Many years ago I gained a Master’s Degree in Human Movement Studies. It had a profound and resounding effect on how I coached and how I still coach. One of the key components of the course was the acquisition of skill. How do you become skillful? Are you born skilled? Is skill learnt? It made me aware that athletes learn at different rates, react to different coaching styles and respond to different coaching cues and that patience plays a huge part in the process.
I taught for 30 years and probably ‘physically educated’ over 20,000 pupils of all ages and abilities. I ‘honed and toned’ my teaching/coaching skills over an extended time period. I had a huge responsibility in the physical education of so many talented youngsters. Not just athletics but all team games, swimming, badminton, gymnastics and a host of other sports.
So, I ask the question: When does teaching end and coaching start?
I ask the question because an article I read by John Kessel a few weeks ago made me question the athletic coaching that goes on today. I coach in a large indoor sports arena three times a week and I observe all the coaching that goes on around me. I make no comment because it doesn’t affect how I coach and has no effect on how I coach my own training group, but suffice to say I wouldn’t like a son or daughter of mine to be coached in some of the coaching situations I regularly observe week after week. It might be loads of fun but I do wonder if there is enough positive transfer from drill to event…..
On You Tube you’ll find hundreds of different videos of various athletic drills and skills promising to take your athletic ability to the next level. These videos show endless hours of coaches working with athletes. I can’t help but notice that its these ‘fancy drills’ that many coaches utilize within their coaching programmes and is their vision of what they think it takes to improve performance. People absolutely eat it up.
A lot of these fancy drills look fantastic and lots of fun but many do not resemble anything that happens in the actual athletic event.
Kessel talks about a similar phenomena in volleyball. Here he talks about all of the “drills” you see online and how they are made to look nice and organized, but have absolutely no grounds in the actual science of motor learning.
In reality, we are just a bunch of stumbling fools. Puddle splashers and toe stubbers. We thrash our way to success…and that’s exactly how it’s supposed to be.
These made-for-You Tube training techniques look great but paint the wrong picture. The truth is that many have literally NO resemblance to what the real process of development looks like. It seems as though the better they look, the farther they skew from the actual science of learning and development. By spending time working on these fancy drills, athletes get better at doing the drills and not at what really matters: performing in an actual event.
I would say that at this moment ‘we are coaching the drill and not coaching the event’. I hasten to add that in the main, it’s the younger, less experienced coach who is adopting this fancy drill approach.
Decades of science and motor learning research have shown the best and most effective learning happens when practice:
- Is random and not blocked
- Teaches the whole skill, not just part.
- Is event specific.
- In short, the more closely your athletic practice resembles the actual event, the more of it transfers to the event.
The problem here is that this type of practice goes against most “traditions” and will make the coach feel like things are out of their control. The chaos, confusion and randomness of event specific practice can get ugly, and lots of coaches don’t like ugly. This fear of training ugly often drives us to doing things in practice that are structured, controlled, and look nice, as opposed to following the science that points to a better way to develop athletes.
Athletes: – If you really want to get better it’s not about being alone at a track learning tricks. First – understand what it means to have a growth mind set. Then – spend as much time as possible learning and practicing the event.
Coaches: – Rather than spending time dreaming up pretty drills and fancy tricks. Figure out how to create a growth mindset mentality within your training group. Then think about ways to make your practices as competition-like as possible, and how you can maximize the time and reps that your athletes get in these situations.
If you want to be great find ways to train ugly; If you want to be a YouTube sensation learn tricks. Tricks are not skills and being able to do them will not make you a better athlete..
Speak with you soon,