Tuesday, January 3, 2012

Use Concrete Language to Help Kids Visualize a Sports Skill

Hey, what's that GOOSE doing?!

No, this isn't a video frame from a 50's SciFi movie that includes a 50-foot rampaging, radioactive goose. It's my attempt to illustrate an important principle in teaching sports skills to children—that concrete language and images can help kids better remember how to execute a key part of a skill.

One of the phrases I learned years ago and like to use when demonstrating how to follow through on a basketball shot is “Leave your arm extended upward, hand down, like a goose neck.” (I also sometimes rephrase the ending: “… like you’re putting your hand into a cookie jar.")

In describing the initial setup of the same shot, I'll also instruct my players to hold the ball above their head, “ like you’re carrying a pizza box."

Phrases such as the ones above are figures of speech known as “similes.” They are highly effective because they provide your players with concrete, visual representations of skill techniques and are easily remembered. Especially with young beginners, use these phrases to drive home your instructional message.

From other coaches within your sport, you will undoubtedly pick up descriptive, figurative phrases that are useful in emphasizing important aspects of a skill. Here are a few examples:

  • Baseball coaches, teaching hitting technique to a beginner, can say, “Pivot on your back foot, like you’re squishing a bug.” When swinging the bat forward, a batter needs to rotate his or her back foot (up onto the toes). This rotation permits the batter’s hips to turn and generate power. Now which do you think is easier for a young player to remember—“squishing a bug” or the more abstract language used above to describe the technique?

  • Still another baseball phrase describes how a catcher should field a bunt by using their bare hand to sweep the ball into the glove “like using a broom and dustpan”.

  • In teaching young football linemen how to squat in a three-point stance, coaches sometimes tell their linemen to imagine that they are in a disgusting public bathroom. To take care of business, they need to squat, but not touch their bottom to the wet toilet seat. Yes, it's boyish bathroom humor—but also a dramatic image that quickly defines the technique. Even if you’ve never played football, I expect that you can now assume a proper squat in a lineman’s three-point stance!

My last post, Teach Like that Famous Greek Guy, discussed how you can better engage children in the learning process by asking them questions (using the Socratic method). Similarly, your young players will also benefit from instruction that incorporates concrete language and imagery.

Create pictures within your players’ minds. Tying a vivid image to a skill helps players visualize and remember a skill’s proper execution. Much like following a trail of breadcrumbs, these images will help your young players quickly find their way back to a skill’s proper technique and form.

Do you have any favorite phrases that you think are effective in teaching a sports skill?

Copyright © 2012 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved

The Joy of Youth Sports

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Copyright 2009-2012 Jeffrey S. Rhoads; All Rights Reserved


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