are in a designated base area
This is the starting point for our physical education striking and fielding program content. The next consideration is the tactical problems that players face within the game system created by the common principles of play. I propose three types of tactical problems for striking and fielding games:

The batter attempts to create time to make a run by hitting the ball into space
The fielder attempts to stop the batter having time to make a run by defending space
The bowler/pitcher attempts to get the batter out by forcing the batter into a decision error or movement error

Adopting the concept of levels of tactical complexity from Mitchell, Oslin & Griffin 1997, 2006, 2013 I suggest the striking and fielding curriculum can then be built through 5 levels of complexity:

Beginning with a focus on batting
Level 1: Developing control (stay in)
Level 2: Hitting the ‘bad ball’ to space (making a run)
Level 3: Hitting to space by targeting the ‘gaps’ in the field (making a run)
Level 4: Disrupting the bowler/pitcher (getting on top of the bowler/pitcher)
Level 5: Ability to accelerate the scoring (hitting ‘out of the park’)

Beginning with a focus on pitching/bowling
Level 1: Developing control (‘hitting the spot’)
Level 2: Stopping scoring (‘drying up the runs’)
Level 3: Developing variation in control (creating indecision in the batter)
Level 4: Getting on top of the batter (targeting a batters weakness)
Level 5: Dominating the batter (the batter ‘can’t get bat on ball’ with any sense
             of control)

One of my favourite bloggers @ImSporticus Drowning in the Shallows blog has a wonderful example of levels of complexity for cricket batting, and small sided games to focus players exploration of the central idea of the level. See 

One of the challenges we explored in the workshop is how to not have large periods of waiting time for the players waiting their turn to bat, or in the field when the ball is not being hit in the vicinity of the fielder for large periods of time. Many times I have driven past a school where the PE class are doing softball or cricket, and half the class are 'batting' and the other half of the class are fielding. This situation does not maximise student opportunity for the volume of practice needed to 'improve', or the 'touching the ball' and 'scoring' opportunities that are part of the motivational climate for continued interest in the activity. The concept of small sided games was explored by looking at how to scale the technical challenge for the wide range of abilities typical in most PE classes, and how to move from general movement ability to hit (strike a ball) and field (track the ball, stop the ball, throw the ball, catch the ball), to movement sequences, then specialised applications of technical and tactical movement skills using Danish Long Ball,  Schlagball (German Baseball), Alleyway Baseball, French Softball/cricket, Pesapallo (Nordic Baseball), Arrkene Irreme (an Indigenous striking and fielding game from central Australia), and 'Super 2's' Cricket as the examples. 

The following diagram of 'Super2's' cricket shows the pedagogical tenets of the Australian game-based teaching approach called the Game Sense approach, which was used to bring all the ideas together for a secondary PE context where the student achievement standard requires the demonstration of consistent successful application of specialised technical and tactical movement skills .

Image from Play with Purpose: Game Sense to Sport Literacy. Available from

For elementary/primary school teachers looking for a sport specific application of the ideas presented in this blog, rather than a thematic approach which I outlined here and in the workshop, the Cricket Australia S'Cool Cricket resource is excellent (DM me if you would like a copy as I have it as a pdf)

Another idea we explored in the workshop was the concept of games that intentionally couple perception and action, and we used ideas that Barrie Gordon introduced in his softball workshop at the 2013 TGfU Symposium in Auckland. The starting progressions for the game sequence is shown below. The aim of the game is to score a run by getting to base 1. The batter runs no further. The first game intentionally couples placing the ball into 'left field' to have time to make a run by getting to base 1, because you have placed the ball in the opposite direction of the field to that which you need to run to get to base and score. After a period of play, the tactical concept and associated strategies are explored with players.

The first progression we used was the task aim for the batter to get to base 2 to score. The batter could stop at base 1, but only 1 batter was allowed on base at one time. In a 'tactical timeout' conversation, teams can now discuss: how to create time to get to second base?; when is the moment of advantage to get to second base?; what determines if you stop on first base?; and teams can discuss fielding tactics and associated strategies - such as, when their are runners to first and second, what determines whether you try for runner to second out or runner to first out?

The sequence of learning is gradually developed towards a run around the bases back to home base/plate to score a run. The game builds towards 6v6: for example, by the progressive addition of base fielders while keeping the two outfielders and home base fielder that were there at the start of the sequence in place, starting with a third base fielder being added. Restrictions on the placement of the hit are also progressively lifted, beginning with the initial requirement to hit the ball along the ground being removed and allowing the ball to be hit in the air coupled with the batter being out if caught before the ball bounces.

For those interested in a more advanced form of this teaching by game scenarios approach, Barrie sets out a game-based approach for softball and baseball using tactical scenarios and 'set plays' in his book Developing Thinking Players: Baseball/Softball Edition I believe this resource is well suited to upper secondary (Year 9-10) and senior years (Year 11-12) PE curriculum expectations around sport specific tactical and technical game understanding.


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