The evolution of learning…

As generations progress we are getting smarter with our understanding of the learning process. Many myths about learning appear along the way that unfortunately can get swallowed up and accepted as common practice (e.g. NLP, learning styles, right/left brain thinking) and requires us to think carefully about the methods for helping players learn. However, what is becoming clear is that young people are an evolving type of learning animal and have different views and outlooks on the process than previous generations. This post will look to examine a few of these and the implications for coaches. 

Access to information:
Back in the days of only four TV channels (mostly in black and white) and with Match of the Day being the only opportunity to see football if you didn’t go to live games, the coach was crucial. The coach was the essential component in passing on information to the next generation because the richness of content wasn’t available. The coach was King!
However, children growing up today cannot remember a life without the internet and social media. If they don’t know something they will Google it. When I did my Level 2 in 1997 Google didn’t exist and certainly wasn’t accepted as a term for ‘searching and learning’. We call it “technology” but for them, it’s just “the way it is”.
Today, children can watch worldwide football on Sky Sports and have 24/7 access to learning tools, clips and tricks of every top player via You Tube. They don’t need the coach to ‘demo’ a specific turn in the same way as years gone by when that child might not have seen it. Today, they are showing the coaches and this can be cleverly planned for.
How do you use technology yourself? Do you embrace it or a technophobe?
How can it be used to support learning in sessions and away from sessions?
How can you use it to save you time when interacting with parents?
Coach tells v Player constructs meaning:
Many of us will have grown up through an educational system that consisted of the teacher at the front of the class, the font of all knowledge, telling those sat in front of them everything they need to know about a subject (copying down what they said). I still see lots of coaches that deliver in this way to groups of children and I’m not surprised – this was what they experienced in their education process and research tells us you often ‘teach’ the way that you were taught. 
However, many views exist now that it is the learner that constructs meaning. Everyday a variety of different stimuli and sources of information will be presented to a person and they make sense of this, through their eyes and building on their existing view of the world. Learning is not necessarily a coach downloading what is in their head into a player’s hard drive!
Today, the modern player arrives at your session in a different ‘learning’ place to every other player. They have all had different experiences, know a varied amount of things and can put this into practice at differing levels. Some will know exactly what is right but might not be able to do it…yet. Some will be able to do something really good and not know why or how, and that’s OK too. 
How can you critically reflect on your teaching process? 
How do you present information for the learner to make sense of it themselves?
How do you structure questions effectively for players to have to think?
The right way:
I’ve witnessed it countless times and done it myself – “To do a Cruyff turn you must put your foot here, your non-kicking foot must be here….” because that is the right way to do something. Previously, traditional learners will have been brought up thinking there was in fact a right way to do something and this was the way that was passed down from teacher to learner from generation to generation. 
However, the modern learner now considers that there isn’t necessarily a right way. There are probably lots of different solutions to certain problems and they want to be able to experiment and solve these problems themselves. They recognise that learning is done collaboratively, shared globally and they want to involve others – searching out for answers through friends, social networks, mentors and others. 
Today, with the wide variety of tricks and skills shown by top players everyday I’m not convinced we can show that their is a “right way”. Information during a game around you changes all the time and that influences how you do a particular skill. For example, is a 1v1 in a wide area different to a 1v1 at the top of the penalty box? Absolutely. Is a 1v1 against a fast player different to doing a 1v1 against a slower player? Definitely. What if you approach them from a different angle or at a different speed? It’s never the same, but maybe similar. 
How can you teach the principle of the action rather than be prescriptive of the action?
How can help players recognise the cues that determine their choice of move?
How can you develop games that encourage them to do the problem solving?
There are loads of things to think about as learning and our understanding of it develops and this blog just hoped to give a flavour of some of these. The modern learner is different to a traditional learner and because you learnt that way doesn’t mean that today’s child will do. They have been born in another time, as the Chinese proverb says. You wonder why the player’s sometimes mess about during sessions? It might be linked to your approach towards their learning.
We need to be smart with our games and practices that empower young people to make decisions for themselves because I can guarantee, once they step over that white line to play, it’s all about them and children’s sport should not be PlayStation for adults…

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3 thoughts on “The evolution of learning…

  • February 21, 2015 at 8:47 pm

    I totally agree with your thoughts on this…. I have been an advanced skills teacher and currently work in a large secondary school as assistant headteacher – here my work involves working with adults and young people within the school and across the city. What you say about collaborative learning we call co-construction in education – without this the learner does not truly engage or own the learning. when young people or players are expected to make hundreds of split second decisions during a match if they don't have a deep understanding of what they should be doing how can we expect them to make the right decisions? Also so many coaches say they want to see the young players be creative yet drill into them 'how they should play' for me there is often something of a contradiction here – obviously there needs to be a system but I think the very best coaches do exactly what you advocate……
    they ask questions…..promote reflection in the young players……..give clear feedback……. set clear areas for development and above all encourage them to develop and have a fun time with their team mates

  • August 3, 2015 at 11:08 am

    Hi Nick,I appreciate all your insights, as I find them very valuable.Do you know any coaching school/courses good for upstarts?

  • August 3, 2015 at 11:09 am

    It's worth looking at courses on different Federation websites, whether The FA or abroad, plus reading and finding a good mentor!


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