Saturday, April 27, 2013

Let Your Players Teach You

   Most instructors quickly learn that the act of teaching inherently drives one toward a fuller understanding of the material taught. Teaching a skill to others forces one to break down the skill into its more fundamental parts. As a coach, you will find that you naturally gain a greater insight into the "what, when, where, why, and how" of each skill technique that you teach your players.

Why not use this same principle in reverse to help your players better understand the skills you want them to learn?

Instead of you instructing your players, have your players instruct you. Require them to vocalize the steps that they go through as they execute a skill.

An Example

My most common use of this teaching approach is when I instruct my basketball players how to shoot a free throw. I usually begin the instruction with a question that goes something like this:

COACH: Besides using good shooting form, what’s the most important rule to follow when shooting a free throw?
Invariably, the players yell out behaviors that are associated with the shot itself. I go along with this as I want the players to begin thinking about the skill components that are present in a typical free throw.

PLAYER 1: Aim for the rim!

PLAYER 2: Spread your feet shoulder width apart!

PLAYER 3: Put one foot ahead of the other!

PLAYER 4: Bounce the ball several times before your shoot it!

COACH: Anyone else?

PLAYER 5: Follow through after the shot!

COACH: Those are all important parts of the shot, but what’s the most important guiding rule? Anybody?

PLAYERS: (no response)

COACH: The most important rule is to “Do it the same way every time!”
I then go on to briefly discuss that each player, no matter their shot preparation and actual shooting form, must develop a free throw routine – one where they prepare and execute the shot the same way every time. This routine helps ensure a repeatable motion (muscle memory) that will not fail the player in pressure situations.

I then have each player step up to the foul line and walk me through their free throw shooting routine. I ask them to verbalize each portion of their shot—to teach me how they execute a free throw. Most mumble one or two comments. I usually will respond, “What’s that? I can’t hear you.” or “Yes, you put your feet up to the line, but do you have one foot in front of the other?” or “How many times do you bounce the ball before you shoot?” My goal is to have each player break down their shot and understand the fundamental elements of the shooting process.

As they progress through this exercise (and also watch others step to the line and describe their shot), they become more aware of good technique. By becoming the teacher for a few moments, they are gently forced to organize this information within their mind as they prepare to describe how they shoot a free throw.

Break Down a Key Skill in Your Sport

Like other instructional approaches discussed in this blog, adapt this technique to your sport. Pick a key skill and ask each of your players, in turn, to teach you how it is executed.

For example, in baseball, have your players describe each of the steps they go through when they are batting. They should describe their stance, position relative to the plate, their back elbow and shoulder position, and other steps related to the actual swing. When a less confident player struggles to explain his or her technique, ask leading questions such as, “How far away from the plate should you stand?”

Use this teaching technique at least once during your season. You will find that it’s a fun way to further engage your young players in the learning process.

Copyright © 2013 Jeffrey S. Rhoads. All Rights Reserved

If you enjoyed this article, you may like my book:
The Joy of Youth Sports: Creating the best youth sports experience for your child (Amazon $8.95)

(Kindle Edition $2.99)

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


Wendy LeBolt said...

You must be an excellent teacher, Jeff. Teaching by asking questions is always great and having them teach, even better. This, of course, is easier for a closed-chain skill like free throws - where there is a pattern reproduced every time.

I find that coaches usually try to teach by demonstrating a skill and kids imitate the movement of the coach - including the ineffective or superfluous movements - and can miss the essentials. So it is important for the coach to have those essentials identified for himself before teaching, rather than just encouraging them to "do what I do."

Having them teach it is a great way to teach themselves and others. Also nice, I have found, when you can partner a more experienced with a less experienced player.

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