Using Grehaigne's concept of the Internal logic of the game to introduce volleyball in PE

Grehaigne, Godbout and Bouthier (1999) introduced the idea of the unique nature of a sport being derived from the internal logic of the game. The internal logic of the game is provided by specific rules, which we might call the 'primary rules' of the game. Using this idea, I suggest we think of Volleyball as a game of projection and reception, which we call a 'rally'. Therefore, to represent the logic of the game of Volleyball requires there to be a rally. A rally is possible because there are two teams, each 'defending' their own court. The courts are separated by a 'net'. The logic of the game of Volleyball also includes control of the ball when in possession. The number of contacts on the ball by a team in possesion is limited. The internal logic of a game defined by the primary rules of the game determine a pattern of interaction between players on the same team, and between opposition teams (Grehaigne, Godbout & Bouthier, 1999).

Moving from fundamental movement skill comptency expectations of students in Grades 1/2 PE, most curriculum frameworks then expect of students in PE to show competency in the combination of fundamental movement skills into movement sequences by the end of Year 4. A movement sequence is a combination like: move efficently to the ball (tracking), keep the ball off the floor by catching the ball with two hands, throw the ball with two hands to achieve an objective (such as passing to a team-mate, or projecting the ball over the net into an opponents space). With this general competency expectation in mind and the concept of the internal logic of the game, we modify the game of Volleyball to be suitable for children in Year 3/4 with the aim of initially teaching for conceptual understanding of the game.

What does this game look like?

Let's go with the standard three contacts of Volleyball. Only three players can contact the ball in any one play on a teams side of the court. Therefore, to maximise game involvement and the 'ball touches' that lead to game development and enjoyment, we play 3v3. We need a court for each team, separated by a net. I start with the net simply being a space between the two teams over which the ball must travel. The size of the team courts is determined by the teaching objective - if I want to emphasise the rally I will have a smaller court space so it is easier for players to 'defend' their court. Later in the unit, when the learning objective shifts to targeting space to win the point I will make the court space bigger.

An important consideration is the movement ability of the players. By the start of Year 3 they should all be able to catch the ball with two hands, and underarm throw with two hands. Therefore, it is with those movement skills that I start the game: rallies commence with a cooperative 'rainbow' underarm serve from the serving team's court across the net and into the other team's court. The aim of the game is to get the ball on the opponent teams court floor to win the rally. If you win the rally, you win the point and the 'right' to serve. The ball must always be caught with two hands 'under the waist', and projected with a two handed underarm throw.

Progressions (new rules) include: you can't move with the ball; you must pass the ball only in the direction your feet are facing (with good questioning by the teacher, this rule gets players thinking about their movement before they play the ball so they are in good position to play the ball forward; serve from the end of your court (this rule addition may require you to allow a one arm under arm throw to serve so players can get the ball to travel over the net); players are allowed to catch and pass or 'bump pass' the ball. At this stage of bump and pass, questioning of the players should focus their attention on developing stability of their 'base' to play the ball, and control of the direction of the ball by line of force, and developing their platform to contact the ball. Some classes get to the stage whereby we can move away from the net as a dividing space to the net as a 'wall' that divides the courts. Badminton courts are ideal for 3v3 at this stage. By the end of the sequence of learning I generally find I can have most students doing a forearm pass 'bump' off the serve. More importantly, I have students succeeding at the level of the achievement standard - they have refined their fundamental movement skills of underarm catch, underarm throw, and tracking the ball by applying movement concepts (in this case, projection and reception- a rally) and strategies (such as placement in the opponents court) to solve movement challenges (for example - keep the ball of the floor on your side of the court, win the point).

In the PE focus area of games and sport, student expectations generally move to the performnce of specialised movement skills and sequences. Keeping in mind I want to maintain the logic of the game and begin the sequence of learning with game understanding, I move to a Volleyball court however the game design is 'long and skinny' half court to mean ball placement is about the manipulation of depth not width. I maintain 3v3, but now I want to set up understnding of the game speciifc movement sequence of volleyball: pass, set, hit.

My starting conditions for the intial game form are: 3v3 - one front court player starts in front of the attack line (we will call this player the setter as their role is to set the attack), and two players start in the back court/behind the attack line; cooperative one hand under-arm serve to the back court of the opposing team to start rallies; receive of serve has the option of a bump pass or catch and two handed underarm throw pass of the ball to the setter, third contact must go over the net with a one handed over head strike of the ball (the assumption here is that by Year 5 students are competent at the one hand over-arm throw and a strike of the ball - if not, they should not have passed Year 4 PE!). The setter catches the second hit over head with two hands, and then keeping the ball above the setters head, plays a two-handed overhead pass for  team-mate to play the third contact over the net with a one handed over-arm strike of the ball. The team that wins the rally 'wins the point' and the 'right' to serve. 

Progressions: the main progression in this game is the shaping of the over head pass from a throw and catch into a set. With many students I can get them setting the ball competently without needing isolated practice by cueing the movement progressively into a setting action. There are always some students who need their movement competency accelerated by isolation from the play and 'closed drill' practice to achieve a set rather than a throw and carry. If the emphasis is on developing the set, I allow the first contact in the back court to be a two handed underarm catch and pass to the setter, so the ball comes to the setter with consistency and control of placement. I find most students are able to do a standing overhead strike of the ball, and many progress quickly to initiating a standing jump into an overhead strike of the ball over the net. As with the set, with cueing I find most students are able to refine this movement into a 'spike' without the need for isolated practice, however, there are usually some that require their movement competency accelerated by isolation from the play and 'closed drill' practice. At this stage I continue to allow the first team contact to be a two handed underarm catch of the ball off a spike/hit, as I want to ensure the logic of the rally is maintained.

Most PE curriculum frameworks don't expect competency of specialised sport skills by the end of Year 6: this expectation comes by the end of Year 8. Therefore, 3v3 half court Volleyball is still an appropriate game form for Year 7/8. I am often asked if I ever play 6v6 up to the end of Year 8 in PE. No, I don't. My aim is to provide maximum learning time and high volumes of practice to accelerate individual students game development, so that each student leaves with the outcome of feeling confident in their competence to play a pick-up game at the park, or the beach, or in the gym if the school leaves nets up at lunch to enable active recreation during lunch breaks, and if they like the game, they feel sufficiently prepared to go to a club or school team to continue the game development to competition level. The 3v3 conditioned games are my 'tool' to achieve strength based educative outcomes with the game of Volleyball. PE has different objectives to club sport. However, if I coached in a club setting or school sport team environment after the warm-up I would start every practice session with 3v3 games.

The purpose of this blog is to demonstrate how we can teach the logic of the game of Volleyball in PE by conditioning the game from a simple representation of the primary rules and then progressively shaping the conditions of the game to more complex and 'fully formed' representations of the game. A premise is that student 'success' is enhanced by designing games from movement abilities which the students should have developed at 'key stages' of the movement achievement continuum in PE. It is my experience of teaching Volleyball this way that I have avoided the often cited outcome of PE that student are more likely to learning what they can't do rather than progress their movement competencey and self efficacy as players being developed. The ideas in this blog can be applied to the progressive teaching of any sport in PE. At the November 2018 Asia Pacific Physical Education Conference at Hong Kong International School I used the idea of the internal logic of the game and progressively shaping game conditions to develop a simple kicking game of 'keeping off' into a game of AFL9's.

For those interested, I share some other ideas about teaching/coaching Volleyball on an earlier blog here 

*This blog is developed from the ideas presented in a workshop at the 31st ACHPER International Conference, Australian Institute of Sport, Canberra, January 146-16, 2019.


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