TIC TALK Podcasts

Exploring personal experiences of inclusion

TIC TALK 16: Les Bee

A podcast with Les Bee
October 2014

 

 

 

Les Bee

Les Bee

Football Federation Australia

Les Bee has a vast amount of experience as an educator, coach, administrator and advocate for sport, particularly football. He’s an innovator and a committed practitioner for inclusion and, for that matter, the rights of anyone to enjoy football. And he knows good practice when he sees it!

Transcript TIC TALK with Les Bee

Peter:

Okay, it’s a great pleasure today in Tic Talks to introduce Les Bee from Football Federation Victoria. What’s your current position, Les, in Football Federation Victoria?

Les:

Talent development, so that looks at player development, coach development and referee development.

Peter:

Okay. I’d like to talk about his current role but I’ve worked with Les for many, many years particularly through Disability Education Program and lots of Inclusion programs over the years. Instead, I want to go back to it, Les, because you’ve got experience in this area and we might get to how you translate that to your current work as well. But Les was particularly involved in a program called Game Sense that was developed in the mid 90s, right?

Les:

Yes, that would be right.

Peter:

By a gentleman called Rob Thorpe who came out to Australia on a Churchill Fellowship I think.

Les:

Yes he did.

Peter:

Rob introduced Game Sense which was a very inclusive approach to activities and games and sport that Les was particularly very strong in for many years and used as a tool. Now can you briefly describe to us what Game Sense is all about, please?

Les:

Okay, Game Sense is providing or structuring for the coach to structure an environment where players will learn specific aspects of the game or sport that they play and it’s more of a guided discovery rather than—implicit learning rather than explicit learning.

Peter:

So what about Game Sense, because it always struck me from the very beginning that Game Sense was a very good inclusive sport for people with disabilities or a good approach rather, for people with disabilities. What makes it that way?

Les:

I think that as far as my approach to it is that if you go down the track of—if you like explicit and instructed or coach-driven learning process is the coach telling athlete what they need to do. And that tends to be very technically based and if you focus purely on technique, that becomes very apparent early, those that can and those that can’t. I think therefore the attitude is that unless you’re a first class passenger, don’t bother getting on the plane because you won’t reach your destination. Where with a Game Sense approach, it’s an environment where people play so they’re engaged in an activity that’s like the game and it’s not a focus on technical, it’s a mixture of technique and tactics so they actually learn to play the game.

If I go back as I can remember many, many years ago, working with kids and I would work on the technical approach and the question that would be asked would be why do I have to practice passing or why do I have to practice (03:23) so if you can’t kick the ball properly then you can’t play. And then I would watch them play in a game at the end and the issue was that they might not even be kicking the ball properly in the game at the end but they were playing a game. So it probably wasn’t the game I wanted to watch or see but they were playing and I think that’s when the (03:48) the penny dropped and said if they’re engaged in that activity, there’s a better opportunity to practice and learn about the game.

Peter:

So would you say that Game Sense is kind of very much a developmental initial stage type approach rather than something that’s developed later on?

Les:

Yes I do, you can learn some of the tactics of the game through the environment that you play in and one, kids are not empty vessels, they understand some of the concepts of the game at a very early age. As an example, if there are goals at either end and they lose possession of the ball, often they will go and stand back where the goals are. So for me, that’s the introduction to zone defense because they recognize this is a dangerous area so we’re going to protect this area so I think it’s about how they perceive the game and my question would always be if you left young kids to their own devices, they wouldn’t do a drill. If you left players to their own devices, they don’t do a drill, they actually play a sort of game and they devise rules around that. So it also helps them recognize why the rules are important.

Peter:

When you’re teaching around here you run many sessions on Game Sense so when you’re running a session on Game Sense, it’s very much your role as a facilitator rather than an instructor or traditional coach, you facilitate learning within the group and the group really constructs their own learning, is that right?

Les:

That’s right and that’s where they will recognize that rules make the game better, they’re not there to prevent you doing things, they’re there to help players form the skills for the game to the best of their ability, it’s that—I think the thing is that you can’t determine exactly what people will learn from each session, it’s that they—each individual takes away different things from the session. What you can do is you can focus on something specific but their learnings will be very individual. So in a way, it’s another method, an approach for individualized learning.

Peter:

Yes, yeah, absolutely. Very much so. What about then, if it’s very much individualized learning and understanding the concepts of the game, but for some people with disability, that’s tricky. The nature of the impairment will be such that they have difficulty with understanding concepts of the game and they need more direct instruction. How does that fit with Game Sense?

Les:

I think with Game Sense, it’s what you can do and I see that the coach’s role is to throw in crumbs of information at the right time and therefore it would be a case of don’t provide the information or the instruction, the explicit instruction if you like, unless you know it’s going to have a positive impact. So in other words, it’s easy to do and it’s within the grasp of the participant themselves. So there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of discreet coaching, it’s not sort of generalizing it and aiming it at everybody because everybody doesn’t need the same information. So what you do is you become very specific to the individual and provide them with support to do that based on the fact that it’s going to have a positive impact.

Peter:

Yeah so some individuals if they’re having difficulty with the concepts, that’s where you can step in and try to modify your teaching style for that concept.
Les: And it’s a very discreet approach because it can be whilst the others are participating in the game and you might just take somebody to the side and say look, just do this or try this and see how you go.

Peter:

And that’s actually—it kind of frees you as an instructor or a coach to do those sorts of things. Because one of the oft arguments against inclusion is that it’s far too busy for a coach or a teacher to individualize, they must group teach and group instruct because it’s extremely busy to do that but in this approach, it kind of frees you up a little bit to do that.
Les:

Exactly, I think the thing is that no matter what age group and all the various levels that I’ve coached at, some of our squads where everybody’s had exactly the same level of ability and therefore, you need to be able to individualize there, that some players will need some support to do one thing or some encouragement. And I think the other thing is with the approach is that you can actually identify role models from within the group and say that’s what I want.

