Coaching for Effective Learning - A Process

Thursday, May 14, 2015

By Trevor Potts, Coaching Coordinator, Southern Football League

Teaching seems to be a focus issue that has caught the attention of the football community at the moment. A recent newspaper article highlighted the commitment that the Hawthorn Football Club has made to a coaching staff with teaching backgrounds.

There is little doubt that they have reaped the rewards from their belief and commitment in the capacity set that those with teaching backgrounds bring to the task of coaching.

But I think there is an aspect in the discussion around teaching in football that gains little public consideration, the nexus that is linked to teaching, of how a player’s learning takes place.

Learning is inexorably linked to teaching. Evidence would suggest that many successful coaches have not had the experience of being trained teachers, but have been good teachers of our game. It would suggest that strong inter-personal and quality communication skills lay at the foundation of promoting a learning environment that players thrive in. 

The issue of a current player’s learning styles need to be looked at in the context of how learning now takes place in many of our schools. Learning styles in schools now tend to be a far different experience than many of our current coaches would have experienced as students. The learning styles that exist, certainly where I have been involved, place a greater emphasis on the empowering the students in taking responsibility for their own learning and negotiating the learning outcomes with their teacher. Therefore, they arrive at football clubs with a learning culture that encourages them to be in charge of their own learning, that is, they become independent learners.

So without going into the teaching and learning differences that could exist within football clubs, coaches are often faced with generational issues around how learning with young players takes place. 

In considering these issues, I put forward some observations around the function of learning within football environments where effective teaching and learning could be implemented.

Principles involved:-

  1. In your role as a coach/teacher you are responsible for a player’s learning.
  2. As the leader in that role, you can make a difference in the player’s learning.
  3. A player’s learning is too important to leave to chance. 

Communication Skills, Interpersonal Skills and Personal Professional Development:-

  • Understand how self and others learn – important in your role as a teacher
  • Involve yourself in discussions and dialogue around current and future game development
  • Design, plan and organise practice and game scenarios that enable optimum learning outcomes
  • Developing a structured learning program for your players

Establishing an environment where structured learning takes place:-

  • Developing an environment where players feel secure in their learning
  • Within your playing group, create a culture where there is a learning community
  • Create a learning environment where players can negotiate aspects of their learning program
  • Challenge players to achieve excellence by continuously pursuing improvement    

Developing players as learners:-

  • Developing within the players an understanding of how they learn and what strategies they can apply in a learning framework
  • Developing in the players a deep understanding of how they appreciate and have mastery over their growth as a player
  • Information isn’t knowledge (understanding) – knowledge is acquired through the coach/teacher instructing, challenging the player and supporting and directing their learning experience
  • The coach/teacher creates an environment where players are encouraged to question and reaffirm their knowledge, through an open dialogue with the coach and others 

Connecting the Learning to the player’s experience:-

  • In developing a player’s learning appreciate that the player brings knowledge and capacities from previous experiences and use those as a starting point
  • In developing a player’s learning, connect that learning to the player’s current skills and knowledge, to help them realise their goals and aspirations  
  • In developing a player’s learning, develop a variety of teaching modes making certain that your communication covers a variety of learning modes    
  • In developing a player’s learning, make certain that there is an authentic feedback cycle which creates an environment where the learner feels secure in appreciating the need for continuous improvement   

Commitment and Assessment

Player’s response: - the capacity to turn learning into knowledge

  • The Coach and players are committed to a program of honest assessment and telling it as it is
  • The coach and players involved in an authentic feedback cycle
  • The feedback needs to come in a variety of formats –
    • Players then have the possibility to negotiate with the coach the opportunity to receive individual feedback about their performance
    • If possible all feedback response should be kept for future reference for the player – no doubt it is a good starting point for players to reflect on their performance, their role descriptors and appropriate behaviours
    • This will give them a very honest assessment about their progress 

Once again player’s learning experiences in our schools today reflect an ever-changing program of how teaching and learning takes place. As coaches we need to be aware of this fact because it will impact upon the type of communication we use around young players and the responses we are liable to face.

This type of learning will fit into current practice sessions, where game based training requires high degrees of decision making from the players. One could assume as coaches that the learning environment that players have been exposed to would certainly enhance and develop such practice regimes.

The following points suggest how you may process some of the observations around players’ learning styles:-

  • Be aware that students now have greater control over their learning program at school, so they are liable to want to get involved with aspects of decision making that could be incorporated in the training schedule or game day processes.
  • Listen to what they have to say; often they produce some very insightful observations, which inform us about our operation as coaches.
  • They will expect and want a training and playing regime where there are structures that produce a high level of discipline and organisation. Research highlights the fact that young players work far more effectively when their learning environment is structured and directed.
  • If these are established and are seen as being consistent and fair the players will become more involved with the teaching/coaching program you have established.
  • It is never a factor of trying to be their mate, but a process of mentoring, where they can observe you committing yourself to their needs in building a team structure that values their individuality but is focussed on team outcomes.
  • Treat them with respect, and avoid singling them out in front of their peers while reprimanding them for being unable to follow instructions. It is without doubt the most counter-productive thing that you can do. Often their self-esteem is directly related to how their peers see them. Follow that method and you threaten that self-esteem.
  • There is no doubt that the social implications attached to playing football with their mates, is one of the more compelling factors why many players play the game.
  • With that being the case, then enjoying the experience of playing the game in a positive structured environment flows from the mateship principle.  

These are some of the issues that surround the young players that come into our football club. In most cases, common sense, a collective appreciation of the game, enjoying the game and gaining some sense of personal achievement will go a long way to keeping our young players in the game and the club. 

They are our future.

Trevor Potts is an accredited AFL High Performance Coach. He is Coaching Coordinator of the Southern Football League in Adelaide and a former school principal.

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