How do humans learn? What can one do to facilitate learning? These questions flummox researchers and puzzle great coaches and teachers. Average coaches worry little about players’ learning, simply coaching in the manner they were coached as players. But, the great coaches pay attention to learning strategies and the differences inherent in each player to maximize their instruction and aid their players’ development.
In our society, we believe people “get an education.” However, an education is not something we get, but is an individual pursuit from within. We do not receive an education, we make our own education. “The word educate comes from the Greek meaning ‘to lead forth.’ Its original connotation was helping to bring out that which was inside-working from the inside out. It does not man to fill up,” (Shoemaker). Educating, then, is not lecturing, but guiding to an answer or the skill development and acquisition. The learning process, however, is a self-discovery more than the attainment of outside knowledge.
Traditional coaching ignores learning strategies and the classical definition of educate, and instead focuses on filling up the player with information, whether it is technical information on the proper form of a jump shot, or a set play that tells a player exactly when and where to move. Coaching in this manner fails to provide a platform for the athlete to reach her full potential, as she instead must think about all the information given to her, as opposed to acting upon knowledge which is inside of her. Players’ freedom is restricted and they are forced to conform to someone else’s (the coach) philosophy and approach. Worse, when players switch teams or move to a new level, they must learn a new system and approach. But, they are still told what to do and how to do it.
Players constantly inundated with instruction and verbal cues never fully develop their sport or motor skills because they are not given the freedom to explore and discover on their own. Understanding the words describing an action is not the same as understanding the action. As Timothy Gallwey wrote in The Inner Game of Tennis, “Words can only represent actions, ideas and experiences. Language is not the action, and at best can only hint at the subtlety and complexity contained in the stroke. Although the instruction thus conceived can now be stored in the part of the mind that remembers language, it must be acknowledged that remembering the instruction is not the same as remembering the stroke itself,” (Gallwey). And, yet, coaching today revolves around the common misconception that more instruction is better.
There is no absolute in coaching; everyone has his own style and his own way. Some coaches are very technical and break down everything into small pieces and build to the whole, while others instruct less and allow players to learn by doing. Either extreme is probably ineffective, as coaches who talk too much loose the attention of their teams and players, and those who do not instruct at all are commonly criticized for just rolling the ball out and offering little correction when an athlete makes a mistake, which may lead to permanent errors.
Gallwey, in The Inner Game of Golf, describes these two distinct styles as rivers: “Throughout the ages there have always been two streams of advice for people who wanted to improve a skill. I call one of the river of ‘formulas’ and the other the river of ‘feel’Ã¢Â?Â¦The river of formulas produces a formidable flow of technical instructions arising from the detailed analysis of any skillÃ¢Â?Â¦The second river of advice has been about mastering the human dimension of existence-the domain of thinking and feeling,” (Gallwey).
A coach who only paddles in one river misses the experience of the other river, while one who paddles in both rivers can share the best experiences of each and use the best methods from each river to help his athletes. A close-minded coach starts in one river and enjoys it enough and begins to feel comfortable, so he stays with what he knows, afraid to venture into the other river, the unknown. But, an open-minded coach tries each river before deciding where he will return and how much he will take from each.
The best coaches in terms of skill development and acquisition (not necessarily wins and losses) are those who have the technical wherewithal, but also the understanding of the manner in which their athletes learn and develop. Without one or the other, the coach will never develop his players to the fullest, and his lack of understanding (and success) will oftentimes lead to frustration and burnout.
The following section introduces technical information regarding the manner in which we develop and acquire motor and sport skills, new strategies for changing bad habits and a totally different approach based more on individual growth and player awareness. Each has its value for coaches who want to understand better teaching methods and provide a better learning environment for athletes, and possibly a better platform for their athletes to develop fully and reach their potential.
