Recent research on innovative methods for how to teach new, sport specific skills can significantly enhance coaching teaching tools. As sport science continues to discover and unravel how we learn new skills, coaches need to remain open minded while preparing their weekly and monthly lesson plans. (read more)
Coaching New Sport Skills
By Finn Gundersen, Director of Sports Education, YSC
Recent research on innovative methods for how to teach new, sport specific skills can significantly enhance coaching teaching tools. As sport science continues to discover and unravel how we learn new skills, coaches need to remain open minded while preparing their weekly and monthly lesson plans. Therefore, all coaches need to be reminded that the set-up of the “training environment” and its execution is critical to the accelerated and efficient learning of new skills.
Drills Teach the Skills:While this concept is not entirely new, there are a few new dimensions. More and more studies indicate learning a skill is largely acquired implicitly, without direct conscious (or even conceptual) knowledge of the athlete. Explicit information (in the form of coaches’ verbal feedback) can often be confusing, unclear or too much information for the athlete to process. In such cases, a coaches’ feedback may even inhibit the learning process, as the athlete thinks too much, tries too hard or becomes discouraged, because of an inability to conceptually understand.
So if verbal feedback is not the optimal method for teaching an athlete a skill what method works best? The latest research indicates that coaches will find more success implementing creative training environments that challenge and teach through self-discovery action drills. Don’t talk about what you want a player to do, because the younger the player the greater the chance for misunderstanding and confusion. Instead, create a training environment that enables the athlete to experience and feel what they should do. Develop specific games or exercises that teach the skill you want the athlete to learn.
Variety Over Routine: A key learning component of a “let the drills teach the skills approach” is to make sure to emphasize variety while avoiding routine. Frankly, routine practice sessions are easier for coaches because there is comfort in using the same drills or exercises over and over. The sessions on the surface may appear successful with the athletes because the athletes gain confidence through a standard routine as well, but does the same routine ensure reproducible movements in competition? Sport science says that skill acquisition is best produced through struggle, by placing athletes out of their comfort zone. Challenge yourself as a coach to come up with a wider variety of new drills/exercises that continuously challenges your athletes, based on fostering self-discovery through implicit learning.
Here is an example of a self-discovery teaching method from a master coach. Matthew Syed, in his book Bounce, describes his encounter, at nineteen, with a revered Chinese coach that changed his life and table tennis career, over the span of five years:
“….he took a bucket of a hundred balls, placed them besides the table, and then proceeded to fire them at me from different angles, at different speeds, with different spins, but always (and this was the ltimate revelation of his genius for coaching) calibrated so as to be constantly nudging the outer limits of my speed, movement, technique, anticipation, timing, and agility. My body and mind were forced to leap into a new gear……in response Chen upped the ante again and again, finally widening the table at my end (adding half a table in width) so that my footwork patterns were now straining to cope….after five years, I was a changed player. My body and mind had been transformed through a sustained process of being pushed
beyond existing limitations…”
Creative Training Environment:No matter the sport, as the coach, you know more than the athlete, and therefore, you have to be more creative in your teaching methods. There are few athletes with the perspective, experience or “guts,” to challenge a coaches’ teaching progression. Instead, try this approach; avoid an undue outcome (win/loss) focus. Encourage experimentation by routinely varying the training environment to stimulate new movement patterns and greater creativity. Science tells us the body responds to new stimuli. Think outside the box when it comes to solving those difficult technique or tactical learning issues. By now we all know the definition of insanity (i.e. doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different outcome), but it