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The Foundations of Tactics and Strategy in Team Sports

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Abstract

The debate regarding the teaching of sport and games appears to be more complex than a matter of technical versus tactical approaches. The authors identify facets of the debate. One of these facets concerns the undifferentiated use of the terms tactics and strategy. The authors argue that these two concepts need to be clarified if decision-making and critical-thinking are to be encouraged on the part of the students. A framework is put forward for the analysis of the functioning of team sports. The framework includes: (a) an overview of the internal logic of team sports based on two essential features, the rapport of strength and the competency network; (b) an operational definition of strategy and tactics as they relate to the internal logic of team sports; and (c) nine principles underlying tactics and strategy and presented as potential guides for teachers and students in the teaching-learning of team sports and games.
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JTPE 1728 FINAL
Running head: TACTICS AND STRATEGY IN TEAM SPORTS
The Foundations of Tactics and Strategy in Team Sports
Jean-Francis Gréhaigne Paul Godbout
University Institute for Teacher Education Department of Physical
Education
University of Franche-Comté Laval University
Besançon, France Ste-Foy, QC, Canada
Daniel Bouthier
STAPS Division
University of Paris-Sud
Orsay, France
Mailing address:
Paul GODBOUT
Department of Physical Education
Ste-Foy, QC, CANADA, G1K 7P4
(PHONE):(418) 656 3925
(FAX) (418) 656 3020
E.mail:paul.godbout@edp.ulaval.ca
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Abstract
In the present debate regarding the teaching of sports and games, there appears to be more
than the matter of a technical vs. a tactical approach. Four different facets of the debate are
identified. One of these facet concerns the undifferentiated use of the terms tactics and
strategy. The authors argue that these two concepts, central to team sports and games, need to
be clarified if decision-making and critical-thinking are to be encouraged on the part of the
students. A framework is put forward for the analysis of the functioning of team sports. The
framework includes: (a) an overview of the internal logic of team sports based on two
essential features, the rapport of strength and the competency network; (b) an operational
definition of strategy and tactics as they relate to the internal logic of team sports; and (c)
nine principles underlying tactics and strategy and presented as potential guides for teachers
and students in the teaching/learning of team sports and games. In conclusion, the paper
draws the readers' attention on the importance of considering educational aspects in the
teaching/learning of tactics and strategy.
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The Foundations of Tactics and Strategy in Team Sports
In all elementary and secondary school physical education curricula, games and sports
occupy a significant, and sometimes a major place. As evidenced by several papers published
in recent years in the Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance (Berkowitz, 1996;
Butler, 1996, 1997; Chandler, 1996; Chandler & Mitchell, 1990; Doolittle & Girard, 1991;
Griffin, 1996; Mitchell, 1996; Rauschenbach, 1996; Turner, 1996; Werner, 1989; Werner &
Almond, 1990; Werner, Thorpe, & Bunker, 1996), the Journal of Teaching in Physical
Education (Rink, 1996), and Quest (Gréhaigne & Godbout, 1995; Turner & Martinek, 1995),
there is a renewed interest in the teaching of games and sports. The proposal of the Teaching
Games For Understanding model (TGFU) (Bunker, Thorpe, & Almond, 1986; Werner et al.,
1996) brings to light a debate concerning the respective importance and place of techniques
and tactics in the learning of games and sports. A traditional view of teaching games and
sports has been to insure at first, in drill contexts, the mastery of a series of motor skills
(techniques) seen as fundamental for the practice of the activity, followed by a progressive
introduction to tactics in game contexts. The TGFU model proposes that priority be given to
the understanding and learning of tactics related to a game or a sport and that specific
technical skills be worked on when the need is perceived by the students (Werner, 1989;
Werner et al., 1996).
The purpose of this paper is to hopefully enrich the debate by offering a framework for
research and discussion on the analysis and teaching of team sports and games. More
specifically, the authors wish (a) to identify various facets of the present debate as it relates to
team sports and games; (b) to discuss two fundamental features of team sports and games,
namely the rapport of strength and the competency networks; (c) to differentiate the notions
of strategy and tactics; and (d) to examine various principles related to the rapport of strength
and the competency networks and underlying strategy and tactics. The authors' intent is to
encourage a debate, among physical education researchers, on the subject matter per se
concerning the nature and the various aspects of opposition and cooperation in games and
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sports in the hope that this will eventually prove to be worthwhile for the pursuit of the
discussion on the teaching of these activities (Chandler, 1996).
