The Importance of Linking Self-Organized Learning Theory, Technology and Soccer Coaching Together

Using S.O.L.E’s (Self-Organized Learning Environment’s) in soccer player development.

The purpose of this section is to open your mind up to the ideas of player-centered learning or autonomous learning. The S.O.L.E concept centers around using a questioning method for instruction that ties directly into modern technology and the vast amounts of information found on the internet. The idea is to empower players with ability to teach themselves using modern technology. Once a player understands the process of learning, has access to the required knowledge and feels confident in themselves, learning anything becomes attainable. One of the Coaches main purposes is to help the players feel empowered, in-charge of their own learning, wanting to ask questions and inspired to learn without having the fear of failure or judgments. In order for this to happen it very important to create a learning environment that players feel safe and supported in. As the facilitator and coach, using the S.O.L.E. model should make you conscious of how powerful the use of language can be and the potential impact it has on players.  Words, language, tone, questioning and praise can all be key catalysts for motiving, teaching, inspiring and instructing your team.

Self-Organized Learning Environments is a learning concept that focuses on player centered learning or autonomous learning, in this module we will focus on S.O.L.E.S in conjunction with use of the internet.  The entire S.O.L.E process is student centered with only a small amount of guidance from an instructor.  SOLE’s train player’s to use the internet as a way to gather information that will aid in their learning outside of traditional soccer training.  Soccer centered SOLE concepts will impact the player’s development in a measurable positive way, as they will be exposed to the wide range of soccer instructional and overall performance information that is available online.  I know the idea of SOLES work, because I personally learned to kick/drive a soccer ball for distance by watching a “rare” instructional video from a German professional player named Volgelsinger, this was in the early 1980’s, so the video was actually a video tape on VHS, the internet wasn’t even around at that time.  If there was more material available during my youth years, I am sure my soccer skills would have improved tremendously, but at that time access to information was difficult.  The good news is that today’s generation of young players have access to wealth of soccer instructional material online, and it’s basically all for free; so now that the information is available, S.O.L.E learning is set up to flourish in the digital world.  What I am presenting is an easy way to introduce the concepts of S.O.L.E learning directly into your current soccer curriculum.  Before I get into the details of how exactly to implement self-organized learning environments into the curriculum, let me cover a few specifics: What exactly is a SOLE and how does it work?

What is a SOLE & How Does It Work?

The concept of self-organized learning environments was invented by Dr. Sugatra Mitra, a physicist and educational researcher.  The concept started out as something called “minimally invasive learning”, but now it is referred to as SOLE learning.  SOLE learning requires children to organize themselves and structure their own learning. using external resources, usually the internet.

Basics of SOLE Learning Today:

  • Children should be put into teams of 4-5 students each. It is beneficial to have a few teams working in a room together so that they can share ideas and knowledge.
  • Each team should have one “captain” or “team leader” who is in charge of keeping order in the group, allowing all members to contribute and collaborate.
  • Each team should have access to one computer preferably with a widescreen monitor.
  • Children that are computer savvy can start working right away on the given task. If the students have no computer experience, dedicate some of the time to figuring out how to use the computer.  One of Dr. Mitra’s first experiments involved putting a computer in the wall of a slum in India to see how quickly the children in that neighborhood would pick up basic computer skills.  Not only did these children lack computer skills, they didn’t speak English; they not only figured out how to use the computer, they taught themselves and others English.
  • Children should be allowed to switch to another team at any time (trade).
  • Children can attempt to recruit any student to join their team that they want but it must be a trade with another group to keep group numbers even.
  • The groups are given a question by the teacher and asked to “go find the answer”. The students are not guided or coached after that point.  They are just given encouragement from a mentor/teacher, internet access and the members of their group to work with.
  • In the experiment younger kids even taught older kids as they browsed the internet, sent email and played video games.
  • Children can go over to other teams and observe what they are working on. They should not feel competitive with the other teams.  Rather it should be seen as a positive thing to make sure the entire class succeeds.
  • After a set amount of time the groups will present their results to the class as a whole.

*Notice the positive and safe learning environment that is created with the above guidelines.  Creating this type of learning environment needs to be a priority for all coaches.

Role of the Teacher/Mentor in a SOLE

The role of the teacher is to offer encouragement and praise, for example saying things like “you worked very hard”, “I am so impressed with you”, “I didn’t know that at your age” or “I am very impressed you found that out”.  When running a S.O.L.E there is no such thing as a bad question from a student.  All students must feel free and be encouraged to ask as many questions as possible of the teacher or each other.  However, the teacher should never directly answer the child’s question with the final answer.  Teachers will ask the children to dig a little deeper or ask them if they can look in a different place to find out more information.  If the children are stuck and need a hint, the teacher can give one but it is better if the teacher says something like, “I am here for you to help in anyway, but my hope is you can do as much as this on your own with your group”.   Remember, one of the reasons Albert Einstein was so successful and intelligent was his use of “Big Questions”.

These guidelines for SOLEs are in place for a reason.  For example, allowing children to leave their group and join another prevents one child from dominating the group or another child.  With regard to team size, if teams have too few group members then interaction will not be encouraged enough, which is crucial for the learning style to work.  It was also found that when children were offered “easy” compared to “hard” questions, they tend to choose the “easy” questions if they were alone.  However, teams or groups were more inclined to choose the “hard” questions.  Lastly, using one-computer per/group forces kids to share, collaborate, communicate and come up with their own rules and roles.  Collaboration is one of the cornerstones of why this learning method works and soccer is ultimately a team sport.