Initially, humans learn to crawl and then walk, developing their first motor skills with little or no instruction. The methods toddlers use to develop walking skills-trial and error, finding the most efficient manner to get from A to B, watching others-make sense when developing other motor skills, yet we typically ignore our earliest instincts to find the most efficient way, and instead learn by being told what is the best way. In this way, learning becomes following directions, imitation and memorization and not true education, discovery and understanding.
Basic laws govern the acquisition of motor skills and abilities. To understand this development, one must have an understanding of the difference between a motor skill, a sport skill and a motor ability.
“Any Athletic skill is actually a motor skill, which can be defined as an act or task that has a goal to achieve and requires voluntary body or limb movement to be properly performed. Many times-and wrongly so-the terms skills and ability are used interchangeably. Motor abilities (e.g., static and dynamic balance, visual acuity, response time, speed of limb movement, eye hand/foot coordination, etc.) can be viewed as the foundational components of motor skill development, but are not skills be definition,” (Mannie).
For the purpose of this paper, we are concerned with developing athletic skills, those motor skills used in game performance, whether the skill is shooting a basketball, hitting a tennis ball or pitching a baseball. However, in order to develop sport skills, one must have basic motor abilities. There is a learning progression with motor skill development, just as with learning math. In mathematics, one learns the values of numbers, first learning to put the language-the spoken number four-together with a picture of four objects. Once one learns the value of the abstract symbols used to represent things and language, the student learns addition and subtraction and works to the multiplication tables, division, etc. There is a rational order, and one cannot skip addition and subtraction and go straight to long division.
Similarly, in motor skill development, there is an order of skill acquisition. “The basic motor skills-nonlocomotor (stationary, like bending and stretching), locomotor (traveling, like walking or hopping) and manipulative (object control, like bouncing and catching a ball) – have been called the ABC’s of movement,” (Pica). A person masters nonlocomotor skills, most importantly balance, before moving to locomotor skills and finally manipulative skills.
Before learning sport skills, one masters fundamental motor skills, which form the basis of sport skills. These motor skills combine nonlocomotor, locomotor and manipulative skills and allow a person to move to specific sport skills. “Fundamental motor skills such as hopping, jumping, skipping, kicking, throwing, catching and striking are prerequisites to the learning of sport specific skills such as those of basketball, football gymnastics, tennis, badminton, etc. Sport specific skills are comprised of fundamental skills and variations of them. It is very difficult to obtain proficiency in sport skills unless the prerequisite fundamental skills are present,” (Smith).
Unfortunately, in today’s overly structured world, young children do not fully develop some of these basic fundamental skills, which hamper their ability to perform sport skills at a high level. For instance, numerous high school athletes cannot skip; they can make a motion that approximates skipping, but they really lack the coordination or the experience trying to skip. Other young people have difficulty catching balls because they cannot track the ball; their motor abilities-namely hand/eye coordination and visual acuity-are poorly developed. Part of the problem is the lack of free play for young people today; with two parents working, everything is seemingly structured in a class or a play date and fewer children play in their front yards or at the park, learning games and general movements on their own.
Instead of developing a faculty for skipping because they play hop scotch in the school yard, or learning to chase and track a ball playing stickball, children are exposed to motion and skills only in classes where they are told what to do, rather than learning on their own. Again, as said above, language can only approximate the skill; it is not the skill itself and if the child is not given sufficient time to translate the language and learn the skill, it may not develop fully at a young or appropriate age. And, due to embarrassment, some kids will never pick up a skill later in life if they did not gain proficiency at the appropriate age.
As we learn different movements, we progress through different stages or movement patterns, each with its own emphasis and performance cues.
“Movement patterns is the term given to ten basic types of movements [sending, receiving, accompanying, evading, locomotions, landings, statics, swings, rotations, springs] the body engages in when participating in physical activityÃ¢Â?Â¦these movement patterns are broken down into ‘performance cues’ at the beginner, intermediate and advanced levelsÃ¢Â?Â¦The beginner’s performance cues are all related to body and spaceÃ¢Â?Â¦the intermediate’s focus is still on ‘space’ but more on ‘force’Ã¢Â?Â¦this means that the focus is on the application of power in order to move the body (starting and stopping) or applying power to a game object (badminton smash versus drop shot)Ã¢Â?Â¦the [advanced] student’s focus is somewhat on force but more on relationshipsÃ¢Â?Â¦the adjustment made among body, space and force to change or further refine skill performance and strategies,” (Saskatchewan Education).
