Monday, April 12, 2021

Coaching Perspective: That’s Not How I Learn

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How do you differentiate between each individual’s learning experience within your group? No single player’s experience is the same. In this article, Reed Maltbie discusses how you can ensure that you understand the needs of every player in your group.

“This is easy. Watch me again. This is how you do it.”

It was getting more difficult to mask my frustration. I had been trying to teach my 11-year-old son how to do long division for about 45 minutes now, and my patience was wearing thin. I had shown him a dozen different example problems. We’d walk step by step through how I solve them. He would do it alongside me. He would seem “get it”, but the moment he tried to do a problem on his own, from his homework sheet, it all went south.

He’d start off correctly, hit that snag, struggle, and I’d sigh heavily…

“I can’t do it this way!” He finally yelled and slammed his pencil down on the table with a loud thud.

I wanted to say “Challenge Accepted No Takebacks” or “yet”, but all that came out was, “I have been teaching you this way for 45 minutes, you can do it”.

My wife put her hand on my shoulder to bring me back to the moment. My son looked at me with tears in his eyes. I thought “how can he not get this, I have been teaching it to him all this time?”

“That’s not how I learn.” He said softly, pleading with me to see it from his perspective.

The world stopped. My mind raced. I was having an epiphany (that or a stroke). My eyes welled with tears as I realized not only was I failing my son in this moment, but how many others had I failed? How many children were we all failing?

“You okay, dad?” He asked.

“No. No, son. I am not, but more importantly, you are not okay. What do you need? How do you see the problem? What will help you learn it better?” (This wasn’t about me. It was all about him.)

We sat for ten minutes as my son explained the algorithms he had already learned for solving the problems. He also “showed” me how the problems looked in his mind, what he thought about how to solve them, how his brain worked. He went in-depth on what he needed to better understand long division and what I could do to facilitate the learning.

I sat and listened quietly to him as he showed me the way. An eleven year old boy showing a grown man, with nearly 30 years of coaching experience and a Master’s degree in Childhood Education, how to teach him. Then he explained to me how my words and my demeanour, and my lack of “getting him” (read empathy and connection) led to him going “red head”. The little booger used one of my terms against me.

He was right again. Eleven years old with no formal psychology training telling me, who also had plenty of psychology training, how I was causing his anxiety. This was his math homework and I was being taken to school. I listened, we discussed strategies, we laughed, finally, and I walked away understanding how we have failed a nation of children. All of us.

You see, we teach children from how we learned to play sports. We mimic what our coaches did, we recreate the scenarios we had in which we learned, and we use the methods that make us comfortable as coaches. We teach the game to the kids from our perspective and then we get frustrated when they don’t learn it OUR way. Maybe, how we teach it is not how they learn.

Image by Soccer Today

The world evolves. The planet changes, animals and humans alike adapt, science expands, knowledge about how things work diversifies, and yet we still coach the way it has always been done. And maybe worse, we coach for us, not the kids. We don’t enter their learning environment, adapting like water to a container, we expect them to enter our teaching environment and adapt to us.

Our frustration grows, their anxiety rises, and we both walk away feeling burned out and downtrodden. We blame “kids these days” for not being coachable, for being snowflakes, and parents for making them lazy. Kids Blame the sport for not being fun, coaches being mean, and adults not caring.

What’s to blame is not the adults. What’s to blame is not the kids. What’s to blame is the way we are approaching the problem. My son could not approach the problem in a way he could solve it using my methods. No matter how long I sat there teaching, he was NOT going to learn. He finally gave me the solution.

Don’t teach him the way I learn, teach him in the way he learns.

We need to change the way we coach from the way we learn to the way they learn. It does not matter how much we teach the game, it only matters if they learn it, and many are simply not learning it the way we coach it.

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