It’s a much more positive approach to coaching, is I’m not actually looking for errors, I actually see some errors and that might be the trigger to say this player needs a bit of support. But what I can do is I can identify players within the group that are doing things in a positive way that you want them to do and you can point that out and then say that’s what I’m looking for. So you’re actually looking for the role models rather than the errors.

Peter:

Yeah that’s a good point. And that’s, I think, one of the issues that makes it so inclusive because it is an opportunity for (08:43) learning at the beginning and that’s so important for a lot of—especially young people with disabilities to not have error and to have success early. I guess it kind of promotes that, doesn’t it?

Les:

It does. I think—this sounds very simplistic but I mean, the way they teach killer whales to jump is they actually put the rope in the water and allow the killer whale to swim over the top of the rope and then they feed it or reward it and then they slowly raise the rope. And I think that with coaching, is it’s a similar approach, set up an environment where people can be successful and then challenge them a little bit further and then challenge them a little bit further. And then that’s based on their response.

Peter:

Now there were a lot of resources developed around Game Sense at the time. Give us a little bit, I want to explore that just a little bit because they’re extremely user friendly resources which we can see in an episode of the Inclusion Club but just describe to me that process of developing the resources that went with Game Sense because you’ve got a lot of expertise in the resource development area and it does require some experience to put those sorts of things together.

Les:

Look, it was—essentially we looked at the—if you like the general, the broader categories of games, of the different types of sports and then had some base activities that were like the game. And I think if you actually understand the Game Sense philosophy, then once you’ve got two or three games, you can modify those to the nth degree based on what the players need and where they’re at. So the resource was just a constant expansion of well what do we want the players to do?

Peter:

And it kind of—from a teaching instructional perspective, it was really—it wasn’t a step by step but it gave you the concept of what Game Sense—because this would be initially quite a difficult thing to put together, that’s why I want to talk about it.

Les:

So I think the thing is really a lot of the stuff is about modifying to meet the needs of the player or the players. And that was how do you—what are the things that we can modify? And that’s where if you like that change it approach (11:05) was trying to look at a simple way of if it’s not working, then change that. I mean, there’s an acronym there but it’s not about the acronym, it’s more about if it’s not working, change it and if you actually look at the response of the players, they’ll be—if the players are changing the objective quite comfortably on a regular basis then it needs to be changed to challenge them a little bit more otherwise they wouldn’t be de-motivated and just go, oh this is too easy, I don’t need to work hard at this.

If you set an objective or they’ve set an objective in particular, I think it’s important if they set some objectives or targets for themselves and they’re not achieving it, then it might be an opportunity to say we’ll change it, what do they need to do? And I think the important thing is that they’re engaged and depending on the level of the participant and their level of understanding, they can be engaged and included in that modification if you like. But that’s, to me, one of the hallmarks of having this inclusive for Game Sense in that it empowers the participants to change it, to make changes as they go, that’s the whole philosophy of Game Sense.

Peter:

And as you said, that makes the coach the facilitator rather than saying this is your target, this is what you need to do, what’s more, how do we involve and include the players in those decisions? Is Game Sense easy to adapt for any sort of physical activity, situation or sport?

Les:

I’d probably say—I don’t think it’s easy, I think you need to understand your sport well to be able to modify appropriately however I do believe that if you’re not sure and you don’t have a lot of experience, then as long as you play the games that are set up by your sport, then the opportunity for repetition and learning will occur. And it’s not just repetition and learning a technique, it’s repetition and learning of decisions as well.

Peter:

How is that, because that was in the 90s mostly and in the 2000s a bit too mostly, you still exist today but how does that affect your work these days with the Football Federation Victoria?

Les:

I think that talented player, you are certainly working with players that need to be challenged and it’s still a very individual approach, the approach that we have is—or that we try to establish is that in days gone by, it was a coach with a team of players and what we’re looking to establish here is a team of coaches working with individuals so that at any stage, a coach can support a player because they know where they’re at and what they’re trying to develop.

And therefore there is an element of ownership by the individual to say this is my focus for learning and to do that, they need to understand the game. The game sense approach fits perfectly with that.

Peter:

I like that saying, it’s kind of—there’s more emphasis on the coach facilitation and I think, a number of coaches, to observe and see what’s happening. So what we’re trying to do is have coaches at various age groups that can go up and down the age groups and still know and work with the players on their understanding from an individual basis. They should be able to go up to—they know the structure, go up to a player and say what are you trying to work on, what is it you’re trying to do and can you do it in this practice? And I’m guessing that fits also with something that the Inclusion Club with small sided games as well very much so the conduct with small sided games with kids using different types of environment, different types of—

Les:

Look, things like—look, really simple things would be, as an example, would be to change the ball weight, have groups that will say you throw in a (15:16) ball and then maybe the same activity 10 minutes later might use something like a volleyball where it’s lighter and harder to control and then it might be just a normal football so that again, in a 30 minute session, they’ve had to adjust to different types of balls which makes them focus on the tactics, the technical aspects of the game whilst they’re just playing a game. They don’t actually have to focus on it so much but they need to concentrate on different things.

Peter:

Excellent. Excellent. Thank you, Les. Les will continue, I’m sure, for many years to come. What is in store for you the next few years, Les, just to close off here?

Les:

I think there’s some other sports that I came to sort of work with and expand that Game Sense approach and discuss with them and just observing coaches and watching coaches work because I think it’s a fascinating area that you never know enough about.

Peter:

I’m sure you know enough about it, Les. Alrighty but thank you very much indeed for joining us in Tic Talks.

Les:

Okay, thank you.