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Forget The Old Textbook, Let Your Players Write A New One

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Nothing at the moment frustrates me more than hearing a coach telling a player what they are doing wrong, especially when swiftly followed by what they should be doing instead. Are we - in my context of club cricket, at least - really so naïve to believe we know it all?

Think of every elite player in your sport, are they all the same? Are any? I'd be willing to bet that the vast majority of you will say no (if I'm wrong, I'd love to hear your perspective – please leave a comment below), so the absurdity of coaching them all the same way is apparent. I am fortunate to play at a club that is home to the local county setup and see their system's kids playing regularly throughout the season, and I assure you that once you put a bat in their hands and cover them up with the usual protective kit, you would do well to pick out who was who, they're clones! They are often taught from the so-called 'textbook' or 'coaching manual', and frequently go on to be decent recreational players, but rarely any further. Why could this be?

As a player myself who is far from a model of 'technical perfection', I have a serious issue with the textbook and the message of ‘right and wrong’ it promotes. I should clarify here that I am talking only about sports that have a primary focus on fine motor skills, in some sports – athletics, for example – there are biomechanically optimal techniques that ensure the most efficient performance, and in these cases I encourage you to drill technique to your heart’s content. Alas, with sports that do predominantly depend on complex movements and techniques, my feeling (and again, feel free to challenge me on this) is that the conventional wisdom coaching manuals provide is restrictive, due to the fact that it is based on what players have done before.

From the player's perspective, if you aim to imitate someone else's abilities, you can succeed. You can be good, compared to original exponent of these skills, but never better. You are always playing catch up because you are always playing someone else's game. The limit is always what the original achieved, you will never lose this ceiling on your ability. I would argue that in order to reach the very top you would be better served paving your own way and developing your own technique and your own method. If you embark on an unprecedented journey then there is no limit, there is no ceiling. There is no telling what you could achieve. 

Doesn't that sound like more fun?

As coaches I feel it is our responsibility to support a player on their quest to discover the method that comes naturally to them. I myself try to achieve this through game-based practices accompanied with much two-way discussion and reflection from an early age, but if you have alternative methods I would love to hear them. If we allow our players to learn in this way then they have identity and freedom, and every success they achieve will be attributed purely to them as an individual.

What could be more rewarding than that?

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Comments (8)

   
pauldennygouldson
i think there is a balance of game practice and helping with elements of technique - particularly with younger athletes. i coach hockey and there are certain things that require an element of technique to help achieve success. it is also about how you deliver the message - i agree saying something is wrong is a very bad thing - but saying something like "try doing it a like this for a few goes and see how you get on" might be a better way to improve a technique and develop a mind set of trying new things.
21/09/16
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andrewb62
"try doing it a like this for a few goes and see how you get on" - a phrase I use myself.

Especially to the young batter who has just missed the ball three times on the trot, but persists in trying to hit with his eyes fixed on his shoelaces...

"Orthodox" techniques don't work for everyone - but the core principles do provide a framework to fall back on, when individual techniques simply don't work.
22/09/16
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sgreen
I think the game based practice with constraints is a great way of developing technique or best practice
You can constrain games with either small or medium sided games lopsided no.s in attack and defence and introduce turnover or penalties for players not carrying out certain behaviours / techniques during that particular game .
The games can last for 4-8 mins and then bring the players in to reflect ... Or freeze frame during the game to see good practice or great technique
A small tech grid outside the game can see players roll in and out of a larger game in 3-4s to work 3-4 mins technique work then back in the game this keep its fresh and they learn where the technique fits into the game.
This way you can get through technique and skill based development without really feeling pressured and the transfer and retention of information is much greater.

Decision making becomes more focussed and after all we can't produce the perfect player in every position with every skill .. What we do want is them to do more of what they are best at during the game ... This " extras" will gives the team greater success and their contribution is more pronounced leading to other players having more opportunity to do what they do best and it's about the sum of the parts not just the value of the individual parts in a team that often allows us to react to the environment better and adapt our decision making and play accordingly
22/09/16
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Diddyditri
I think we need to involve young athletes in the process and ask them what they would do now and let them figure out if it works and why or why not. Coaches haven't got the monopoly on good ideas.
Coaches should be creating environments to allow the athlete to make a decision where a culture of a safe place to fail is accepted , as its an opportunity to improve. Athletes have to be part of this process.
22/09/16
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andrewb62
Hi Elliott - welcome to ConnectedCoaches

Believe me, you are not alone as a cricket coach who does not coach "by the (text)book". As a sport, cricket has probably suffered more than most at the hands of the tyrant "techneek"...fortunately, there is a growing movement towards viewing outcomes as more important than technique.

Technique _supports_ outcomes, for sure - but the most orthodox technique is no guarantee of runs in the scorebook.

BTW - your comments on the CAG players are interesting. I wonder - could this be an artefact of the talent ID pathway, rather than coaching practice?

Players with orthodox techniques will generally be consistently (if moderately) successful, and will probably look competent even if the outcomes aren't spectacular. So when they get out, playing a "proper" stroke, the assumption from the boundary will be that the batter was unlucky, or got a particularly good delivery. "Deserves another go."

Unorthodox players, on the other hand, often look "ugly" when dismissed, and are perhaps less likely to score consistently. "Needs to work on..."