Various facets of the debate
As alluded to earlier, numerous authors have discussed in recent years the teaching and
learning of team sports. Different ideas, opinions and perspectives have been presented.
Going over that body of literature, one comes to realize that the debate bears in fact many
facets. Although it may not be appropriate nor even possible to consider all of them
simultaneously when writing about the teaching and learning of team sports, it seems relevant
to recognize them in order to eventually delineate the limits of any given discussion on the
subject and avoid confusion or misinterpretations. At this point, the authors have identified
four aspects or facets of the debate that ought to be recognized.
Obviously the most prominent facet concerns the respective contribution of the tactical
and the technical approaches to teaching games and sports. Throughout winter and spring
1996, the Journal of Physical Education, Recreation and Dance published a series of papers
intended to define the Teaching Games For Understanding model and to discuss its
advantages and difficulties (Berkowitz, 1996; Chandler, 1996; Griffin, 1996; Rauschenbach,
1996; Turner, 1996; Werner, Thorpe, & Bunker, 1996). In the summer of the same year, the
Journal of Teaching in Physical Education published an entire monograph discussing tactical
and skill approaches to teaching sports and games from a research perspective (Rink, 1996).
Very recently, Griffin, Mitchell, and Oslin (1997) have published a book about "Teaching
Sport Concepts and Skills - a Tactical Games Approach". A succinct analysis of the British
and French physical-education literature shows that the debate has also been going on
overseas for some time (Bayer, 1979; Bouthier, 1984, 1988; Deleplace, 1979; Gréhaigne,
1989; Mahlo, 1969 [originally published in German]; Mérand, 1977, 1984; Stein, 1981;
Teodorescu, 1965 [originally published in Rumanian]; Thorpe & Bunker, 1983; Thorpe,
Bunker, & Almond, 1986).
A second facet of the debate concerns the underlying learning conception associated
with the tactical approach. As more specifically alluded to by Gréhaigne and Godbout (1995),
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Rink, French, and Graham (1996), and Rink, French, and Tjeerdsma (1996), the tactical
approach to teaching games and sports makes it necessary to consider the use of indirect
and/or direct teaching strategies in light of a constructivist vs. a strictly cognitivist perspective
of the teaching/learning process. Grossly summarized, the choices seem to be the following:
1. To propose to students the reproduction of the tactical skill that applies in a specific
situation. Such an option, referred to as direct teaching, would be typical of a subject-matter
centered teaching approach.
2. To propose to students the discovery of the tactical skill that applies in a specific
situation. Such an option would be associated with an indirect teaching approach, combining
both a subject-matter centered and a student centered approach. It could be referred to as an
empiricist constructivist approach to teaching (Cobb, 1986) which considers that knowledge
is an external reality and exists independently of the student's cognitive activity.
3. To propose to students the construction of suitable personal tactical skills that apply
in a specific situation (there may be more than one from the student's point of view). Such an
option, also referred to as indirect teaching, would be associated to a radical constructivist
approach (Cobb, 1986) which contends that the knowledge constructed by the student is the
result of the interaction between his / her cognitive activity and reality (Gréhaigne &
Godbout, 1995; Piaget, 1974).
A third aspect of the debate has been very briefly alluded to by Chandler (1996) who
stressed the importance of pedagogical content knowledge, the result of a process referred to
by French pedagogical researchers as "transposition didactique" (Amade-Escot , 1996;
Marsenach & Amade-Escot, 1993; Terrisse, 1998). This process can be described as (a) the
transposition from theoretical knowledge to teachable knowledge and (b) the transposition
from teachable knowledge to the knowledge effectively taught. This is similar to what
Shulman (1987) has described as the transformation of the content knowledge by teachers.
Whatever the teaching strategy adopted by a teacher, learning situations are neither planned
nor presented at random to students throughout a lesson or a teaching unit. Given that, the
content and evolution of these learning situations will likely differ depending upon the
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teaching strategy implemented. Numerous examples of didactic transposition applied to the
teaching of team sports have been published recently (e.g., Gréhaigne & Godbout, 1997;
Griffin et al., 1997; Werner et al., 1996). In association with didactic transposition, choices
will also be made in terms of assessment practices; this in itself could eventually become, if it
is not already, another aspect of the debate (Gréhaigne & Godbout, 1998; Gréhaigne,
Godbout, & Bouthier, 1997; Mitchell, Oslin, & Griffin, 1995; Oslin, Mitchell, & Griffin,
1998; Rink, French, & Tjeerdsma, 1996; Werner et al., 1996).