Understanding the different levels will make a coach more aware of his players’ development and better assist the coach with practice planning according to the players’ needs. Too often, especially in youth sports, the emphasis is misguided, as coaches play to win rather than focusing on skill development and insuring proper motor skill development. Many times, coaches introduce a skill which to them is fairly simple, like shooting a lay-up, and combine one skill with another. So, instead of learning to shoot a lay-up, the athlete must dribble a ball while running, pick up the ball and shoot. The coach combines manipulative and locomotor skills, oftentimes before the athlete is ready for such a challenge. This leads to frustration by the coach, as he cannot understand why the players cannot do it, and frustration by the players at their inability to perform.
Instead, if the coach understands the beginner, intermediate and advanced levels, he may chose to teach dribbling and shooting a lay-up separately, so the player masters a lay-up with no dribble first, then with one dribble from close to the basket and finally a full speed lay-up while dribbling the ball. This approach separates the different skills and allows the player to work on them one at a time, hopefully moving the player along from the Beginner level to the Intermediate level in each skill quicker than if one tried to learn every thing at one time.
Like the three levels of performance cues, there are three learning stages one goes through when acquiring a skill, and they are closely related to the Beginner, Intermediate and Advanced levels. “There are three stages an individual progresses through when learning psycho-motor skills; they are the cognitive, the associative and the autonomic,” (PageWise).
The Cognitive Stage roughly parallels the Beginner level; the Associative parallels the Intermediate and the Autonomic parallels the Advanced. Each is marked by different characteristics and different appropriate teaching techniques.
The Cognitive Stage “is marked by numerous errors, variability in performance and a great deal of needed quality repetition,” (Mannie). In this stage, the athlete struggles to make sense of the language instruction and translate it into action. Thus, this stage “is marked by awkward, slow movements that the learner is consciously trying to control,” (PageWise). The athlete thinks before doing, rather than reacting naturally as an Advanced, Autonomous athlete does.
In this stage, it is easy to overwhelm the athlete with too much information, or by doing too many new things at one time. Therefore, only one new skill should be practiced at a time. When learning to hit a baseball, it is easier to use a tee, as it limits the motor abilities needed. If a new baseball player is pushed into a batter’s box against a live pitcher, he not only must learn the form of the swing and to keep his eye on the ball, but he must track the ball from the pitcher’s hand and decide whether the pitch is a strike. For a new batter, especially a young athlete, this is sensory overload, and the athlete is almost sure to fail and become frustrated. However, on a tee, the athlete is in control of his learning, as he can place the ball where he wants it and swing when he is ready. He is not learning to hit a thrown ball, but he is learning to swing the bat, which is the first part of hitting a thrown ball. When his comfort level increases and he understands how to swing the bat, then he can move to the next level and concentrate on putting more power into the swing to hit the ball further, and work toward facing a live pitcher.
It is critical that the player is not rushed through the stages and he is given time to learn properly. Each athlete learns at a different rate and some will acquire the skill earlier than others. One of the greatest challenges facing coaches is designing drills, instruction and practices for players of varying ability and in different learning stages.
