Question: what is child achievement? Answer: It is “the combined consequence of early exposure, exceptional instruction, constant practice, family nurturance, and a child’s intense will to learn…all of these ingredients must be present in just the right quantity and mixed with just the right timing and flair. Almost anything can go wrong….far from predictable and never in anyone’s complete control.” (The Genius in All of Us, p.52)
In the school classroom, “one consistent finding of academic research is that high expectations are the most reliable driver of high student achievement, even in students who do not have a history of successful achievement” (Teach Like a Champion). The classic learning progression in coaching is to raise the bar just a little higher every week, month and year. In response, the majority of athletes will reach new heights. Coaches know that the body gets stronger by responding to ever increasing workloads, the body adapts. To continue to improve, the load must be increased in carefully planned increments of stress and recovery.
What are some of the methods or strategies that a coach can employ that will result in raising the bar for enhanced skill learning, refinement, and ultimately, success in competition? One method is setting high expectations! The following strategies are adapted from Doug Lemov’s excellent book on great teaching, Teach Like a Champion. In the following, the author outlines a variety of strategies that are part of setting high student expectations.
1) “I Can’t” is Not an Option. Great teachers (coaches) are consistent in setting and maintaining high expectations in order to raise the level of learning or skill development. These expectations are just beyond the athletes reach but not so far as to discourage the athlete from even trying. The younger and less experienced the athlete, when it comes to acquiring a new skill, the greater the challenge for the coach to create an environment where everybody learns, even for those athletes who have low expectations or none at all. The first time an ten year old is asked to try a back flip on a trampoline, after instruction and with assistance, the coach may still hear, “I can’t do it.” If the athlete is afraid, or embarrassed, or genuinely believes they can’t, than those four words are an easy way out.
How does the coach counteract or overcome that reluctance, that initial fear of failure? Here are some possible answers:
- Create a positive “learning environment” of trust, risk taking and safety. At the first meeting or practice, start by stating a positive philosophy: “Everyone will learn a back flip, I guarantee it. How? I will teach you a progression, a step by step series of physical movements that will result in everyone successfully learning a back flip. For example, here is a demonstration by an athlete that was in your position just a year ago.”
- Failure will happen, but the athlete does not have the option of not trying. Only by trying will they learn and succeed. This sets the expectation of trying, no excuses. And, most importantly, the coach must circle back to each athlete, ensuring that they will take responsibility for learning the new skill, and, which means, that everyone will.
- Demonstrate that you, the coach, believes in them. There will be one athlete, if not more, who will learn a back flip easily, and they in turn can and should help those athletes that are struggling to learn. By the end of the program, it should be clear to all athletes that they are expected to learn the sequence of movements, they are expected to try – no option, and they are expected to practice with support through positive coaching. A sequence that begins with an athlete unable to perform the task should end with the athlete learning a new trick.
2) The Goal is Best Effort.The coach sets the standardfor learning and the standard is one’s best effort. The goal is not to debate the concept of perfection with the athlete, because no one wins that argument. Instead, the coach knows that anything less than their best effort is the goal, because some athletes will set a lower level of effort, and subsequently, their level of achievement. By holding out for an athlete’s best effort, you are telling the athlete that it does matter, that it’s important they have the will to learn, because their best effort will be the foundation for the next, more difficult movements to come. As coach, you are showing complete faith in their ability to conquer the challenges before them.
How should the coach set the standard for best effort, here are a few suggestions:
- Trying and mastery are two different goals. Encouragement and praise for trying are important and part of the process. But, reminding the athlete that they are almost there sends the right message, because mastery is the final goal.
- Execute the skill to mastery, as judged by the coach and not the athlete, is setting a high standard. Often athletes will feel as if they have succeeded and are ready to move on to the next task. But, have they? In the future, we want the athlete to have an even higher standard than the coach, but when they are young and just starting, ofte