Learning from learning

The focus of one of my undergraduate lectures today was the importance of communication, with a specific slant towards defining the act and how communication translates into instruction. An interesting debate was had following a game of charades and Chinese whispers. In fact, during my drive over to practice I began to consider my own ability to communicate a message, offer some instruction, and most importantly of all, listen! During our last game I had been asked the following question: “coach, what can I do better?” Is there a more loaded question? I tried to recall my response, it was brief, punchy and motivational, to a point. What it wasn’t however, was instructional. There was no specificity within my response, I didn’t identify a skill, task or area of responsibility that could be improved my means of… I merely suggested that the player take up a slightly different position on the floor and look to utilise his strength and speed. On reflection, my response should have been a probe, a question back at the player asking him to consider what it was he thought he should be doing. Following this moment I knew I had to be better, I wanted to be clearer in my communication and so committed myself to addressing the sending of some of our key messages prior to our practice tonight.
We spent twenty minutes constructing a pictorial representation of our philosophy, game model and goals for the season. It was interesting just how many players knew what we were trying to do in each moment of the game, and more importantly, why. The session went well, it was light in nature, but served to recall, revisit and reaffirm what we hoped to achieve. As we moved into our physical practice I felt confident that we’d had a positive twenty-minutes and would benefit from the exercise at a later date. We got into some movement and shared shapes in a bid to revisit and embed our various patterns, almost a marginal gains approach. I allowed the players to explore where it was we could improve our play, tighten our execution and benefit from quicker movement, sharper turns, greater communication and a deeper understanding of what it was we were trying to achieve. The practice looked age appropriate, it had all of the moving parts, a court, a ball, a coach and some participants. The question was, how much learning was taking place?
What strikes me as interesting, both on the court and in the lecture theatre, is the concept of cause and affect. How do we know when we have affected change, promoted thought or sparked understanding. At what point does my instruction, observation or feedback cause the player to grasp the concept, to better understand their role within a collective movement? I obviously appreciate learning theory (pause for the sound of the trumpets) and have been recognised as being excellent (#National Teaching Fellow). I would state, if asked, that I subscribe to a social constructivist methodology, that is to say that I encourage and promote dialogue among the players (I believe I do), I present our concepts in various forms (written and verbal models, self-discovery, problem-solving and questioning scenarios) and provide time and space for them to explore our gamecraft on their own, to problem-solve and to ask questions of each other. My query is this, at one point does it become a reality for them? When is it that the ‘light bulb’ moment occurs and when can I say that it is because of something I did, an instruction or merely the provision of opportunity to learn? I would argue that my students have moments of understanding outside of the formal learning spaces that we share, that they obtain some degree of understanding whilst sat in a private learning space, either sharing this time with peers, or immersed in the reading that is positioned in front of them. I guess what I am saying is this, if we all learn in our own private learning spaces, I would like to know what this space looks like for a U16 basketball player and how I can contribute to that learning. Or, more importantly, do I need to contribute to that learning space?
I drove home knowing I would be back the following day, that I would continue to be curious and that I would further want more from my coach self. Some of us had come a long way and I was pleased to see that growth. However, some of us hadn’t yet had our ‘light bulb’ moment and that was a source of frustration for me, a point that I wasn’t sure of but knew that there was more that I could be doing.

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