The athlete also must understand his learning process in order to prevent himself from judging his actions. When a young player is learning a new skill, he is cognizant of his peers and their development. If his peers learn quicker, he judges himself poorly and his negative thoughts further hinder his development and growth through the learning process. Gallwey suggests in The Inner Game of Tennis that “the first skill to learn is the art of letting go the human inclination to judge ourselves and our performance as either good or badÃ¢Â?Â¦Be clear about this: letting go of judgments does not mean ignoring errors. It simply means seeing events as they are and not adding anything to them,” (Gallwey). The athlete learning to hit on a tee must not see missing the target as failure, but instead recognize what he did wrong (and this is where coaching enters into play, as while still in the Cognitive Stage, the athlete will need considerable help figuring out what he did incorrectly that resulted in the error) and learn from the attempt. If he focuses on the negative result, he is likely to make the same mistake, as he fails to learn from the prior attempt and is not aware of his error.
The second stage, the Associative Stage, is marked by more fluidity and understanding. “As the athlete enters this stage, many of the basic fundamentals and mechanics of the skill have been learned. The mistakes are fewer, less serious and, more importantly, the athlete is capable of recognizing many of his errors and is aware of how to take the proper steps to correct them. The goal now is to refine the skill,” (Mannie). The coach’s role shifts to assist the player’s needs; now, as opposed to constant critiques to insure proper mechanics, the coach is less vocal, but more specific with his instructions. “It is paramount that the coach continues to provide the athlete with useful, specific information and constructive feedback throughout this [associative] stage,” (Mannie).
When working with players in this stage on their shooting, my feedback is minimal as I allow the player to shoot a number of shots while I remain silent. I want the player concentrating on the shot and the feel of the shot in order to self-correct, and not to focus on understanding my corrections. After several shots, I’ll stop the player and narrow the focus in certain areas to aid the player and offer my opinion on what may help them improve. At this point, it is refining a basic shot; I do not try to alter the natural motion, but tweak it to make it more effective. However, if the player is more comfortable, confident or consistent in his mechanics, and he is successful, I let him go. The tweaking at this point is primarily focusing the player on feeling his shot and insuring his motion is the same every time. Other fundamental feedback is typically centered on the leg drive powering the ball to the basket and hand placement on the ball. At this point, it is the little things that will create improvement, assuming the player exited the Cognitive Stage with acceptable mechanics.
The Autonomic Stage is the final stage, though with some skills, complete mastery will take years, if it is ever reached. “The autonomous stage is reached when learning is almost complete, although an individual can continue to refine the skill through practice. The stage is called autonomous because the learner no longer needs to depend on the instructor for feedback about performance,” (PageWise). The athlete understands his errors almost immediately and can take action to correct his own mistakes. “The final stage of learning is realized only after much practice, quality repetition and experience with the specific task. The skill is habitual or automaticÃ¢Â?Â¦The athlete is able to recognize his errors and is cognizant of the process needed to correct them,” (Mannie).
In this stage, the coach asks more questions as opposed to answering questions. Rather than tell the athlete what he did wrong, or trying to fill the athlete with information, the coach tries to guide the athlete’s learning and pull the answers from within, through the athlete’s heightened awareness. “The only way to truly know if the athlete has accrued this higher level of learning [autonomous stage] is to quiz him rather than lecture him,” (Mannie).
Developing correct fundamentals is essential because “practice makes permanent.” The more a player practices, the more he ingrains his habits and the more natural these feel. If the player learns an incorrect habit or flawed mechanics, it gets tougher to change the bad habit as the player progresses and ages. Therefore, learning proper fundamentals the first time is vastly underrated in importance for youth coaches who must deal with hundreds of things, but often comprise proper skill acquisition. The need to win and succeed often dictate practices, and the best way to win at youth levels is not necessarily the best way to develop skills properly.
As a result bad habits arise and continue to worsen until they are corrected. Simply playing more does not solve he problem. “Moreover, bad habits acquired early in life are likely to persist throughout an entire lifetime. For example, the young pitcher who hasn’t yet acquired a mature level of throwing isn’t likely to lose his bad habits simply because he’s required to pitch one to two games a week. Rather, the odds are these bad habits will simply become more and more ingrained as time goes on,” (Pica).
