Hey, Coach!


Originally Posted October 2010

Last night was a great night.  I spent a wonderful two hours under the lights, on a lush green pitch, in a very arid Saudi Arabia, starting to learn how to be a little league soccer coach.  For the past two years, I have “supposedly” been coaching my son’s soccer teams.  In reality, the actual coaching was left to those who ran practice, introduced specific skills, and gave timely feedback.  My turn as coach, came in on game days and I’d have to characterize my role as more of a cheerleader, moderator, medic, and “cat herder” than coach.

Throughout my training session, I couldn’t help but see strong parallels between my role as a soccer coach and my daily life as an elementary teacher.  The soccer skills program has a clearly defined set of skills that are outlined over time, and build upon skills that already exist.  The program was designed with the end in mind, has success criteria that are specific, easy to understand, and of a high standard.  A scope and sequence is in place, and timely feedback is expected.  There is even a common lesson structure :

  • explain what to do
  • model what to do
  • have the kids do it
  • provide precise, immediate corrective feedback
  • allow opportunities for repeated practice
  • when they can do it, move on

Is this the type of learning environment you’d expect for yourself or your family?  Is this a type of learning environment that you’d be interested in joining?  Does this remind you of any school that you know?

As a literacy teacher, like many of my colleagues, I’ve adopted a workshop model for instruction, and my reading and writing lessons have a similar lesson structure to those my son’s soccer practices.  As hard as it is, I strive to keep my mini lessons, “mini” — allowing myself 10 -12 minutes to explain and model the lesson’s focus.  I know that any longer, and  “ … teacher talk results in cognitive overload, student anxiety, and valuable information going in one ear and out the other.” (Jones)  Most of my class time is spent with kids having the opportunity to independently practice and grow particular concepts or skills.  To become a better readers, students need to read.  To become better writers, students need to write.  Like an effective soccer coach, my role is to closely watch my students and provide timely complimentary and corrective individual feedback.  Conferences and guided flexible groupings allow me do to this.  The power of conferencing with students and talking to them about their learning is clearly effective.

I find myself reflecting on my professional practice, wondering how lessons from youth soccer transfer from the pitch into the classroom or school, and thinking about how schools compare to youth soccer.  I wonder how many schools have a clearly articulated, guaranteed, and viable curriculum like the soccer program?  How can I do a better job of providing timely, individualized, corrective feedback to my students like I do at soccer?   Feedback at soccer certainly drives instruction.  As a teacher, are my assessments primarily OF learning or FOR learning?  During a curriculum course at the PTC in Miami this summer, we discussed agreed upon instructional strategies and the power of common lesson structures.  They are in place at the soccer academy.  Could I say the same about the different teams, divisions, and schools where I’ve worked?  What about other international schools?

Taking the time to coach little league soccer is great.  Not only am I learning a lot about coaching and soccer, but it is helping me reflect on my professional life, grow as an educator, and most importantly, I get to spend time with my son doing something that he loves.

CC Photo Credit

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