Whether coaching football or teaching biology, the goal is always the same: to impart knowledge in an efficient, effective, and relevant manner; to challenge every students to push beyond their expectations and strive for greatness; and foster an innate love for the subject. Given this, it is no wonder that the theories and strategies we use in a traditional classroom have equal value on the athletic field.
As non-traditionally trained teacher, one of the things I struggled with very early in my teaching career was the idea of differentiated instruction. While I understood the concept (provide learning opportunities for students of varying mastery levels and learning styles), the practice was very difficult to master. I still struggle with this. The mechanics of how to do this were foreign to me. Nonetheless, my own educational experiences reminded me of one very important fact related to differentiated instruction: Everyone learns differently.
Personally, I am a visual learner who prefers to see a picture or read material than to hear a lecture. I was constantly in awe of my law school classmates who could listen to a professor lecture for an hour and just "get it." I am still in awe of my best friend who although a teacher, is very much a kinesthetic learner. He has rebuilt multiple cars by just jumping right in.
Early in my coaching career, I served as the Associate Head Coach and Offensive Coordinator at a small, inner city public school in St. Louis. Our first year was a disaster attempting to run a spread offense (a term that I dislike because it doesn't really explain what the offense is.) After large amounts of research and an analysis of our roster, the head coach and I decided to install a triple option attack out of the flexbone formation. Being a huge fan of option football, I was beyond excited! When run well, the triple option can be extremely successful at any level. Part of what makes the triple option so successful is that it is designed to make the defense wrong no matter what they decide to do. Additionally, the triple option requires all 11 offensive players to execute their assignments perfectly. My Heach Coach and I knew that our kids were athletic enough to run this offense but worried that we would be asking more from our kids than they had previously been asked to do. Most of the students at this high school struggled academically and had never been a part of such a precise offensive system. How do we deliver the information in an efficient, effective, and relevant manner; how do we challenge the students to go beyond what they thought possible; and how to we teach them to love being a football player?
The answer that we came up with played to the strength of our particular students, who are mostly visual learners. Instead of handing out a playbook and drawing on a white board, players would copy the plays into a blank notebook that we provided as we introduced the plays via an animated PowerPoint presentation. After each play was introduced, the following slide contained a video file showing the play actually being run by another team. Below are some screen shots from the PPT.
Flexbone Dart PPT
During the off-season before we installed the flexbone, 2 volunteers joined out staff who had only ever coached OL/DL. Despite having coached those positions for the first 7 years of my career, I needed to learn to coach quarterbacks. Every search or request for resources on QB play pointed me to one man: Darin Slack. There are many talented QB coaches but what drew me to Coach Slack and his company, National Football Academies, is that NFA puts a focus on efficiency of teaching and creating a common language to help aid the development of a quarterback. In essence, NFA focuses on incorporating educational theory and strategies (acronyms, visual & kinesthetic learning, etc) into coaching quarterbacks. I was hooked! During the summer of 2011, I became certified as a QB Coach through NFA/Quarterback Academy. It was an incredible experience. Thanks to the many talented teachers that work for NFA, I learned how to teach my QBs efficiently and effectively. NFA's R4 system (Rhythm, Read, Rush, Release) provided a clear and precise framework to implement and coach any passing system. We implemented the R4 system into our passing attack and saw some incredible growth of our QB. Below are screen captures from our 5 step PPT as well as the link to the whole PPT. Additionally, we provided our players with the attached R4 worksheet to create their own playbook while we presented this PPT. I did not create the worksheet but can't recall where I got it from so I can give them credit. Again, I have lost the film clips inserted but these PPTs were used in the same way as the run game PPTs.
5 Step Concepts PPT
Pro Style Playbook PPT
The students see the concept via the PowerPoint and video (visual learners); they hear my explanation of it during the presentation (auditory learners); and then create their own playbooks before heading out on the field to practice the concept (kinestheic learners.) Because the PPT is created before presentation, no time is wasted with my back to the class, drawing on the white board. Instead, I can be moving around the room seeing who needs help.
This idea of applying educational theory and strategies doesn't just apply to high school. More and more NFL teams are issuing their playbooks digitally, via iPads. Numerous football programs use iPads at practice to video segments and give instant feedback. Personally, I use an app called Coach's Eye to video my QB during practice. Coach's Eye allows me to slow down video and provides basic illustration tools. I can even watch the video later, record audio commentary, and email the file to my QBs. Occasionally, I have even stood behind him and filmed so we could get an near match to what he saw on a particular play. My alma mater, LSU is one of a few schools using helmet mounted cameras to video what the QB sees during a play. Where do we go from here? The possibilities are endless.
-If I ever get the chance to lead my own program, I have thought about incorporating some flipped classroom ideas into the installation process. If you are unfamiliar on the concept of the flipped classroom, check out this link for a great infographic.
-Our school uses Schoology as its learning management software. Through Schoology, I can design online assessments, similar to exit slips, that my quarterbacks can take regarding important details of the weekly game plan. I can even include video and diagrams. Just like in the classroom, these quick formative assessments can help me determine if my players are meeting our learning objectives that week. While we use Schoology, the same idea could easily be accomplished using Google Forms, a free internet based software.
As always, I am interested in what you do in your programs. How do you incorporate educational theory and strategy into your program?