Correcting a mistake or changing a bad habit requires a different learning process than learning a new action. If drawing a picture, one would approach the drawing differently if it was a blank canvas, as opposed to drawing over an unfinished work. When drawing over another work, the first step would be to erase the previous work as thoroughly as possible, trying to create a blank canvas from which to move forward.
In sport skill development, a similar process is necessary. If an athlete has formed a bad habit, he will be unable to change the habit without the ability to recognize the old habit. He is not a blank canvas, but one with markings, and he has to see the markings in order to erase and replace them. “The essence of physical learning is developing distinctions, becoming aware of the differences between two actions and recognizing the consequences of each,” (Shoemaker). Changing a bad habit requires the athlete to be able to differentiate between the bad habit and the desired action; the body should naturally choose the more efficient means, once it understands the difference.
Because each represents a different learning process, the coach must be aware of his mission. “The first step is to do an error analysis. If we find the player’s skills and techniques show no consistent pattern and that the errors are fairly random, then we can go ahead and simply ‘re-teach’ the skill sequence. However, if we find that the error does show a pattern or consistency, i.e. it is a ‘learned, ingrained, resistant error,’ then we know we are dealing with an ‘unlearning’ task and not a ‘re-teaching’ task,” (Baxter).
When unlearning, the athlete must gain an awareness of his previous habit before he can unlearn the habit and move forward. In this manner, the second “river of feel” is important to the technical process. “When people become more aware of key areas of their swing, their shots become more consistentÃ¢Â?Â¦increased awareness allows the body’s natural instincts to come into play, and these instincts make the swing more powerful and efficient,” (Shoemaker).
Dr. Paul Baxter, an Australian sports psychologist, has developed a method for unlearning incorrect form/mechanics and teaching the proper way. His method is called the Old Way/New Way Method, and its basic steps are detailed below:
The Old Way/New Way Method
1. Point out the error.
2. Explain why it is wrong.
3. Ask player to show how he or she normally holds the ball.
4. Improve the player’s awareness of what he or she normally does that is wrong. This step is crucial for the rest of the procedure to work.
5. Show the player the correct position for holding the ball.
6. Show and explain the differences between their way and the correct way.
7. Systematically and repeatedly rehearse these differences, having the player do it their way first, then do it the correct way, comparing these two and then describing the difference.
8. When the player seems to have the two ways sorted out in his mind, then and only then proceed with systematic practice of the correct way.
9. Instruct the player in the correct procedure for follow-up and self-correction for this specific skill problem.
Again, the technical aspects of Baxter’s method require the “feeling” aspects Shoemaker and Gallwey champion. In the crucial step (#4), Baxter emphasizes the athlete’s awareness as instrumental for the success of the method. As Shoemaker says, “The key to learning is to be aware of differences.”
To unlearn a player’s jump shot, I watch the player shoot and formulate in my mind his major flaws. After watching several shots, I tell the player where his biggest mistakes occur. In most cases, with young players, the problem is with where they derive their force. As they started to play, they were likely too weak to shoot correctly, so they developed a pushing motion, more like a shot put than a basketball shot. This results in poor leg drive, incorrect hand placement and the elbow being out. So, in my initial instruction, I make the player aware of his personal problem and then explain that to shoot more accurately, he must find ways to eliminate misses. An easy way to eliminate misses is to eliminate any shots that miss to either side. In order to do so, the player must develop a consistent shot that leads to a straight shot every time. This means the player should have his hand under the ball and his wrist pointed toward the hoop; his off-hand should be on the side of the ball and assist with balance until the release of the ball. The power is derived from the legs, as they drive the ball (and the body) up and toward the basket. There is nothing sideways in he shot, so it should go straight every time.
Once I have showed them the new way, which involves the corrections, I again show them their old method and explain the differences. I have the player pick up the ball and mimic his old shot and then mimic the new method, and ask for him to explain and demonstrate the difference between the two shots. Once he understands the difference and can illustrate the difference, then he has the awareness needed to erase the old method and build the new way. From this point, the player practices the new way with regular instruction from me (the instructor) until the player has reached the point where he can self-correct his own mistakes.
