Should we provide players with homework?
When asking a number of primary school teachers what the purpose of homework is for them within their own environment. I was often given the response that homework helps consolidate learning and provides children with the opportunity to explore learning outside of school. Do you provide players with homework or no homework?
Learning commonly takes place through teaching, studying and from experiences. Therefore, as a coach, you’re there to help support learning through your teaching & providing players with new experiences. But how do you encourage them to study? Studying can take form in a whole host of different ways. In order to do so, you must create and promote ‘independent learning’. Independent learning is where an individual is able to think, act or pursue their own studies autonomously. I’d like to post you this question… are you…
Player Led or Coach Led?
When working with the children in your sessions, how much is the session driven by you? Are the players always following your plans and what you want them to work on? How much of a say have they had in exploring their own learning what they want to work on? In one of my previous blogs, I’ve spoken about individual development plans and having both the child and their parents involved in creating targets and a plan for them to follow throughout training and games. Firstly, this is a great way of you creating a tool which can help facilitate independent learning in and away from your environment. The individual development plans will not only provide clarity for the child to know that what they’re working on, more importantly, it’s also what they want to work on as well.
I’ve seen some great examples of this recently, one being, a child chose Neymar as his role mode and that his ‘Super Strength’ was 1v1s. As a result, he wanted to spend time each week watching videos of Neymar and practicing those skills in training and games.There are many other ways of creating an environment where children can flourish as independent learners. To allow for a player led environment, why not encourage players to lead their own arrival activities? Or, prepare and plan their own session that they want to deliver?
It might be, creating a game and enabling the players to choose their own rules and constraints. Now, not every individual or every group will be able to put on a perfect session. However surely creating an environment where children can lead on their own learning and find ways of working independently and collectively to put something together to help them is far more powerful than following coaches orders?
Coach or Player Led?
Now as a coach, I’m not suggesting you step back and let the children have complete autonomy, but with your guidance and support, perhaps you’ll start to open your mind to having them leading your ideas on what they want/need to work on, rather than you deciding for them.
Once you begin this process, I believe this will really help you to create an environment where the children will not only think about what they’re working on as the session is going on, but one where they seek ideas and knowledge away from your sessions as well. So, now you’ve created an environment where you feel the players are looking to explore learning away from your environment… do you make the decision of providing them with homework? In the context of football, theory based studying may be for young child to watch a team play or a player they like and be able to describe what they’ve seen.
Technology has created a whole new world for children to engage with learning and choose how and what they wish to learn. It’s well coveted that children learn through modelling behaviour, so who else but to inspire young children through modelling from their idols and role models? One of the most powerful tools I’ve seen in teaching, especially skill acquisition, is providing children with a skill that a player performs, and asking them to watch and try to recreate that skill.
I recently watched a video of Mason Mount, Chelsea FC 1st team player, trying to recreate the ‘Ronaldo’ free kick’ as a young academy player at Chelsea, but how often does that happen? Well, from my experience, children that are exposed and are obsessed with football, are continually trying to recreate goals that they’ve seen, or skills that they’ve watched.
Do I ask the players to practice something and bring it back next week?
Their may be a number of constraints that prevent an individual from practicing away from your training session, whether it be time, environment or access to technology or equipment, so if you’re going to find a way of encouraging players to practice a skill each week… make sure that you make it accessible for all. There is no harm in encouraging players to work on something that you’ve provided them, but as I’ve highlighted in the above, connecting with an individual about a player or something that are really excited about – might just be enough!
Anson Dorrance, the most successful U.S. female soccer coach, believed strongly in the ‘competitive cauldron’, which recorded and ranked individuals scored to provide a environment where he wanted to create a winning culture, where players strive to improve performance. He believes in the process of improvement to gain results, now whilst you could measure everything and anything, the idea may be something you wish to apply to your sessions.
Dare I say it… even homework? I’ve seen this method used for kick ups and skills, encouraging the children to practice and improve on their scores. Now, whilst this improvement isn’t going to guarantee direct results on the pitch, it will help embed a mindset of ‘be the best that you can be’. In one of the clubs I’ve seen they didn’t measure the result, but measured growth and improvement. The later determining your standing in the league table. Not everyone is going to begin at the same level, but this method may just reward the ones that are working that little bit harder to improve.
There are a number of considerations that you need to consider before implementing homework, if you do, here are some tips:
1. Make it FUN
2. Encourage independent learning
3. Make it accessible for all
4. Use role models to inspire the children learn new skills
5. Provide them an opportunity to practice and show you what they’ve learnt
6. If you make it competitive, reward improvement, not results