A Quick Cure for Ineffective Practice
Posted by Dean Holden at October 29th, 2014
by Daniel Coyle, 20 October 2014
Practice sessions, like everything else, occur along a broad spectrum of effectiveness. At one end you have the perfect session where everything clicks, everyone is engaged and working productively.
Way, way over on the opposite end of the spectrum you have the Really Bad Practice. The sessions where no one is engaged, where no learning happens, and where you begin to suspect everyone would have been better off skipping the entire thing and going to a movie instead.
When we try to understand the causes of bad practice, we instinctively tend to focus on the learner’s state of mind and their emotions. For whatever reason, they just didn’t show up today, didn’t give effort, didn’t get engaged.
But is that true? Or is there another way to think about this problem?
The following two videos give us an insight by performing a simple and brilliant experiment: they ask adults to play in spaces that replicate the exact dimensions a kid would experience: supersize hockey rinks and soccer fields. The result is a Petri dish of contagiously bad practice: a dysfunctional circus of non-engagement, frustration, flailing, and non-productive effort.
This is, of course, a powerful argument for kid-size spaces, but the deeper message for us is to give insight into the causes of bad practice. Because it’s not about the learners; it’s really about the space.
All the behaviors we witness here: the exhausted flailing, the poor decision-making, the drifting attention spans, the low-boiling frustration, are not a function of their character (after all, these participants in the videos are coaches who love the game). All the bad stuff is a function of the fact that the space is too big.
In other words, engagement is not an emotion; it’s a design feature. When it doesn’t occur, the leader’s first move should not be to blame the learners, but to check the space to see if it can be improved.
The main principle of effective practice design is to keep the degree of difficulty in the sweet spot: neither too hard nor too easy, so that learners are constantly on the edge of their ability.
The other principle? Teachers and learners should trade places a lot more often.
<Tonight, a few of my fellow Timbit coaches and parents (age: 6 year old kids, 2nd year of hockey) talked about getting extra practices (2 per month.) Their desire was full-ice; either early morning (7-8 am before school or 3pm-ish or right after school so as to avoid paying full rental fees for prime time as well as it’s the only ice available in the big city!) When I asked why would we want full-ice practices, I was told so the kids can ‘learn offsides’!
I strongly believe we can teach our kids the rules, such as offsides on our own time or using current practice time using dryland walk-throughs / parking lot / whiteboards in the dressing room and then manage the ice to give the kids a chance to practice avoiding offsides… if this the true motivation for extra ice? (There must be more to it than that… I think I need further clarification.)
I suggested waiting for the outdoor ice (some places allow very cheap rental reservations) or just arrange to play shinny individually with your kids; or even go in with another team to split the cost and share 1/2 ice come December when school is out and more daytime indoor ice is available.
After further reflection, heck, I could even run a Physical Literacy program for the kids once a week Mondays from 415-6 pm at my facility at my rental cost whereby I could help improve their overall athleticism and understanding of principles governing the game – which lead to hockey sense – on top of explaining them the rules, like offsides!
I think we can can effectively maximize our resources with good planning – given our current two 1-hour icetimes per week – by merely continuing with our right-sized ice for our 6 year-olds (currently 1/3 ice, so broken up into 6 stations or small area games as we have 3 teams of 15 players each.) We play small area games or cross ice games in Sr. Timbits for the most part and honestly, offsides are not part of the equation this year! Let them PLAY!
I am not against extra ice, I just figure two times per week is good enough for the 6 year old kids to have fun and learn and that is a big enough family commitment as a team. Aside from hockey being a late specialization sport and the cumulative risk of burnout and increases in injuries over time (not necessarily at 6 but in the early teens), I would encourage kids / families to pursue other activities; many kids are already playing multiple sports, practicing music, the arts, etc. These are ‘The Discovery Years’ for young kids after all – let them sample many things and they can specialize when it’s appropriate.
If people want more ice regularly, they can seek out ice on their own and invite whomever they want and break the expenses up accordingly, rather than make it an additional team commitment. That’s what I do as I place a premium on registering for professional power skating instruction as one of the fundamental physical literacy building blocks. If you can’t skate, you won’t have as much fun playing! (This is on top of gymnastics, mountain biking, running, soccer, shinny and playing outdoors – being a kid!) Just my 2 cents… – DH>
Category: art of coaching, communication, decision training, deliberate play, education, equipment, evaluation, feedback, fun, growth & development, humour, learning, mindset, motivation, opinion, parents, passion, play, practices, right-sized equipment, skill acquisition, Skills, sporting culture of madness, Video