Kid + Ball = Play

Developing Physical Literacy Through Small Sided Games

Our son and his community rep Under 12 soccer team were asked to be ball people at the University National Men’s Soccer Championship last fall, hosted at the University of Toronto. The boys assumed their roles with excitement and awe as they stood by the sidelines with a soccer ball in hand; ready to throw into the play when indicated by the referee.shutterstock 517663504

Driving home I asked my son, “how did you like that experience?” He was quick to answer that they were all told not to fidget or play with the soccer ball on the sideline and to be ready at all times. He then added, mom, doesn’t that person know that “Kid + Ball = Play!” As a former physical education teacher and now educator involved in Physical Education Teacher Education, I smiled and thought to myself… what a tag line to aspire to… providing all children and youth with the competence and confidence to move their bodies, have fun and keep active!

In a time when our children and youth are living very sedentary lives, when play is almost becoming extinct and sport is becoming very specialized at an early age and less accessible to many, it begs the question; What is the role and purpose of Physical Education in schools and communities in the 21st century?

As a course instructor of pedagogy for Health and Physical Education at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE) at the University in Toronto, I challenge my beginning teachers with this very question as they engage in teaching and learning experiences that will contribute to their understandings as teachers. Two very influential bodies of research and practice are the notion of physical literacy and curriculum model, Teaching Games for Understanding.

Physical and Health Education (PHE) Canada defines physical literacy as,

Individuals who are physically literate move with competence and confidence in a wide variety of physical activities in multiple environments that benefit the healthy development of the whole person

  • Physically literate individuals consistently develop the motivation and ability to understand, communicate, apply, and analyze different forms of movement.
  • They are able to demonstrate a variety of movements confidently, competently, creatively and strategically across a wide range of health-related physical activities.
  • These skills enable individuals to make healthy, active choices that are both beneficial to and respectful of their whole self, others, and their environment.” (Mandigo, J., Francis, N., Lodewyk, K. & Lopez, R. 2009).

Think about your physical literacy journey from birth to present. Think about the number of fundamental movement skills such as running, jumping, skipping, throwing, swimming that you have acquired or you wish your students to acquire in your PE programs. Think about the experiences that contributed to your motivation to move or your confidence to move. Now think about what that will look like in your PE programming to develop physical literacy for all your students.

This leads to how to develop physical literacy through small-sided games. The curriculum model, Teaching Games for Understanding (TGFU) simply put, allows students to understand the why before the how – game tactics before skill.

TGFU a strategic games-based approach, which emphasizes students’ understanding of and performance in the many tactical aspects of game play, was first proposed by Bunker and Thorpe in the early 1980’s as an alternative to traditional, technique–led approaches to games teaching and learning. Over the past decade, TGFU has acquired great momentum in Canada as an effective game pedagogy and is embedded in our PE curriculum documents.

TGFU is a comprehensive, student-centered approach to help students acquire the knowledge of game strategies, movement skills, decision-making skills and team building skills through small-sided games (4 vs. 4, 3 vs. 3). Students become more independent thinkers and less reliable on their PE teacher or coach to make decisions in game play situations. The use of novelty type equipment such as a rubber chicken allows for the learning to focus on tactics first and then skill development follows.

Through small-sided strategic games students develop their competence and confidence to play, have fun and are more active. Wouldn’t it be great if all kids who saw a ball wanted to play?!

For some more information about physical literacy or TGFU check out some of my ‘go-to’ resources that I share with beginning teachers:

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