Using the awareness to find a more efficient shot is similar to Gallwey’s natural learning process. As opposed to trying to build a new skill on top of an old skill, the New Way/Old Way method involves the key component of the natural learning process: awareness. “There is a far more natural and effective process for learning and doing anything than most of us realize. It is similar to the process we all used, but soon forgot, as we learned to walk and talk,” (Gallwey). When we learned to walk, we naturally found the most efficient way to move forward. As balance improved, crawling was less efficient than walking, so we walked places. The child is not changing or replacing an old method, but finding the most efficient course. “A child doesn’t have to break the habit of crawling, because he doesn’t think he has a habit. He simply leaves it as he finds walking an easier way to get around,” (Gallwey).
When shooting a basketball, children learn with a variety of different forms because they need to find a way to get the ball ten feet in the air, and, with the popularity of the three-point line, nineteen feet across to the basket. Few children learn properly or shoot shots close to the basket to build proper form. As an example, I held a clinic for 9-12 year olds two weeks ago. I arrived early and watched every player warm-up as I too warmed-up. While I shot from no further than fifteen feet and made a couple hundred shots with very few misses, three boys threw up half court shots, three hundred-and-sixty degree lay-ups, running three-pointers, etc. The smallest player, the only girl in attendance, shot the ball from no further than ten feet and made a lot of shots. When I started the clinic, I explained that she was the one player I would want on my team based on warm-ups, as I knew she would get better while the others I did not know. As the clinic progressed, she backed my initial opinion, as she was the first to understand almost every drill and new move, despite starting near the bottom in skill level. But, she had good practice habits and listened well. She practiced shots she could make and ignored everything else, allowing her to shoot with correct form, and not just throwing the ball up at the basket. Unfortunately, most young players do not practice in this manner, developing bad habits which must be changed at some point as they progress.
As athletes age and gain strength, they should find it much easier to get the ball to the basket. At that point, they should refine their shooting stroke to find a more efficient way. In terms of Gallwey’s natural learning process, it is not unlearning, but forgetting and starting anew. However, to forget, one must be aware of what one is forgetting. In order to gain awareness, a coach may need to use Baxter’s Old Way/New Way Method to illustrate the old method and the new desired, more efficient method.
Along with the awareness, the athlete must reserve judgment; he should simply feel the differences and not evaluate the two based solely on results but on feel. Initially, any new movement will likely be somewhat awkward and less successful, as the athlete is returning to the Beginning level or the Cognitive Stage and building back from the bottom. However, “a child learns by trial and error, by awareness of action and resultÃ¢Â?Â¦The child doesn’t cloud his or her awareness by judging the results, the child simply observes the results, and very soon develops a feel for walking that lasts throughout life,” (Shoemaker). An athlete should approach a new skill in the same manner, observing the results and developing a natural feel for the more efficient way to shoot the ball.
The essential elements for coaches working with players who are developing new skills or refining old skills is the understanding of the stages involved in learning and the different rivers of advice. By being aware of the two different rivers, a coach is more likely to explore methods from each and look inwards to see if his approach to coaching is the best it can be. Without the awareness, too many coaches simply rely on what they saw as players, limiting their coaching to their immediate experience, improving upon very little.
In my undergraduate education classes, one of the first and most important learning strategies the professor, Dr. Chip Anderson, introduced was the idea that a teacher’s job was to guide the learner, not tell the learner. Basically, he said our job was to educate by the classical definition of educate, and not like today’s accepted meaning, where the educating is done to the person from the outside, typically by a teacher giving the student all kinds of information while the student passively listens and writes down every word in preparation for a memorization-based test.
Similarly, when coaching, the more effective means to teach the player a skill is to guide the athlete through the learning process, not force-feed the athlete with the answers. Instead of telling the player exactly where the arm should be and the legs, and what to look at and where to shoot, the coach offers suggestions as needed but encourages the player to experiment and find his own best shooting method.
