Thursday, 11 December 2014

Clear Learning Intentions - optimizing the effect of our work as coaches

So much of the work of effective coaching is centered on being able to help your skiers improve technically.  More effective coaches do this over a smaller time period than less effective coaches. The fact is that most of us who coach adolescents are not immersed in the world of coaching full time; most of us are volunteers who have day jobs, often quite unrelated to working with adolescents in a sport context, and we work with club skiers in the evenings and on weekends. We do our best, work with our best hunch about what we think will be most effective and go for it.  Nonetheless, you can see it at races, some clubs have kids who ski with greater technical proficiency than other clubs.  Something is going on when you notice this, and its good to think about ways to improve your effectiveness as a coach.

One of things that helps kids to learn technical ski skills quicker are things that effective teachers do when teaching mathematics or science or phys ed.  Great teachers share their learning intentions with their students.  For us as coaches, this means being explicit in sharing with kids what the learning intentions are at each practice.  It might look like 'today we are going to work at gliding on a flat ski'.  As coaches, its then important to provide some learning experiences that provide some surface learning, some building of deeper understandings of the skill, and some conceptual understandings of how the task relates to the skill.  As coaches, we need to have a clear idea of where we are going with our instruction and ensure that our athletes know where they are going.

As coaches, we also need to encourage kids to commit to achieving the learning goals and provide feedback on how successful their efforts are in attaining the learning goal.  This might look like 'your inside edge is closer to the snow than your outside edge - what do you need to do to have your outside edge of your ski have equal contact with the snow when you are gliding'. Its important that kids get descriptive feedback if they are going to improve their technical skills.

Kids need to know what success looks like.   This can be done in lots of ways.  First the coach can demonstrate the skill - which is why at a certain level its important that a coach can perform a skill to the level they want their athletes to perform it.  Secondly, you can use world cup video clips of an athlete performing the skill you're working on and play it in slow motion or use a tool like Ubersense to mark joint angles or show how an expert performer, for example, glides on a flat ski.  Or if your lucky, you've got some junior racers who can show kids what it looks like.  Having a clear idea of what success looks like will help athletes get there alot faster.

When you are explicit in sharing your learning intention; when you give kids descriptive feedback that helps them move in the direction of attaining the learning intention; and when kids know what success looks like, both physically and conceptually, their attention is increased, and their motivation to succeed increases - these things lead to greater success.

I'll be honest, I am crazy about coaching kids in cross country skiing and I'm passionate about sharing out best practice ideas to help coaches who are looking for ideas and growth in their practice to help kids learn to be better skiers, enjoy our fantastic sport more, and keep them involved.  I have found that where kids don't get the best instruction, they drop out of our sport with higher frequency than where they have a passionate, skilled coach who not only is a good skier, but more importantly who is a good teacher.

Its early winter in Canmore.  There is nothing I like more than getting my skis on, feeling the incredible sensation of propelling my body up and down hills with grace, efficiency, and the pure unadulterated joy of movement.

Roy Strum
Canmore, AB

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