In a recent post I mentioned how, in my opinion, the ECB’s National Programmes have more to say about learning to play (by playing “games” to learn; repetition without repetition) and player behaviours (the multi-ability model, developed in collaboration with Create Development) than the mainstream coaching programmes.
I ran All Stars sessions for three years, pre-lockdown, and have delivered training for National Programmes Activators for a couple of years, now, and the more I see the more I am convinced by the underlying pedagogy and philosophy of the National Programmes.
Pedagogy — the method and practice of teaching
Philosophy — a theory or attitude that acts as a guiding principle for behaviour
I don’t know how the “pedagogy” of the National Programmes was decided upon, or even if there ever was a conscious decision — it could be a happy coincidence of the use of volunteer Activators to lead sessions and the provision of pre-defined activity and session plans — but the emphasis is heavily on learning by playing, with minimal intervention by adults.
Which sounds very like the mantra of non-linear pedagogy, ecological dynamics, and the constraints-led approach to the development of motor learning. (And, just in case it isn’t already obvious, I think this is a good thing!)
Low input, high activity
In an All Stars or Dynamos session, movement skills are developed through repetition of an activity. Not by drills, nor by perfect repetition — “techniques” will be emerging, and technical interventions limited — so practice will be characterised by “mistakes” and “repetition without repetition”. Players get lots of goes, and learn by doing, without too many “coaching” interventions.
As Activator tutors, we stress the need to keep technical input to the minimum required to allow the activity to progress, for two reasons.
- Some of the volunteer Activators might not have relevant technical knowledge…and even amongst qualified coaches, how many can do more than re-state the truisms of the TV commentators, when it comes to biomechanical, functional movement patterns?
- There simply isn’t the time to stand around watching demonstrations and listening to instructions — the children are there to play!
In All Stars, with four activities each week, 15 minutes per activity, if the Activator spends 5 minutes explaining the activity and telling the players how to play, that’s 20 minutes “play” time (learning time) lost.
But we will run an activity or play a game more than once. So it might be OK to take a little more time explaining the activity for the first time, so long as those instructions don’t need to be repeated next time the activity is delivered.
My own ideal might be to repeat as often as 3x over the course of an 8-week programme — once to learn how to “play” the game (hence more time on instruction for the first run through), once to work out how to “win” (identifying and beginning to develop appropriate skills & tactics), and once to put that learning into practice.
And if an activity works, and the children are enjoying it, and still finding a challenge…play it again!
For those Activators requesting new activity cards because “we did them all last year” — it’s not a race to complete all the challenges. An All Stars programme is a chance to learn, to develop a technique, then a skill that can be deployed consistently, and ultimately mastery…and that could take years, not one go.
We want to instil a love for the game. To convince the players that cricket is a game for them, not something they do because Dad (or Mum) wants them to.
And from that love for the game, comes the passion for playing (or umpiring, or scoring, or coaching), and the desire to get better at it.
So game belongs to the kids — especially in Dynamos, Activators are encouraged to set-up then step back, and let the players play the game.
Interestingly, perhaps, the need to develop that love for the game is emphasised in the recently ECB’S Unleashing Potential…but only for the Women’s pathway.
No such passion in the Men’s pathway document. Is it assumed to be already present in boys? Deemed unnecessary in the increasingly commercial men’s game? Or beneath the concerns of the professional, “performance” coaches who will deliver the ECB’s development pathway? It feels like a sad omission.
There is so much to like about the National Programmes — learning by playing, developing a love for the game, pedagogy & philosophy.
And whether the programme has been designed specifically to deliver these objectives, or the design is a happy accident (or an emergent behaviour?), I am proud to be involved in the delivery.