Along the same lines, I vividly recall Dr. Anderson’s lessons and his exhorting us not to say the same thing over and over when a student did not understand. People learn differently, and instead of repeating oneself multiple times, a good teacher will structure his sentences differently or use a different means to teach the student. While verbal instruction forms the basis of most instruction, on the court and in the classroom, many people do not learn verbally. Some learn by reading, while some learn by seeing pictures or demonstrations. In a classroom, if a teacher uses only one method, he is limiting his effectiveness: few teachers stand in front of the classroom day after day and simply lecture without the use of videos, overhead projectors, writing on the blackboard, demonstrations, etc. Simply lecturing on a basketball court is equally as ineffective.
“If you asked a group of teaching professionals to write down all the important elements of hitting a forehand, most would find it easy to distinguish at last fifty, and they may have several categories for each element. Imagine the difficulty for the tennis player dealing with this complexityÃ¢Â?Â¦On the other hand, understanding the swing, and remembering its feel, is like remembering a single picture. The mind is capable of that and can recognize when one element in one picture is slightly different from another,” (Gallwey).
Visual demonstrations and feedback are essential to the learning process, which is why many teams and coaches use videotape to show their players what they did and did not do correctly. “Movements are learned through visual and feeling images,” (Gallwey, Tennis). The use of videotape allows he player to watch oneself without any judgments; the truth is captured on tape, whether the athlete believes it or not. By seeing oneself on the tape, the athlete likely will see things they never realized before. Oftentimes, for instance, players insist they are “low” until they watch themselves on tape and see they stand almost completely upright. The video tape creates the awareness that no amount of yelling would have produced, and allows the player to focus on her stance and concentrate on getting low in the future.
Coaches are always looking for an edge, a way to beat the competition. However, one way to create the edge, and the one that will help players the most, is to become a better coach, namely through a greater awareness of the manner in which athletes learn and develop motor and sport skills. Coaches who work with younger athletes really need an understanding of the fundamental motor skills and should incorporate these skills into practice to insure players learn to move correctly, as many children develop poor running techniques that are inefficient and flawed.
Coaches should also have an awareness of the different learning stages and understand that players in the Cognitive Stage need more time and the coaches should encourage their thinking as a process of development, as opposed to exhibiting frustration through body language and mannerisms because the player cannot perform at game speed. The primary purpose of youth sports is to aid physical development and the attainment of motor skills, not to win league championships and attend AAU National Championships. However, somewhere along the line, our achievement-based society lost track of the purpose, and now different teams operated in different manners based on their team goals.
The learning process cannot and should not be rushed. Each athlete has a different speed of learning and a coach’s challenge is to incorporate each into an effective practice where each is challenged and nobody falls too far behind. Each athlete must go through the different learning stages and the different levels of movement in order to develop fully.
“When we plant a rose seed in the earth, we notice that it is small, but we do not criticize it as ‘rootless and stemless.’ We treat it as a seed, giving it the water and nourishment required of a seed. When it first shoots up out of the earth, we don’t condemn it as immature ad underdeveloped; nor do we criticize the buds for not being open when they appear. We stand in wonder at the process taking place and give the plant the care it needs at each stage of its development. The rose is a rose from the time it is a seed to the time it dies. Within it, at all times, it contains its whole potential. It seems to be constantly in the process of change; yet at each stage, at each moment, it is perfectly all right as it is,” (Gallwey, Tennis).
The analogy is useful for coaches and players to imagine when they start to get frustrated with lack of progress. Instead of judging oneself, appreciate the stage of development and do what is necessary to further one’s learning and awareness to improve and develop. Competition is inward; one’s goal should be to reach one’s own potential, not to be better than another person. Developing a skill, like learning in the classroom, is an internal skill, and the self-discovery process is essential to the learning. A coach should guide the learning and direct the player to the best methods, but in the end, the athlete must go through the learning process in order to develop and retain the needed skills.