I’m coaching…but are they learning?

I taught my dog to whistle…he just hasn’t learnt, yet!

Too often, the assumption in coaching is that players learn by being coached. But that ignores other ways that people learn, and also the motivation that drives learning.

I have had plenty of time to reflect on my coaching, recently (haven’t we all?), and I wonder if my “live” (face-to-face) coaching has always been delivering effective learning i.e. leading to the acquisition and retention of new skills and knowledge by the players.

So, with time on my hands, I wanted to re-consider activities to include more opportunities to utilise learning types other than “Acquisition”.

Making learning happen

  • Practice is inherent in most sports coaching, perhaps, but I want to bring in more Inquiry:
    • challenges where the players are left to find their own “answer” (the skill or tactic to be used);
    • more (structured and conditioned) games.
  • Certainly more Production (in sport, that means playing more games):
    • this could mean setting aside time (one session in four, say, or the last half hour of a 2 hour evening slot) to simply playing the game.
  • More Discussion and Collaboration, where possible:
    • challenging with the youngest players I work with (u5s), perhaps, so only “sowing the seeds” at this level, but with older players there is scope for getting them thinking about their game.

Discussion & collaboration

I want to set more “homework” challenges. This will be more appropriate for older players, perhaps, but I have been pleasantly surprised by the analytical insight of younger cricketers, even 9 years of age and younger.

With the proliferation of recorded cricket highlights on the internet, and even full live streams, players can be set to analyse a session of play, or a couple of overs.

  • how many chances did the batter get to score runs?
  • what stopped them from scoring?
    • was the bowling difficult to hit, or did a well-placed field prevent runs scored?
  • who “won” the session?
    • Why?
    • What could the other team have done?

How do players learn?

By allowing learning to develop more holistically (not just via Instruction), then perhaps more of Race’s Ripples will be facilitated:

  • want/need — allowing the players to develop skills they have identified for themselves
  • doing — more repetition (without repetition)
  • making sense — perhaps utilising Game Sense and TGfU approaches
  • feedback — both from the coach but also (if we can get Discussion & Collaboration running) from peers
  • teaching — ask a player to explain to his peers how a skill or tactic might work in match play

Is it working?

If the delivery changes, how will I know it is working?

I will have to be more open to student feedback.

As the new approach evolves and becomes embedded in day-to-day practice, I need to engage with players (and parents) to simply ask how the learning is going.

This will require better and more consistent use of questioning, but also better deployment of critical listening skills — really listening to what is being said in reply to a question, rather than waiting to hear a buzzword and moving on; also by making sure that as many participants as possible are encouraged to respond.

Informal feedback can also be gathered simply enough by observing the players under match or game conditions — when the 8-year old batter first hits a ball into a gap between fielders, you know she is beginning to understand the game!


This post has been inspired by the online course How to Teach Online: Providing Continuity for Students created and hosted by FutureLearn.

Lots of insight into the practicalities of teaching online, but also into how (good) teaching facilitates learning. Fascinated to learn about Diana Laurillard’s Conversational Framework, and the Learning Types (not to be confused with Learning Styles).

Set alongside recent reflections on how I coach and my coaching toolkit (Tools; Blocked, Variable or Random; Practice vs. Play), inspired by the iCoachKids MOOC Coaching Children: Planning, Doing and Reviewing, I have come away with a lot to think about.

I am currently furloughed from one coaching post, and (hopefully) very soon will be from another, so I am not able to deliver any online teaching activities on behalf of any of the organisations I coach for.

So — perhaps mostly theoretical, at this point, given my work situation. But all feeding into a wider review of how I coach, and how I can coach better.

The line “I taught my dog to whistle” (originally “I taught Stripe to whistle”) is from a Bud Blake “Tiger” cartoon — I thought it was Charles Schulz’s Charlie Brown, but no.

Published by Andrew Beaven

Cricket coach, fascinated by the possibilities offered by the game. More formally - ECB level 2 cricket coach; ECB National Programmes (All Stars & Dynamos Cricket) Activator Tutor; Chance to Shine & Team Up (cricket) deliverer; ECB ACO umpire.

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