In addition, the quality of any didactic treatment of a subject matter may rest in the
first place in the development and the precision of the various components of the subject
matter itself. Hence, as a fourth facet of the debate, the pertinence and importance of
examining and clarifying the various concepts associated particularly with the tactical and
strategic aspects of games and sports. As mentioned earlier, there have been numerous papers
published in recent years concerning various aspects of the Teaching Games For
Understanding model. Given what has been written so far, no one would question the fact that
the terms tactics and strategy are quite fundamental with respect to the nature and the
teaching of games and sports. Throughout some papers, authors adhere faithfully to the
notion of tactics without referring to strategy (Berkowitz, 1996; Griffin, 1996; Mitchell,
1996; Werner et al., 1996). Few authors (Chandler, 1996) give preference to the notion of
strategy. In many cases (McPherson, 1994; Rauschenbach, 1996; Rink, French, & Tjeerdsma,
1996; Turner, 1996; Werner, 1989; and others), the terms tactics and strategy appear to be
completely confounded, both terms being used in the same paper, in the same paragraph or
even in the same sentence without prior definition.
When reading Good's discussion about the teaching-for-understanding perspective
(Good, 1996), one realizes that critical thinking underlies the students' mediation of the
subject matter. According to McBride (1991), critical thinking in physical education may "be
defined as reflective thinking that is used to make reasonable and defensible decisions about
movement tasks or challenges" (p. 115). If teachers are to encourage critical thinking on the
part of their students during the teaching of games and sports (Schwager & Labate, 1993),
Foundations of Tactics
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they should use clearly delineated concepts so that the students know exactly what they are
talking about and vice versa. As McBride (1991) has written, "inherent to the [critical-
thinking] process is the ability to organize thoughts clearly and to articulate them concisely
and perspicuously. Precision of thought has long been seen as a key attribute of higher order
thinking" (p. 117). This is why teachers and students alike should have clear notions of what
is meant when the terms strategy and tactics come up in their discussions about team sports
and games.
As time goes on and additional papers or books are written on the subject, it is likely
that other facets will emerge from the debate. For the time being, the authors feel that the
facets presented above and summarized in Figure 1 may help understand particular points of
view presented in the literature. In Figure 1, the central horizontal axis illustrates the first
facet of the debate concerning a focus on technical or tactical learning of team sports. The
central vertical axis illustrates for its part the second facet of the debate concerning the use of
indirect or direct teaching. Whatever the choice made with regards to the first two facets of
the debate, the subject matter must be transformed into pedagogical content knowledge
(didactic transposition) taking into account the characteristics of the students. At times, there
may be a need for clarification of some aspect of the subject matter itself, hence the fourth
facet of the debate concerning the notion of tactics and strategy.
The Internal Logic of Invasion Team Sports
It is not the intent of this paper to discuss at length the intrinsic nature of sport but in
order to better examine and contrast the notions of strategy and tactics, it seems necessary to
draw the reader's attention onto some fundamental characteristics of team sports. In an
attempt to circumscribe the essence of team sports, Gréhaigne and Godbout (1995) have
written that "in an opposition relationship, each of two teams must coordinate its actions in
order to recover, conserve, and move the ball so as to bring it in the scoring zone and
effectively score" (p. 492). Metzler (1987) describes the essence of team sports as being a
matter of "resolving in action, many together and simultaneously, series of problems not
foreseen a priori as to the order in which they will appear, their frequency and their
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complexity. And all this in order to resolve in a contradictory way, in the same action, the
attack on the adverse camp and the defense of his own camp" (p. 144).
From these two excerpts one can hold four notions that are central to the topic of this
paper: opposition to opponents, cooperation with partners, attack on the adverse camp, and
defense of one's own camp. Whatever team sport is concerned, each of these four elements is
at play but the complexity of their interaction may vary depending upon the category of sport
involved (Almond, 1986b; Werner, 1989). For instance, in baseball, a fielding / run scoring
type of team sport, attack and defense are two separate phases in a given inning. In invasion
games, the four elements are at play at the same time. Expressed in a nutshell, the idea for
each player is to cooperate with partners in order to better oppose the opponents either while
attacking (keeping one's defense in mind) or while defending (getting ready to attack)
(Gréhaigne, Godbout et al., 1997). Given that two teams play in opposition, a systemic view
of team sports brings us to consider two main organizational levels: the match, related to the
rapport of strength, and the team, related to the competency network (for more details
concerning a systemic analysis of team sports, see Gréhaigne & Godbout, 1995, and
Gréhaigne, Bouthier, & David, 1997).
