In a recent Tweet that was a follow-up to some on-going discussions with Coach Certification decision-makers, I asked again that we consider seeing a lot more HOW being delivered in courses and workshops. Vern was right to also tell me, 'Don't forget the WHY". Of course, the WHY and the WHAT are both pertinent parts of all this education discussion, but I still maintain that the seriously missing ingredient is the HOW.
In many courses and workshops I attend I always see loads of WHAT backed up by plenty of WHY. In the fundamental skill acquisition element of the session for example, I often hear or see a technical description of WHAT followed by a reason or context (the WHY) e.g.
"Keep the foot turning in the middle of the circle so that......."
"Get close to the defender so you can........"
"Grip the ball with your fingers like this so you can........"
"Drive your Hips to the bar so that the........"
I also hear a lot of required WHY when a plan of work is being discussed e.g. a training plan can be illustrated with activities and other decisions (WHAT) alongside the reasons (WHY) they are included e.g.
"Following a heavy, light, heavy, light pattern of work will allow some........"
"If the volume and intensity of the high speed / agility session 'cooks' the CNS you might want to wait 48-72 hours before repeating it because........."
"Coaching a movement 'outcome' rather than just the explicit set of body-part movements might assist in learning because......."
"Playing a 4v4 game in a restricted area will increase the........."
"Build a movement vocabulary from which the athlete can........"
I regularly speak with coaches who can recite the WHAT and the WHY but who have little idea how they need to act to get someone else to learn to execute the WHAT. Knowing WHY something exists, or WHY certain decisions are made or need to be made, is a vital part of understanding the context of what we are doing. If there is no relevant reason for certain things to be done, then why do them at all? If you see the WHY as a means of keeping a watchful eye on the context of our actions, then the pathway forward (progression) might just be more appropriate.
While I am not ignoring the WHAT and the WHY - they are clearly part of the language and vocabulary of coaching methodology - I am highlighting the HOW because this is the element of coaching that I seldom see in action and certainly hardly ever see in a coaching workshop.
I am trying to encourage coaches to:
Plan a session that is appropriate to the age-range of the athletes.
Plan a session that has an appropriate balance of General, Related and Specific activities.
Plan a session that accommodates a range of skill level.
Know how to introduce the skill (action/posture); know how to describe it; know how to demonstrate it.
Know how each activity can be progressed and regressed, and when to do this.
Know when to move between 'whole-part-whole' learning units e.g. when to use drills effectively.
Choose appropriate activities that guarantee that the foundations / fundamentals are being learned.
Create a session that has precision, variety and progression.
Create a session that has no 'laps, lines (queues) or lectures'.
Teach the elements using the entire 'explicit to implicit' learning continuum.
Know when, what and how much feedback to give.
Know how to add variability to the learning environment to consolidate skill acquisition.
Know how todays session fits into the cycle of work that is yet to come.
From the athletes viewpoint I understand how important the WHAT is and also how enlightening the WHY can be. I might also see the value in the athlete understanding them both as they progress their journey to independence. What I can't do is keep adding to this list of 'must-do's' until there is no time to deal with the HOW. We only have a finite amount of time to help the athlete navigate the journey, so we all need to ensure that the HOW is at repeatable excellence level. Use the WHAT and the WHY as support mechanisms.
From my own education point of view, I need to see the WHAT in context (WHY and HOW) so that I am able to prioritise all the competing demands as I attempt to put the jigsaw together. If I know a certain WHAT and WHY I am obviously an enlightened coach, but unless I can deliver it so the athlete permanently learns it or adapts to it, it is pretty irrelevant.
After an other couple of weeks observing some Primary school PE lessons and Club T&F training sessions I think it appropriate to make some more comments.
"Just because you taught it doesn't mean they have learned it."
In very general terms a person earns the right to progress along a pathway by showing repeatable effectiveness and consistency at the stage they are about to leave and move forward from. Move forward too early (without consolidating the previous stage) and the next level will be harder to accomplish as the limitations from the previous stage interfere after being carried forward. By all means flirt with the next layer of progression (see Blog on "Can-do, Can-do Can't-do, Can-do") as a form of challenge or puzzle to solve as part of the learning process, but only move forward permanently when the current stage is being executed efficiently, consistently and under whatever pressure life can bring. This is not to say that one never re-visits the fundamentals once a move forward has been made - far from it. I believe it appropriate to continually re-visit the fundamentals no matter what stage of the performance / learning continuum a person has arrived at. Move forward too late and boredom can set in and learning can suffer.
Unfortunately I see teaching and coaching progressions moving forward for a variety of other, less appropriate, reasons including - "the competition season is getting closer"; "Naplan tests are imminent"; "the written program shows a heavier work cycle coming up" ; "selection time is here when squads are named"; "the written program demands an increase in intensity'; the mid-term break is approaching". Very often cycles of work are progressed based on these external reasons and not on whether the student / athlete has actually learned the previous skills. In other words the progression of the student or athlete should not depend solely on the fixture list or other external timetable but on their unique rate of adaptation.
This awkward interpretation of learning and progression often occurs because the exercise of - "must do, should do and nice to do" has not taken place. In a world of spells, potions gadgets and an unrestricted information highway it is easy to fall for the sales gimmicks of gurus. Within a short period of time, with a weak or under-developed bulls**t monitor, it is easy to fill the lesson or session with junk. In the teaching curriculum, just as with the coaching curriculum, there is only a finite amount of time available and so it is wise to only include those things that are absolutely necessary. These are the fundamentals or the foundations and we seem to have lost our way in their selection and progression. The physical well-being and the emotional well-being of young people is paramount. Their behavioural and cognitive growth will demand much of the former well-being development. When fluffy, mindless stuff is included in the program then these foundations and fundamentals get relegated to a more 'quick-fix', 'fast-tracking' process. The same happens in the training session for sport where irrelevant activities coupled with inappropriate coaching methodology often persists.
While the student / athlete might reach the competition season or end of semester or Naplan time or new training cycle with lots of boxes ticked, they may not arrive there with the required skills that are efficient / precise, consistent or resilient. The key is to be patient and, using as much variation as possible, keep on presenting these foundations / fundamentals until the student / athlete doesn't only get them right but never gets them wrong. Beware of all the trinkets in sport and in life that might attract you away from getting the foundations right - all the time.