Those Quiet Moments

This term my after school sessions have been mainly focussed around coaching Year 8 Football. As most PE teachers know, that once into the day to day pressures of teaching and coaching, those quiet moments needed for self reflecton on practice are few and far between. Whenever you think you might have one it is snatched away from you by ‘real life’, either inside or outside school. From pumping up footballs, to marking, to fire drills, to ministering first aid, to fixing the guttering or ironing the washing. Those quiet moments needed for reflection are elsuisive and difficult to find. Reflection is even harder when you start staying in a school for an extended period of time, because it tends to be shaped by what you constantly see around yourself. For it to be productive it occasionally needs an external reference point.

Last November a blog post entitled I’m curious about… why fish don’t know they are in water, by Russell Earnshaw, popped up on my Twitter feed. It contains 22 challenging questions or statements related to coaching sport. I have found them helpful as an external reference point to help me in the process of self reflecting on my coaching and teaching of team sports. Having recently met Russell at a conference I’m beginning to understand that ‘challenging’ might just be his signature trademark.

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Q1. I’m curious as to what you are currently working on in your coaching and how you are achieving this…

Patience. Patience to combat my own frustration that surfaces during training and match days. Patience with myself that by exploring a constraints led approach to coaching sport I’m going to make mistakes. That if I can remain patient with myself as I make mistakes, than I can remain patient when the children I coach make their own. To take that further and see that mistakes are necessary for learning to occur. Patience that whilst exploring this new style of coaching that it isn’t going to look ordered and neat, and that improvement in performance might not be so easily observed. Patience that development isn’t going to be linear and the same for every child. To create an environment that both supports that whilst at the same time giving the right amount of challenge to make children feel like they are growing in competence and confidence. Patience for all of that and more.

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Q2. I’m really interested in whether the best way for a 10 year old kid to prepare for a game is to stand and listen to you speak for 8 minutes…

For many years I thought it was. I would lead the warm-up then talk to them about the win, (my) game plans, (my) expectations for the game, the conditions and what they needed to do to exploit them and a 101 other things that I thought it was important for them to know. If I didn’t, then I wasn’t doing a proper job coaching or teaching them. How else would they get the answers to the problems they were going to face? Also everyone else was doing it. Then a Head of Girls PE challenged me on it. She asked ‘why do guys do these meticulously planned and delivered warm-ups only for then have the kids stand still for 10 minutes whilst you lecture them?’ Why indeed? Then I was enlightened about the basics of working memory and it’s capacity. Perhaps all my words of wisdom weren’t being taken in, especially in the excitement to the build up of a game? My time to prepare for games now are in the training sessions leading up to it. The game itself is a test of the children’s learning and of my coaching. Therefore I now spend my time on match day getting them ready for that test and that is usually by setting them at ease, but I am a long way, I feel, from getting it balanced and right.

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Q3. I wonder why you would answer your own questions…

More than that I wonder why I still continue to do it at times, even though I don’t want to. I think it is linked to my answer to Q1. That my lack of patience leads to frustration. That my frustration then leads to me stepping in and answering for them. Perhaps that is driven by me feeling that if they don’t know the answer they haven’t been listening or working  hard enough. Or that if I’ve said it once, I must have said it a 100 times. However perhaps I should flip that and ask if that it is because I haven’t explained it well enough. I wonder why my first instinct is to attribute blame to the child rather than to myself? Or perhaps they just don’t know the answer and I should make it okay for them to say that, with the proviso that I come back for an answer later on in the session. Giving them an opportunity through practice, support, feedback and interacting with their friends they might formulate a answer.

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Q4. I’m curious as to why you would train well below match intensity…

I’m curious too. I don’t think I go out of my way to deliberately do this, but I often think this when observing children in some of my sessions. How can I replicate that intensity, or at least close the gap between it and what is produced in practice? Perhaps I have not made my expectations clear enough with the children? Although my perception of their effort is now a criteria for selection, no matter how subjective that might be. Maybe it is down to the design and structure of the sessions? I have moved away from a predominant drill based session, to a constraints led approach through games. This automatically offers competition which in turn increases motivation and effort, but it is short lived and not sustained. Manipulating the environment and the task to suit the skill set of the indvidual children is something I am a long way from achieving on a consistent basis. A work in progress I feel.

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Perhaps as PE Teachers, we are like fish. We are constantly moving. From lesson to lesson, meeting to meeting, training session to training session and match to match. We very rarely stop, and if we do it is just to rest, getting taken along by the current or the shoal around us. However if we are to develop as teachers and coaches of youth sport we need to occasionally make ourselves moments of quiet and pockets of space to reflect in. To use this time to check we are not drifting off in the wrong direction. However we, unlike fish, are able to seek an external reference point to develop our curiosity of why we do what we do. To ask questions about the environment that surrounds us, of which we are part of and which we help to create. Reading, conferences, school visits or just questions or statements from people in blogs or on Twitter can be the ignition for our curiosity. To ensure that we don’t end up just repeating and reproducing practices that may be unwanted or unneeded. If you find yourself with a moment of silence this half term, perhaps try and respond to a few questions from Russell’s post and see where that thinking might end up taking you.

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4 thoughts on “Those Quiet Moments

  1. Really enjoyed this short blog! learning about some aspects of this in my coaching pedagogy module at uni, how sometimes periods of silence are more effective rather than just off loading our participants with useless instructional information; sometimes its just better to sit back reflect and leave them to experiment whilst playing sport. Recently read a good Journal by Paul Ford on this.

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    1. Hi Thomas. Thanks for the comment. Are you able to share a link to the Paul Ford Journal. I would be very interested to read as it is something I’m trying to use effectively in my coaching (and to a lesser amount my teaching). I have written a couple of articles on this process

      https://drowningintheshallow.wordpress.com/2015/11/14/the-way-of-the-silent-coach/

      https://drowningintheshallow.wordpress.com/2015/12/12/silent-coaching-the-first-steps/

      Any feedback would be much appreciated. Good luck at Uni.

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  2. […] So is non-linear pedagogy and constraints led approach a silver bullet for PE teachers? I think we need to probably be more pragmatic than that, and realise traditional practices still have a place within our teaching toolkit, but we need to start questioning why we use them. Are we able to justify the learning processes that underpins our teaching methods? Clearly understanding why we do something as PE Teachers, allows us better to reflect on the when,where and for whom. Having more knowledge and a clearer understanding means we can begin to ask better questions. It is through better questions we can begin to challenge our practices and to make adjustments to re… […]

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