The Rapport of Strength
In invasion games, the internal logic of the play has its source in the opposition
relationship that generates, during each sequence of play, a dynamics of moving from one
target to the other. We call this opposition relationship the rapport of strength. It refers to the
"antagonist links existing between several players or groups of players confronted by virtue
of certain rules of a game that determine a pattern of interaction" (Gréhaigne, Godbout et al.,
1997, p. 516). At all instants, the possession of the ball can change and the direction of play
inverts. This fact imposes on both teams an organization where location, movement and
replacement (general move generated by the opposition in the depth of the pitch) are an
answer to this reversibility (Gréhaigne, Bouthier et al., 1997).
In this general move, the ball carrier is faced with two interrelated decisions of play:
Foundations of Tactics
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1. A first is centered around two possibilities: to go directly to the target in order to
shoot or to move the ball closer to the target (complementary move in the depth);
2. The second is linked to the rapport between the width of the pitch and the number of
players that each team can use in this part of the field. It creates, on the way to the target, the
alternative of running or passing on one side or the other (moves in the width in order to
bypass coming opponents).
This target-oriented dynamics, which entails various shapes of moving and / or
shooting according to the available depth and to the orientation of the play widthwise,
constitutes the soul of any lively play. This is true whatever the particular structure of a sport
that determines its primary rules (how the game is played and how winning can be achieved
[Almond, 1986a]), whatever the surface of play, and whatever the characteristics of the
targets. The potential for reversibility of the general move at any instant, in both dimensions
(depth and width), is a major characteristic of the internal logic of the rapport of strength. One
must bear with this fact. The organization in response to the reversibility of the general move
implies, for each team, a collective frame of reference which all players must stay aware of.
At the same time, everyone must be capable of initiatives that one's teammates can decode to
react accordingly, or can even anticipate. This double dimension of a collective frame of
reference strongly linked to individual initiative is fundamental in team sports; this fact is
often overlooked.
As mentioned earlier, the rapport of strength may be associated with the
"organizational level match" (Gréhaigne & Godbout, 1995, p. 493); it is then interpreted as
two teams facing one another. But in fact, during the game, the global opposition relationship
breaks down into partial opposition relationships. These opposition settings that momentarily
involve some of the players generate a particular shape of play representing the
"organizational level partial forefront" (see Figure 2). At any moment of the match, this
partial forefront contains a 3rd-level opposition unit that links the ball holder and his / her
direct opponent. This is called "primary organizational level" (Gréhaigne, 1992a). Figure 2
illustrates these last two organizational levels, whereas the drawing of the whole field would
Foundations of Tactics
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represent the "organizational level match". Thus the rapport of strength may be looked at as
involving two teams, two sub-groups of players, or eventually two specific players. The
continuity of opposition influences the opponents' moves not only at the one-to-one level, but
at the partial forefront level and at the match level as well. These simultaneous interlocked
opposition settings constitute the context of play (Deleplace, 1979). They evolve in reciprocal
rapport in response to the evolution of any part of the system. At any specific moment,
according to the evolution of play, this reciprocity relationship offers, for example, a specific
problem to attackers but, at the same time, contains pertinent solutions for conducting the
action:
- either to continue the action at the one-to-one level;
- either to pursue the attack with the help of partners in the partial forefront;
- or to change the general move by transforming its shape, its orientation, or even both.
Thus, the continual reciprocity relationship between the three organizational levels constitutes
the second major characteristic of the internal logic of the rapport of strength (Deleplace,
1966).
As one can see, the general dynamics of team sports can be expressed as a rapport of
strength where, in a sense, two networks of forces are confronted one to the other. This fact
implies the consideration of a second frame of analysis, that of the "organizational level
team" (Gréhaigne & Godbout, 1995, p. 494).