Who gets picked for (and retained in) CAG squads? The player who "looks like a cricketer". Not always (not often enough) the outlier who flays the ball to the furthest corners of the ground one week, but gets castled first ball in her next innings.
22/09/16
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Ralph
Good grief Elliot, helping children be able to think for themselves and therefore forced to give them the credit for reaching their potential? Giving them freedom to explore and learn what works and what doesn’t, madness Elliott? We’d never be able to pat ourselves on the back for something we’ve created and manufactured by our own genius.
22/09/16
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Ralph
Every kid needs a champion Ms. Pierson,
I have had classes that were so low, so academically deficient, that I cried. I wondered, "How am I going to take this group, in nine months, from where they are to where they need to be? And it was difficult, it was awfully hard. How do I raise the self-esteem of a child and his academic achievement at the same time?

One year I came up with a bright idea. I told all my students, "You were chosen to be in my class because I am the best teacher and you are the best students, they put us all together so we could show everybody else how to do it."

One of the students said, "Really?"

I said, "Really. We have to show the other classes how to do it, so when we walk down the hall, people will notice us, so you can't make noise. You just have to strut."

And I gave them a saying to say: "I am somebody. I was somebody when I came. I'll be a better somebody when I leave. I am powerful, and I am strong. I deserve the education that I get here. I have things to do, people to impress, and places to go."

And they said, "Yeah!"

You say it long enough, it starts to be a part of you.

I gave a quiz, 20 questions. A student missed 18. I put a "+2" on his paper and a big smiley face.

He said, "Ms. Pierson, is this an F?"

I said, "Yes."

He said, "Then why'd you put a smiley face?"

I said, "Because you're on a roll. You got two right. You didn't miss them all." I said, "And when we review this, won't you do better?"

He said, "Yes, ma'am, I can do better."
You see, "-18" sucks all the life out of you. "+2" said, "I ain't all bad."

For years, I watched my mother take the time at recess to review, go on home visits in the afternoon, buy combs and brushes and peanut butter and crackers to put in her desk drawer for kids that needed to eat, and a washcloth and some soap for the kids who didn't smell so good. See, it's hard to teach kids who stink.
And kids can be cruel. And so she kept those things in her desk, and years later, after she retired, I watched some of those same kids come through and say to her, "You know, Ms. Walker, you made a difference in my life. You made it work for me. You made me feel like I was somebody, when I knew, at the bottom, I wasn't. And I want you to just see what I've become."

And when my mama died two years ago at 92, there were so many former students at her funeral, it brought tears to my eyes, not because she was gone, but because she left a legacy of relationships that could never disappear.

Teaching and learning should bring joy. How powerful would our world be if we had kids who were not afraid to take risks, who were not afraid to think, and who had a champion? Every child deserves a champion, an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection, and insists that they become the best that they can possibly be.

Is this job tough? You betcha. Oh God, you betcha. But it is not impossible. We can do this. We're educators. We're born to make a difference.
22/09/16
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JonWoodward74
Great post and great comments!

Technique development is something that I find frustrating, both as a coach, a parent and a spectator.

I use Jim Furyk, the golfer, as an example. From a textbook angle, technically incorrect. From an output angle? I wish my ugly swing hit the ball 300 yards down the fairway....I am not convnced this was coached but it is effective. And don't get my started on Michael Johnson....!

Involving children (and your participants of any age) in the developmental process is key - my role as a coach is to guide, tweak, shape, etc but not tell and instruct.

If the technique, skill or outcome falls within the rules of the game, I don't really see a problem.
24/09/16
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Mwood
This is a very interesting post and discussion. Thank you Elliot do starting it all off. I have enjoyed reading everyone's perspective and comments subsequently.

I would like to contribute some thoughts on the sports with biomechanically optimal technique' to a certain extent I agree but are athletes in athletics as the example you used actually performing the same technique? Or are they solving the task using the same principles? For example studies have shown that discus and javelin throwers never produce statistically the same throw across a season, therefore even within individuals they are not reproducing the same movements. So I question the need to drill or practice repetitive movements too often especially in light of injury and burn out stars with developing athletes. We all too often default to this mechanistic reduction in some sports.

I think as a coach we have a great opportunity to guide athletes using the landscape we set up or design to explore the principles of the sport or movement so they understand both the context and become self organising against any number of task constraints.

What are the two or three key principles in the movement? In my coaching it is the three step rhythm of hurdles, we lead and trail and maintain tall hips. That's it - U12-senior athlete. So 'training' is designed around these and athletes are given the opportunity to explore their capabilities and potential to achieve one or all of these things against a set of parameters (task). We do have to consider how we shape these individuals capabilities eg develop hip mobility or core strength to allow athletes more solutions or to exploit more optimal solutions. But following a model becomes overly simplistic.

Think of a flock of birds. They can fly in an infinite number of formations as they system follows simple principles; follow the bird in peripheral vision, stay a wing span away and never collide.

Michael Johnson's technique obeyed the same principles as Usain Bolt; hit the ground under your hip, switch your feet in the air (not landing then waiting).

To conclude, whether bating in cricket or sprinting on the track everyone's technique is unique.

I hope I added something to this discus. Thank you all who have contributed. Technique is a fascinating topic to discus.

Regards

Matt
26/09/16
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