You can show up to the field with the greatest training session planned, you arrive early to set-up and it seems like nothing can go wrong. You bring the players in, explain the training, blow the whistle to get started and in an instant everything completely breaks down. The players are stumbling around confused, the exercise falls apart and you get frustrated! How could this have happened? You even had the lesson on your computer tablet expertly diagramed out! So what might have went wrong? Let me go back to my early days in an attempt to figure out the answer to the question.
When I was a teacher in some of the most challenging school systems in country, in order to teach anything in what was often a 50:1 student to teacher ratio, you had to possess classroom management skills or you wouldn’t last more than a couple months on the job. If the 50:1 student to teacher ratios were not challenging enough, add to that substantial discipline issues and welcome to my world back then! So what did I learn during that period that relates directly to coaching? First, highly skilled teachers are not made over night. The top teachers are seasoned professionals who have improved their craft over the duration of their careers. They all have their own type of special calm and commanding style about them. Top teachers are not yellers or screamers or intimidators of students, they operate more on a level or mutual respect with the students. When students walk into the room or gym of a highly skilled teacher, they know the expectations and also know where physically they should be and what they should be doing, there is no room misinterpretation. For example, with 50 students and in some cases 100 students and 2 teachers in one gym, you would never leave 20 balls out and have no plan to get the students in some type of organization, how would you even take attendance? High-level teachers have everything pre-planned with a purpose in an efficient and logical way that makes sense, so they can handle 5 or 100 kids. The lesson is delivered in a lower tone using inflections to highlight the important content; their voice in effect cognitively organizes the material for the students. The content is never delivered until the students are 100% prepared to listen and learn. This helps ensure there will be no processing problems with the directions for the lesson; it sets the stage for students to be cognitively ready to learn. I can go on for a long time about the keys to being a great teacher but what I really want to get across to you in this short post is, even before the soccer practice officially starts with the first kick of the ball, how are you preparing the players to be cognitively ready for training? Do you call the players in-together using a signal or cue, do they all put their toes on a line or take a knee, do you wait for total silence and attention, do you deliver pinpoint brief instructions and can the instructions be easily processed by all the players? Does your first exercise in practice require all the players to focus, work together and activate their bodies? Have you taken the time to discuss with the players how important it is that they are mentally and physically ready to learn? The more you can discuss with your players the keys to “learning how to learn”, the more they should buy in! So, the next time practice doesn’t go as well as you would have liked, ask yourself, do you prepared your players to learn?
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