The Competency Network
At the "organizational level team", the numerous interrelations between players, within
the team, make up what one might call a competency network (Gréhaigne, 1992b). Although
based on each player's recognized strengths and weaknesses with reference to the practice of
the sport, and also on the group's dynamism, the competency network is more a dynamical
concept than a static one. It refers to the student's game-related conducts and behaviors in
general that one can identify in connection with a rapport of forces, or with each player's
status, within the team. Such conducts and behaviors vary depending upon players, moments,
external factors, and the particular team sport involved. During play, in connection with
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conducts and behaviors, the notion of "role" is essential for analyzing the competency
network. In this case, "role" refers to conducts and behaviors that convey (a) what a player
thinks he or she ought to do, given the way he or she experiences the rapport of forces or
competency network within the team, and (b) how the player manages his or her resources in
this system of constraints.
The function within the group, chosen by the player, or assigned by the teacher or by
the group, is another indicator of the player's position in the team's dynamism. At the
interface of the player's logic, the team's logic, and the internal logic of the sport involved, the
player's function in this competency network often is a reliable indicator of the reciprocal
rapports between this player and the team. Contrary to what one might think at times,
cooperation in team sports, as in other aspects of life, goes far beyond simple goodwill and an
easy-going way of looking at sport. For the competency network to be at its peak, there is a
need for both efforts and restraints on the part of many players if not all of them.
In conclusion, from a systemic point of view, one could consider a team sport as the
functioning of two competency networks involved in a rapport of strength. It should then be
clear for the reader that the very existence of both the rapport of strength between opponents
and of the competency network within each team makes it necessary, for each team, to try to
anticipate the opponents' attacks and ways of defense and plan accordingly its offensive and
defensive action. It also becomes useful, for each team and each player, to reflect upon the
efficacy of decisions made during the encounter itself, depending upon one's partners' or
opponents' behaviors. This is why in this sense it appears necessary to explore the notions of
tactics and strategy.
Tactics and Strategy
Although in a completely different context but in view of victory as well, the terms
strategy and tactics have been used for a long time in the war vocabulary. According to Von
Clausewitz (1989) (translation of a book originally published in Germany in 1832), the
strategist determines, for the whole act of war, a goal corresponding to the object of war. He
sets up a war design compatible with the resources of the State, elaborates the plan of the
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different campaigns, organizes the engagements of each of them, combines actions of the
military forces and organizes them into systems to preserve their coherence. Von Clausewitz
adds that for the strategist, any conflict calls into play physical, mental and moral factors
which constitute "a surprising trinity"; the problem then consists in maintaining reflection or
theory at the center of these three tendencies as if suspended between three magnets. For his
part, the tactician focuses on a more limited, concrete and, generally geographic objective,
adapted to the strategic plans. The tactician conducts the battle, the operation in sight,
adapting the action, combining maneuvers, deciding on the engagement of the different
means of combat. Von Clausewitz points out the relative subordination of the latter to the
former: the strategist takes time into account and accompanies the tactician on the field.
Similarly, the European school of team sports makes a distinction between strategy and
tactics. For Bouthier (1988), strategy refers to all plans, principles of play, or action
guidelines decided upon before a match in order to organize the activity of the team and the
players during the game. The finalized strategy may either concern the major general options
of play or specify the intervention of players for different categories of play. For their part,
tactics involve all orientation operations voluntarily executed during the game by the players
in order to adapt, to the immediate requirements of an ever changing opposition, their
spontaneous actions or those organized through the pre-determined strategy. Similarly, for
Gréhaigne and Godbout (1995),
strategy refers to these elements discussed in advance in order for the team to
organize itself. Tactics are a punctual adaptation to new configurations of
play and to the circulation of the ball; they are therefore an adaptation to
opposition. As discussed by Gréhaigne (1994) strategy concerns a) the
general order, i.e. the outside order form resulting from the general strategic
choices of the team (background play, team composition…), and b) the
positions to be covered according to particular instructions each player
receives in training (assigned position). For their part, tactics relate to a) the
positions taken in reaction to an adversary in a game situation (effective
Foundations of Tactics
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position) and b) the adaptation of the team to the conditions of play
(flexibility). (p. 491)
There is a fundamental difference between strategy and tactics as far as their relationship with
time is concerned. Strategy is associated with more elaborate cognitive processes as the
decisions made are based on reflection without time constraints. Tactics operate under strong
time constraints. In learning setups, one can use both strategic and tactical aspects of the
game whenever temporal pressure is reduced. During regular play, especially for players near
the ball (partial forefront and primary organizational levels), tactics are paramount. Thus,
progress in team sports may be seen as follows: (a) given an equivalent rapport of strength
and similar configurations of play, to perform the same actions faster or to solve problems
brought about by a higher temporal-pressure type of play; or (b) given identical time, to
perform more complex actions.
