Using Games and Play Practice to Teach, Rather Than Drills
Posted by Dean Holden at December 8th, 2012
Dean Holden, M.Ed (Coaching), Chartered Professional Coach
I first started attending NCCP courses and coaching certification classes in the mid-1980’s and continuously maintained my professional development to date, so I have experienced almost thirty years’ worth of content. Rarely did I ever hear the word ‘fun’ mentioned, except in introductory coaching philosophy pieces. During this time, I have yet to hear the answer to, “How does a coach teach their players to improve their game sense?” or hear ways to improve the component elements of decision-making (through manipulating the parameters of games to encourage thinking, creativity, problem-solving, communication, teamwork, focus and intensity, adding competition and accountability).
The focus of these certification programs is still based on the old, traditional coaching methodology. We were taught to first isolate skills and tactics using repetition; once the individual had shown some aptitude along the way, we could add more difficulty (pressure) or variations. Finally, once a certain competency had been achieved, we would put these individuals into a drill and occasionally, include the use of a mindless (purposeless) game that had little or no relation to a real game.
Courses are all about ‘teacher, leader, organizer’ and technique, tactics and systems. Coaches come to believe that patterned drills are the ‘Holy Grail’ of development and this eliminates creativity and creates conformity. More patterned “X-Box” or “Play by Play” coaches graduate to create another crop of dependent (not independent) athletes. Hockey drills are the antithesis of fun. What happened to fun along the way?
Up until about twenty years ago, the answer to “How does a coach teach their players to improve their game sense?” could be found in the local outdoor rinks, just like where Gretzky honed his skills and sport IQ through unstructured play, creative experimentation and pick-up scrimmages. Today, weather patterns have changed, community budgets or priorities have shrunk, there seem to be fewer volunteers to maintain outdoor rinks, societal changes see kids expecting to play on indoor ice / more organization and less opportunities for unsupervised play due to fears of abduction or abuse, an overabundance of helicopter parents, the prevalence of electronic games … there are a number of contributing factors.
One thing hasn’t changed – kids love to play! Numerous studies show that the number one reason kids play hockey is to have fun! Taking it a step further, the IIHF recognizes four categories: excellence, affiliation, sensation and success. However, once kids register for organized sports, these reasons become minimized or eliminated altogether. Kids begrudgingly accept drills as the norm, just as coaches seem to equate fun and improvement as antonyms. How much fun are the kids – your kids – really having at practice?
I say it’s time we give the game back to the kids! Kids want to skate around with friends and have fun. Why don’t we focus on an alternative to traditional methods – teaching game play first instead of isolated technique, skill-and-drill? This approach replaces mechanistic training methods and mindless games with creative, enjoyable and purposeful practice that improves players’ skills and enhances their tactical understanding; from beginners to elite players. Play practice provides answers to many of the problems that coaches face, such as motivating reluctant or resistant students. It transforms practice from drudgery to an educational experience participants look forward to. It can lead to more effective coaching and teaching while improving technical ability and developing game sense.
The best coaches understand that to prepare for a game, you have to play a game. They use small area games or scrimmages to incorporate skill development opportunities while learning game sense under real life situations (so long as you provide parameters of play and purposeful objectives, keep score and hold the losing teams accountable.) They get more kids playing and mentally engaged in the games, and it is within this environment that kids will soon be so captivated by the thrill of playing, they won’t notice how tired they are, how many times they fall down – but they will enjoy the passion of play while trying to get involved in the games!
Play practice helps bridge the gap between learning skills, tactics and game sense while preventing boredom. Games can be used to teach or train sport skills as varied as shot selection or creating a passing lane for the puck carrier. Games are incredibly useful in skill development and in helping young players better understand – think – and enjoy the game.
I hope this will challenge your thinking about how hockey should be taught, help you reassess your own methods, and provide a new, versatile and fun model you can apply with great success – one training session at a time.
Twelve Reasons Games are Great for Teaching
North American Simulation and Gaming Association: http://www.nasaga.org
- Games are fun. They enhance interest and spark motivation in learners.
- Games are disarming. People are drawn into the play and begin learning before they have time to let their inhibitions about learning kick in.
- Games build teams. In the activity of play, people create bonds that extend to the workplace.
- Games provide practice and feedback. People can rehearse procedures and see the immediate results without serious consequences.
- Games let people try out different roles. People can experiment with different leadership styles before using them in the workplace.
- Games are memorable; they enhance retention. Games provide a context for what is being taught that is easy to recall.
- Games have an emotional impact. When emotions are involved, learning is deeper and has a longer lasting impression.
- Games fulfill multiple needs. They can be used to assess what people need to learn, to solve problems, to generate ideas, and to evaluate what people have learned.
- Games make abstract concepts more concrete. They provide an in-the-moment application of the ideas being taught.
- Games teach decision-making skills. Both individuals and teams learn techniques to evaluate data and make strategic decisions.
- Games encourage holistic learning. You can use games to transfer information and knowledge, to practice skills, or to change attitudes.
- Games provoke thought on multiple levels. Games can teach factual information but they can also encourage thinking on the deeper levels of “How?” and “Why?”
- Games provide reinforcement and reward. People can gain immediate satisfaction and accomplishment in their learning.
- Games appeal to different learning styles. People who read, write, draw, or learn through movement can find an outlet in games.
- Serendipity! With a well-designed and well-run game, you always get more than you expected (Just like finding 15 reasons for using games instead of only 12)!