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Coaching Soccer for Understanding: Open or Closed? The importance of body shape when attacking in soccer.

Abstract
This paper offers an account of a practical coaching session presented to coaches at the Teaching Games for Understanding International Conference held at the University of British Columbia, May 2008. It aims to demonstrate how TGFU pedagogy can be used effectively to coach players at an advanced level. There is firstly an attempt to present a rationale for the coaching strategies used; linking theory to practice. Light (2006), quite rightly, warns against the polarization of TGFU as if in conflict with the technique-focused approach. He argues that all good coaches have worked with both approaches in their sessions. When coaching soccer, technique development must not be neglected but developed contextually. Games sense, as he refers to TGFU, has its roots in constructivist learning theories where the learner is being actively engaged in learning and drawing on existing knowledge to make sense of learning situations and construct understandings. This applies just as much to skill learning as it does to tactical appreciation. The pedagogy that TGFU exponents are advocating is one of multi-variate and dynamic human interaction and not the mere transmission of knowledge (Light 2006) with its roots in constructivist learning theories. According to Light (2006), ‘The focus on the players and not the coach, the encouragement of player autonomy and interaction and the central role that questioning plays’ (p.17) are what sets it apart from directive, coach-centred approaches.

Some of the potential difficulties facing coaches who are intending to adopt TGFU as an instructional model are identified in this paper. Despite these perceived challenges, a cogent rationale is presented which endorses a wider use of this model in games coaching at all levels, including elite athlete development., based upon both a sound constructivist teaching-learning perspective of coaching (Richard and Wallian 2005) and the desirability of developing independent, motivated players (Light 2005)

The theme

The subject of the coaching session is the importance of body position when receiving the ball in soccer and its implications for passing options. The hypothesis is that when a square or backward pass is directed to a player it is often because the opponents’ pressure on the ball and marking positions have forced a change in direction of play. It is, therefore, logical that, as the receiver I should continue that change in direction rather than control the ball and pass back towards the pressure again. The most effective way to maintain the lateral change of play is to receive the ball on the back foot and with an open body shape (ie. open up the play rather than play back to where it came from). It is important that players adopt the open shape early in order for them to glance over their shoulder to check for defenders as the ball is traveling towards them. Of course, if there is an opponent closing in behind the receiver, he/she will probably choose to receive on their front foot and protect the ball.

This principle can similarly be applied to a player receiving a forward pass. A striker or midfield player would prefer to receive on the back foot and keep the forward momentum of the attack going. However, they will need to adopt an open shape in order to improve their awareness of opponents’ defending distances and to turn and play forward as quickly as possible.

Kirk (2005) states that the more he has worked with TGFU, the more that he has become convinced that TGFU is more demanding of teachers’ pedagogical content knowledge and subject matter knowledge than is the traditional approach. Whilst good coaches do not have to have been top class games players, it helps to have had experiential knowledge of the game concept so that the games principles underpinning TGFU coaching sessions are not only understood but...
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