It is obvious that players can choose to perform only what they know how to do or can
do. But performance in team sports appears to be determined by the most appropriate choice
among the various solutions at the players' disposal and by the speed of this decision-making.
In this context, it seems that play action is eventually determined by a strategy that needs to
be specified, if not modified, during play. While strategic aspects rely on the conception of
the game, tactical aspects are fundamental to regulation during play since they are based on
successive decisions taken according to the evolution of the action. When players get away
from action, they can focus both on the strategic and tactical aspects of their game because
they have more time at their disposal.
Consequently, efficiency during play has nothing to do with a series of dissociated
behaviors. It relies on efficient-action rules and play-organization rules (Gréhaigne &
Godbout, 1995) that regulate strategic and tactical choices without being conscious nor
directly observable. However, the existence of such rules appears to be confirmed by the fact
that the subject can adapt to many configurations of play and, eventually, state the rule or
rules on which a solution was based. When teachers or researchers ask students "What
strategy did you use on that point?" (French, Werner, Taylor, Hussey, & Jones, 1996, p. 446),
Foundations of Tactics
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they are in fact trying to elicit the more or less explicit formulation of such rules. Coming
back to play efficiency, one might say that tactical efficiency is a generative capacity likely to
produce infinite tactical behaviors in response to infinite new configurations of play.
One must however differentiate two aspects of play: the unfolding of a static phase (a
set play) and the use of tactics in an unexpected play (Bouthier, 1988). A static phase is made
up of one or many schema of play; a schema of play, for its part, consists in pre-established
sequences of action, linked in a specific order, and set in motion at a given signal. Thus, a set
play is a program of actions. Tactics, on the contrary, build up during action, altering the
players' perception of information and their considered moves according to the lessons they
draw from the events of the game. They imply, for the player, a capacity for using both
determinism and random occurrences. On an individual basis, tactics may be defined as a
subject's own operating system during play; in order to fulfill his/her role, the player tries to
submit as least as possible to the restraints, the uncertainties and the hazards of the game
while using them as much as possible.
A program is predetermined in its operations and, in this sense, it is automatic. Tactics
are predetermined in their end result but not in all their operations, even though they must
have numerous automatisms at their disposal in order to function properly. The program is
put to use when there is little choice, little chance at play, or simply when it is necessary to
play faster than the opponent. On the other hand, tactics and strategy can only emerge at a
conscious level where one finds choices available, faces unexpected events and has the
possibility of finding solutions to these new situations. Figure 3 summarizes the main features
of strategy, tactics, and schema of play.
Tactical efficiency implies the capacity of deciding, and deciding fast, and this
capacity itself rests upon the ability to conceive solutions. Thus, tactical decision making
requires knowledge. When tactics are operating, cognitive processes serve to extract
informations from play, to draw an adequate representation of the situation, to weight
contingencies and to elaborate action scenarios. The resulting operative knowledge of
configurations of play allows players to recognize restraints, regularities and constants, and
Foundations of Tactics
15
hence to capture and question the unexpected event, that is transform it into information. In a
sense, tactical knowledge uses certainty, stability and constancy to recognize and solve
unexpected configurations of play.
Strategy and tactics encompass a vast number of potential decisions and actions
regarding offense or defense, and it is not the intent of this paper to analyze them at length.
While discussing the teaching and learning of team sports, some authors have come up with
categories of tactical and/or strategic knowledge (Gréhaigne & Godbout, 1995; Mitchell,
1996; Werner, 1989) that may be of interest to readers concerned with the substance of
pedagogical content knowledge in team sports. In this paper, the authors have elected to
consider some basic principles that may help focus the students' attention while they are
discussing or considering a strategy to be implemented, or reflecting on successful or
unsuccessful tactical choices. Those principles may also guide a coach when preparing the
team for a match, or help a teacher plan a teaching unit.
Some Principles Underlying Strategy and Tactics
None of the principles presented below relates to specific maneuvers on the part of the
players. In a way, one might say that they emerge from the internal logic of invasion team
sports discussed earlier. Some are linked to the rapport of strength, others, to the competency
network, but all serve the same general purpose: overcoming the opponents in view of
victory. For the sake of clarity and generalization, they are examined separately and in
general terms; in the reality of the game, it is their combination and contextualisation that
generate success. At times, certain principles may seem to apply more to strategy and others
to tactics but each one of them shoud be seen as eventually bearing consequences for both
aspects of the game.
