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  • Writer's pictureHugh Lawrence

Giving children a chance to be successful sport participants for life - Part 2

In part two of my posts on coaching kids, I look at the acquisition of basic sports skill from a school system perspective. Two main issues strongly influence teaching these patterns to children:

  • the curriculum (what should we teach)

  • effective instruction (how to teach).

This is not a new observation. There is overwhelming choice in sport and physical education on what to teach. There’ll never be a shortage of curriculum content. The issue is ‘how’ not ‘what’ to teach in the classroom or on the coaching floor.

So thinking about how many opportunities to learn exist for each student in each skill session (how many goes do they get) AND, how much feedback does each child receive from the teacher or coach? Research tells us that during motor learning, children use feedback differently from adults. To optimise motor learning, children mostly need longer periods of practice, with feedback reduced more gradually, compared with young adults. Researchers in the 1990s demonstrated how task engagement was the key to maximising student engagement and the achievement of learning outcomes in physical education and sport.

What about informal learning. There’s no doubt that on a daily basis, children engage in many physical skills (motor activity) that lead to the progressive development of motor skills. It’s likely that some of those fast moves to the basketball hoop or football juggling skills were honed on the street! No teachers required, no interruptions from teachers or coaches. Some of this activity leads to skill in functional tasks such as running, jumping, kicking, and throwing. Other motor activity leads to the acquisition of fine motor skills that involve eye-hand coordination, such as playing a video game or using a computer.

Think about your own experience of physical education and/or junior sport coaching. You have a class of 25 or squad of 15 players.

Many curriculum formats exist that will provide suitable learning opportunities. This is not the issue. The critical issue is that the basic principles of effective teaching must be in place to ensure children have:

  • a clear idea of what they are trying to do (task presentation)

  • maximum practice time

  • lesson content that gives them the opportunity to refine their skills and movements

  • increasingly extended skill settings i.e. ever increasing open skill or applied skill environments.

To give effect to these criteria, primary school teachers (who must all deliver on the physical education curriculum) need a solid background in motor skill development. Imagine the uproar if they didn’t have a solid background in how children become literate and numerate. Teachers need a clear understanding of the phases through which children pass as they develop the motor skills listed above (just as they do for reading and writing).

To the latter point, we should evaluate what primary school teachers know and understand after the physical education and sport education component of their professional training. This may include in-service training which some observe, often provides interesting teacher experiences but no change in teaching practise.

If we train teachers to be effective, we should at least expect them to demonstrate their knowledge e.g. application of motor learning. This could be by a written test, but more usefully through a practicum providing opportunities to demonstrate changed teaching practise.

If we are serious about teachers’ capability to teach any discipline, then we should take seriously the challenge of checking that the teacher has a sufficient grasp of a body of knowledge and accompanying pedagogy to deliver optimal teaching and learning outcomes. The challenge is how might that be done?

In part three of this series, I’ll talk about the different forms of learning and implications for your coaching.

(Note: the author is a former Visiting Teaching Fellow at the University of Otago)

(photo source: motivate be amazed)

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