In order to effectively teach the students a subject like soccer the teacher would have to ask the important “Big Questions”.  Asking the “Big Questions” requires some knowledge to ensure students would be following a logical developmental path.  A soccer coach might ask questions like “What is a 1v1 move and why would you want to learn them?” or “What can my teammates do when I have the ball and do I need a person to pass the ball to?” or “What does shielding the soccer ball mean in soccer and what are the important things to know about shielding the ball?”

To be most effective, the questions should reinforce the general curriculum.

SOLEs in Action: Case Study Examples

The examples are numerous but let me give you just a few that demonstrate the positive impact of S.O.L.Es to date:

  • The impact of access: An underperforming class in the slums of India, knowing no English was able to raise their academic tests scores from failing to passing.  The class raised their scores so high that they actually matched the scores of their peers at one of the richest highest performing schools in India.
  • The power of discovery: 6 year-old children learned to search the internet on a free computer that was set-up in a communal area, on a street in their neighborhood; after learning how to use the computer, they eventually used their new internet skills to improve their overall academic performance in school.
  • The benefits of collaboration: Italian students with no previous exposure to English were placed into teams and asked to find the correct answers to difficult questions written on the board in only English with no instructions. Teams were encouraged to share and collaborate, eventually all teams had developed their own unique solutions and answers to each question.


The benefits of S.O.L.Es are quite remarkable and there are many examples of S.O.L.E’s in action on YouTube, I would encourage you to look them up as well as the talks by Dr. Mitra (Ted Talks).  Watching the S.O.L.E’s in action and listening to Dr. Mitra will help you grasp the concept even better.  The next question is can this work in soccer and sports training.  My answer is “yes”.

 SOLEs have proven long term & short-term result:

Dr. Mitra’s research was conducted in many different countries around the world.  His studies proved the following by using SOLEs:

* Children became computer literate with no prior computer experience

* Children learned enough English to use email, chat and operate search engines

* Children learned to search the internet to find answers to questions

* Children improved math and science scores drastically in school

* Children showed ability to answer questions on advanced subject matter above their years

* Children developed better social skills

* Children were able to determine what was real and a fraud when it came to information on the internet

* The internet provided the information, but the children had to learn the best strategies for getting the information and making sure the group worked well together with all members having a role to carry out.

* SOLEs enabled children to become independent critical thinkers

* SOLEs seem to multiply the children’s ability and intelligence.

Adapting The Concepts of S.O.L.E.S for The Purpose of Soccer Development

As I learned about self-organized learning environments I was able to relate my own personal development to some of the key concepts.  As I mentioned before I learned most of my soccer technical ability straight from a Wiel Coerver book.  I studied that book every day for hours as I attempted to learn all the techniques shown.  In many ways that book was my “internet” or “information source”.  The next way I learned was by seeking out talented players on my team to teach me.  I would ask each player to show me how they did a certain technique.  I would listen and then practice it until I got the technique down.  That collaboration with my teammates was valuable source of information for me.  Some top professional clubs around the world not only encourage collaboration, but they make it part of their curriculum.  The other great resource I had access to was professional soccer games on television, I would tape the games and study them over and over again.  I learned many valuable techniques from watching hours upon hours of games with a notebook in my hand, writing every step involved in the techniques down, then I would go to the field and practice it until I learned it.   In essence, I was conducting my own mini-SOLE!   I can only imagine how much more I could have learned if I was part of a group that had access to the worldwide web and worked on the “Big Questions” asked by a coach.

Suggestions for Soccer SOLEs

Since it may not be realistic to have groups of players work together at the field on laptops, running a “Soccer SOLE” will require some adaptations.  Try forming groups and having them work together over “Skype” or a “Facetime Call”; this would be harder for the really young players, but 7 year olds and up should be able to do this with help from parents, who would get things set-up initially.  If this is not possible, give the players the “Big Question” as homework after training, encourage them to work on it alone using the internet before the next session.  As they arrive at training allow players time to work together in their groups, so they can present and teach the rest of the group what they learned individually.  Making some adaptions due to circumstances will be necessary but the effectiveness should still be very good.  Design a curriculum of “Big Questions” that coincide with your soccer curriculum.  It is actually possible for a person with little soccer experience to be effective at coaching a youth team using the SOLE system as a basis for guiding learning.  Given the right “Big Questions” and encouragement, children can teach themselves the game.  Of course, it would not be easy, but if the coach had a mentor it would be possible.  The mentor could Skype once a week with the coach, checking in on the progress of the players, discussing curriculum and answering any lingering questions that he or she may have.

SOLEs for sports will differ from than SOLEs used in the classroom, academically focused SOLEs encourage children to find factual answers to questions, which are typically less driven by interpretation and are either correct or incorrect. In comparison, sports focused SOLEs would give players some extra insight when needed that can’t necessarily be found or clearly understood through an internet search.  For example, performing the Cruyff turn is different than solving a math problem.  If a player makes a mistake doing a math problem, the root of the mistake can be logically seen on paper.  A mistake in the Cruyff turn is easier to pinpoint with the help of a coach who can supplement the player’s SOLE based research with his or her own experience, helping the player to breakdown the Cruyff turn into teachable segments, to make sure the right technique is trained.

In a SOLE-Soccer environment, each player and group can learn and help each other progress.  Sharing knowledge and teaching one another is a great way to form a positive culture of learning enhanced by collaboration.  The emphasis is always on the group and not the individual.  Even just hearing that sounds nice!

The great part about learning through SOLEs is that students are often so motivated, they continue to do work and research after class or training is finished.  Participation in SOLEs tends to spark a real passion for learning, as the players’ self-esteem and self-worth are positively affected from being part of the process.




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