The deception principle. It means trying to deceive and bring the opponent to make a
mistake, a bad move. In team sports, this principle is used at all levels, on a collective or
individual basis. Everyone knows that on an individual basis, numerous players make use of
feints in order to wrong-foot and outwit their direct opponent. Deception is also possible on a
collective basis, but it requires a great deal of collusion between players, for instance, to
Foundations of Tactics
16
organize defense in such a way that the ball carrier will have a shot angle at the goals but only
this one. Then the goal keeper knows that the shot can only come from this direction.
The surprise principle. It is the most used principle when a team attacks with several
interlocked sequences of play. A winger who progresses on the outskirt, on the opposite side
of the ball, in the opponent's back, hoping not to be seen, is obviously counting on a surprise
effect. This principle is closely related to the mobility and opportunity principles. Whereas
the surprise principle implies using unexpected actions, the deception principle, which may
seem similar, leads the opponents to act wrongly or to miss interpret the configurations of
play.
The mobility principle. Positional attack, based on continuity of play, requires
preparatory maneuvers before the attack can be launched. Through fast shifting and good
circulation of the ball, attackers may induce, in a given spot of the attack zone, a breaking-
down point in the state of equilibrium between the two teams and thus facilitate a shot on
goal.
The opportunity principle. Taking advantage of the opponents' mistakes is such an
obvious principle that it does not deserve further development. But still, one must see the
mistake and seize the occasion.
The cohesion principle. For a team's action objective to be achieved, there is a need for
coherence of action from its conception through its execution; this requires the application of
the cohesion principle on the team's part. All players must play in harmony, everyone playing
his or her part. Consequently, the logical, rational aspects of thoughts and actions cannot
ignore the affective counterpart of the cohesion principle, that of adhesion. Depending upon
teams and pursued objectives, this enduring cohesion may bear a higher or a lesser energy
cost for maintaining the group. At times, this maintenance cost may be at the expense of the
productivity energy required by the confrontation with the other team.
The competency principle. Coherence and cohesion are obtained, in part, through the
competency network that entails different roles and functions among players. This way, the
whole acquires a certain homogeneity that makes it possible to lower the maintenance energy
Foundations of Tactics
17
cost. Indeed, competency at all levels, at all positions, brings about, in the relationships
between players of a same team, a feeling of trust, an affective counterpart based on mutually
recognized capacities.
The reserve principle. As an example, a support organization of play is based on this
principle. A support player is, before anything else, this player by whom the attack may be
immediately restarted when a maneuver has failed. In soccer, having the forwards carry the
ball makes it possible to distribute other players and constitute a reserve along the
longitudinal axis of play.
The economy principle. The dynamics of reciprocal attacks, linked to scoring or to the
loss of the ball, leads sometimes to a result (a score) that may call for a change of objective in
the case of both the winning and the losing team. For instance, simply keeping ahead in the
score, instead of increasing one's advantage, brings about a change in the spirit of the play
and in the attack principles. It is no longer a matter of taking initiatives in view of scoring, but
rather of taking initiatives in view of keeping the ball without denying the play. This is what
we call the economy principle. Whether or not the use of this principle is desirable in
physical education classes is another matter related to the teaching-learning process per se. It
should noted that applying the economy principle forces a team, a group of players or a
specific player to think stategic, tactical or technical choices over, as well as their cost. In this
perspective, one may also think that, all things considered, it is better not to change one's
game and that the cost of the successive opponents' offensive maneuvers will be proved
enough to make their actions less and less efficient.
The improvement principle. Before a match, on the basis of a subjective estimate of the
rapport of strength, players select or elaborate consistent systems of play that they will
implement (execution phase) with whatever tactical and technical abilities they possess at the
time. At this level, technical progress is subordinated to the systems of play, in relation with
the estimated rapport of strength and the selected strategic principles. A deeper knowledge of
and a higher degree of integration to the implemented systems of play may make it easier for
a player to decode the opponents' and the partners' play and, thus, to act faster. But this gain,
Foundations of Tactics
18
obtained through automation, may be counterbalanced by the opponent's knowledge. Indeed
the opponent may in turn, through a similar fast decoding of the play, offer a more attuned
opposition to the player's actions. Then, a progress dynamics sets in, players attempting to
surpass the present stage of execution in order to outwit the opponents.
