I have to address something that I see WAY too much of. That’s coaches in discussions about the validity of the game context training approach straw-manning what exactly “the game teaches the game” means.

Let’s start with a definition. According to Wikipedia:

A straw man fallacy (sometimes written as strawman) is the informal fallacy of refuting an argument different from the one actually under discussion, while not recognizing or acknowledging the distinction.

The straw man those who attack “the game teaches the game” use is that this means coaches just play games all the time and don’t actually provide any instruction/feedback/etc. In other words, they just roll out the balls and tell the kids to play. I’m sure you’ve heard that argument. Maybe you’ve used it yourself. Of course, that’s not what it is. At best that’s bad coaching. Really, it’s more like activity management, or something along those lines, and not coaching at all.

If we were to flip things around and straw-man the more technical training approach (“drill, drill, drill”?) it would be something like saying all they do is isolated skill (blocked) drills. Again, if you ever came across a coach who did that you’d say it was pretty bad coaching – especially if they didn’t offer the players any instruction/feedback/etc.

Are there examples of “just roll the balls out and play” coaches? For sure! All the ones I’ve come across or heard about, though, weren’t actually “the game teaches the game” proponents. They were just lazy people there for a paycheck. That’s not to say there aren’t examples of coaches who misunderstand and misapply the approach, however. Similarly, there are examples of coaches doing more isolated skill training who have no idea how to do it well.

To quote Mark Lebedew:

Bad coaches are bad coaches. They will always be bad regardless of the dogmatic position they choose. It is not the position that makes them bad coaches.

So let’s get away from the straw man arguments. It gets us nowhere attacking what would be the worst possible example of the other side. We all acknowledge that’s bad coaching. If you want to debate, then do so on the right basis. In this case, it’s whether training in a game context is better/worse/equivalent to training in a more isolated fashion in a given situation.

And if you can’t do anything but straw-man the other side, consider whether you might be stuck in the “what works” mentality.

As an aside, I’ve never really liked the whole “game teaches the game” phraseology for game context training. It’s too easy to straw-man, as we can see.

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John Forman
John Forman

John is currently the Talent Strategy Manager (oversees the national teams) and Indoor Performance Director for Volleyball England, as well as Global Director for Volleyball for Nation Academy. His volleyball coaching experience includes all three NCAA divisions, plus Junior College, in the US; university and club teams in the UK; professional coaching in Sweden; and both coaching and club management at the Juniors level. He's also been a visiting coach at national team, professional club, and juniors programs in several countries. Learn more on his bio page.

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