Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy


Faculty of Education


Game Centred Approaches (GCAs) have been promoted as the preferred method of teaching games and sports in New South Wales secondary schools due to perceived links with quality teaching and learning environments, as described in the NSW ‘Quality Teaching Framework’ (QTF DEC, 2003). All future Physical and Health Education teachers in NSW are expected to be both cognisant of, and competent in using GCAs to allow students to better achieve the outcomes of the syllabus and create teaching and learning environments that meet quality teaching and learning outcomes.

However, despite the development of GCAs such as Teaching Games for Understanding (1982) internationally and Game Sense (1997) in New South Wales, they are still seen as an innovative and relatively new approach to teaching. This may be for the following reasons. Using GCAs require the user to firstly be more familiar with a broader range of game play elements and secondly, as GCAs encourage the active involvement of students in the learning, to facilitate this involvement using student responses as a basis for this facilitation. This differs significantly to the more traditional model used to teach games and sports and the model experienced by most students and players involved in games and sports, which places a priority on gaining proficiency in movement skill prior to game play. As a result, what occurs when preparing future Physical Education Teacher Educators (PETE) to use a GCA, a model quite different to their own experiences, is unknown.

The purpose of the thesis is to investigate how PETE undergraduates understand GCAs through examining how they constructed understandings and meanings about games for themselves and for their peers using a GCA. It also examined how my own understandings and uses of a GCA impacted on undergraduate knowledge and understanding of GCA. Data for the study were collected over two 13-week semesters in three practical studies courses in games and sports with two cohorts (n =119) studying in the University’s undergraduate Physical and Health Education degree. The second year cohort (n=61) was studying using GCAs in the invasion sports of hockey and soccer and the third year cohort (n=58) were studying using GCAs in the net/wall court sports of volleyball, badminton, squash and tennis. The study described in this thesis is informed by an ethnomethodological approach and used three data collection tools. Firstly, all interactions in environments where meaning making in relation to GCA understanding was taking place were recorded using an iPod. This included interactions between the undergraduates and me and between themselves in tutorials, all informal and formal consultations between myself and the undergraduates and all undergraduate GCA presentations and my own observations of these presentations. Secondly, all undergraduate GCA presentations were recorded using a digital video camera. Finally, all undergraduate self reflections based on the audio recordings of their presentations was collected at the conclusion of each course. All audio data was transcribed in 2007/2008 and extra data using the same process was collected over the next two years. While not used directly in this study, it assisted in the development of emerging themes in relation to the research questions.

The study found the following were a major influence in the development of undergraduate meaning and understanding in relation to the use of GCAs. Firstly, the expectations and beliefs of the undergraduates in relation to games and sports were very important. These beliefs and expectations about the courses and the use of a GCA in relation to their perceived role in teaching games and sports caused discomfort and in some cases personal confusion in what a GCA meant and how it was used in presentations. However, in general, the undergraduates approach to the challenges presented to them in relation to GCAs seemed to assist them in understanding why GCAs could be a valuable teaching approach in games and sports and in assisting students to learn in this area. The study also determined that undergraduate understanding of GCAs would benefit from a greater focus on developing skills in game observation and analysis, especially in relation to the role of and use of questions in in GCA presentations. Greater attention to these areas would assist in the improving undergraduate ability to develop appropriate questions and manage the ongoing dialogue in lessons using GCAs and also facilitate a more in depth understanding of the key elements of game play identified by GCAs: strategy and tactics, decision making and expanded elements of communication, concentration and cognition. The study also developed a Systematic Assessment Scaffold to assist in determining the quality of GCA use in relation to their connection with constructivist approaches. This scaffold was a beneficial tool for enhancing both my own understanding and undergraduate understanding of GCAs. Despite the intentions of the undergraduates, GCA presentations in practice were inconsistent and resulted in large variations in the quality of the learning experiences. The demonstrated use of the conceptual scaffold in practice gives and insight into how it’s use could provide valuable insights into various strengths and weaknesses of users and give users and observers of GCA the capacity to enhance understanding of GCAs. Finally, the study suggests the use of a traditional sports based approach may no longer be an appropriate approach to take in tertiary PETE undergraduate courses when developing undergraduate understanding of GCAs. It suggests the potential of a more conceptual approach to develop GCA understanding and recommends further research into such an approach as a positive step forward in GCA research.