Conclusion
The elements discussed in this paper, namely the internal logic of team sports, the
notions of strategy and tactics, and some underlying principles, are but one aspect of the
whole matter of teaching team sports and games. As pointed out earlier in the paper and
illustrated in Figure 1, there are various facets to the present discussion about how team
sports and games ought to be taught. It was not the authors' intent to discuss at length each
one of these facets for each discussion would require considerable development. The fact that
the focus was put on the internal logic of team sports and its consequences for the notions of
strategy and tactics (the fourth facet of the debate) merely reflects the authors' opinion that
before exposing students to the subject matter ( in this instance, team sports), and thus
planning learning situations (didactic transposition), teachers should make sure that the
concepts of strategy and tactics are clearly delimited.
Key elements to be remembered by the teacher (and eventually perceived, understood
and integrated by the students) are the following:
1. Team sports and games, by essence, involve a rapport of strength, or an opposition
relationship, between two teams and therefore their respective members.
2. In such a rapport of strength, the efficient functioning of each team relies on the
understanding and appropriate management of its competency network.
3. Winning implies defeating the opponents. With that objective in mind, it is only
natural to think about and choose appropriate maneuvers to insure victory. Strategy will then
refer to elements discussed in advance in order for the team to organize itself with respect to
attack and / or defense. Tactics, for their part, refer to specific choices made by group of
players or individual players during the game in order to outwit the opponent(s).
Foundations of Tactics
19
4. Various principles, pertaining to the internal logic of team sports and games, may
help the players focus on specific strategies and tactics.
The fact that this paper has focused on an attempt to clarify the concepts of tactics and
strategy in team sports should not be interpreted as a denial of the pertinence of including,
when appropriate, the teaching/learning of technical skills. As pointed out in Figure 3,
players' tactical choices are made in connection with the technical skills they can perform. It
follows that for certain new tactics to be used, there will be a need for the development or the
improvement of certain motor skills. Those are part of the general subject matter
encompassing team sports and games and must also be eventually subjected to didactic
transposition. Also, the fact that, at least implicitly, the paper favors a constructivist student-
centered approach (Gréhaigne & Godbout, 1995) does not mean that there can never be any
room for some form of direct teaching. The two central axes shown in Figure 1 should be
thought of more as two continua than as two dichotomies. Thus an extreme position on each
continuum may not represent the pedagogical choice of most teachers.
While discussing the internal logic of team sports, the authors have pointed out very
briefly the possibility, for players, to anticipate their partners' play. The process of
anticipation and its consequences on decision-making (Bouthier, 1989) have not been
discussed in this paper but should eventually be examined in relationship with partners and
opponents as well because of their impact on tactics and strategy (Deleplace, 1979).
Finally, the analogy with war terminology does in no way mean that, for the authors,
team sports are to be seen as combat. Efficiency is an unavoidable aspect of the game and
plays a central role in team sports as in any sport. Most of the time, the result of a match
determines winners and losers. Team sports must nevertheless remain a courteous and
codified assault in which the presence of a referee, through its regulative function, reduces
considerably the hazardous nature of a warlike confrontation (Gréhaigne, 1996). Also, in
educational contexts, the search for fair conditions of play (such as reasonably balanced team)
should constitute a background on which to select the learning objectives and the teaching
procedures indicated in Figure 3. Looking for the most efficient strategies and tactics should
Foundations of Tactics
20
not lead to a victory-at-all-cost attitude. In this sense, the rightful place of ethics in the
teaching of team sports and games needs to be considered.
21
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Reproduction of ready-made solutions
Construction of responses and
consolidation of suitable responses
Technical
learning
Tactical and
strategic
learning
Student centered
Subject-matter centered
Subject
matter
Didactic
transposition
Given
students
Didactic
transposition
Given
students
Subject
matter
Figure 1. Didactic choices at the teacher's disposal.
Primary level
Partial forefront
level
Figure 2. Partial forefront and primary organizational levels.
STRATEGY
TACTICS
SCHEMAS
OF PLAY
Conscious aspects
Automatic aspects
Individual or
collective
assignments
In connection with
strategy, competency
network and each
player's skills
For both offensive and defensive
Individual or
collective
choices
Individual or
collective
patterns
Planned
before match
Spontaneous
during match
Organized
and repeated
in advance
Based on rapport of
strength and
competency network
Tasks distributed
according to
competency network
Figure 3. Main features of strategy, tactics, and schemas of play.
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