Own It! Helping Players Engage in Their Learning

Who’s Is It? How Valuable is It?

How will I own something, if it’s not mine? Why do I value something much more when I work for it, than when it’s given to me? Why do I value the simple gifts, given to me, that show that someone understood, what I needed or wanted? How is it that gifts I received with no connection to who I am, seem to have less value? Why is it so hard to find value in something, in which the giver put in a very minimal investment of time or energy? How disconnected is it, when someone gives a gift in order to impress themselves, and others around them, or even the person to whom they give the gift, only to have it take no effect?

Have you ever received a gift so perfect, you could not hold back from saying, “Wow, for me?”

Teaching and learning can be a special time of giving and receiving.

We Want Players to Take Ownership?

We want our players to take ownership of the gift that we are giving them. For team coaches, they may feel like they get the gift for free, even though they had to get to a certain level, or make a certain commitment to be in the position to receive that prize. In private programs, consumers pay for the learning, but then why do they not own it as well as they should? Is it only purchased with money? Parents can pay many thousands of dollars for education that is not consumed by the hungry, or even starving mind of the student. In Karate Kid, Mr. Miyagi said, “There are no bad students, only bad teachers.” This ancient Chinese proverb places the onus of education on the teacher. It’s up to the teacher, to create a learning environment that really works. If we can agree that currently many players don’t own the learning experience well enough, then it’s not a stretch to say, why it’s not working. We know for sure though, that teachers and coaches cannot easily enforce ownership from others. As Styrling often says, “No one wants to be told what to do.” So, let’s put down the drill, the funnel, and the little bottle of information, and stop trying to fill our players up with something from the outside.

Suppression of Information

Here are a few possible starting places to discover better ownership. First, let’s introduce Lev Vygotsky, a Belarusan Jew, who had to win lottery among Jews in his area, in the Soviet Union, to attend University. His theories were also largely suppressed in the United States and other NATO nations, due to the Cold War, even though he most likely was not a card carrying member of the communist party. His final work was published after his death in 1934 and his theories have only in recent years seen the light of day in modern pedagogy.

First off the below quote should help us to see that part of our role of educators is to engage the individual. We as coaches represent society. The quote below shows how the teacher helps develop an atmosphere where the student can then internalize their learning.

Vygotsky Interaction.jpg

So when we go to teach, the first thing that happens is a relationship is established so the learning will happen largely because of the health of that relationship. We get it wrong when we assume that the level of authority, or expertise of the coach will define the outcomes. Players will naturally find it much easier to buy into the outcomes, when in good relationship with their educator.

Drawing It Out

As Napoleon Hill affirmed in his seminal success classic “The Laws of Success in 16 Lessons”, which forms the basis for many of the great motivational success speakers, he discussed the true nature of education. The word educos in latin forms the root of the word education. It means ‘to draw from within’. So then, players need to draw from within. But how do coaches facilitate that? When we start to see ourselves more as facilitators, than information givers, then we take much more an athlete centered approach.

Piaget Discovery.jpg

Aiding in discovery, capturing and putting to use what students already know, are three of the most powerful things you can do as a coach. First, use the The Socratic Method, it is the vehicle by which you can use the above theories. When you use the method of questioning there are some very important things that happen. The players will be forced to think. They will process what they know into language. You as a coach begin to understand what they understand. When, as a coach you begin to do that, you then create a mutual empathy with your players, each striving for greater understanding. The relationship improves, as you show that you value their thoughts. When you first get started, it might not be easy and there can be some uncomfortable silences, but it’s work the effort.

Theory into Practice

From a functional problem solving perspective, using Socrates’ strategy accomplishes a number of things. You capture what the player has already discovered. When a player shares out, if another player had not already discovered that aspect, then you just engaged Vygotsky’s “Zone of Proximal Development”, which works when those who have recently learned something, teaching those who are about to learn it as their next stage in development. Many times when players hear from a peer, or someone not much older, that creates a better bridge to understanding. Yet another part of the process that kicks in when you gain all the player’s prior knowledge, having then exhausted what they know, when you ask another question. They then don’t know the answer, so they become curious. If not knowing, does not create enough curiosity, then you have another problem on your hands. Let their curiosity can create a hunger for knowledge. Then students will be much more engaged in learning, the next piece, that they did not know. Still another bonding piece, in the experience, is the ‘law of the master mind’, where all parties are engaged in the objective of understanding the concept, and teaching it, then there is much more power than a simple lecture from the coach.

Vygotsky Facilitator Not Content.jpg

Practical Example

Let’s use an example of teaching players about crosscourt play. Ask players to prove what they know about playing the ball crosscourt. A player might say, ‘It’s good to do it because the court is longer.’ Then you can counter with, ‘is it longer, or is the diagonal longer?’ Still again you can ask, how much longer? You may even entertain some guesses. Watch the players as they look at the court, guess, guess wrongly, then take another look.
Another player may give a joke answer, to which you can say “Thank you, but we are trying to understand this better.” Comedians are everywhere.
One player may say, ‘Because the net is lower in the middle’, which is a part of the conventional wisdom of playing crosscourt, but since has been proven false, because the distance is further across the middle, its still about the same obstacle as hitting over the net down the line. How we handle wrong answers is very important. I would say something like this, “Yes, I have heard that, now lets take a look at it…” and show the distance. Thank the player for bringing up some conventional wisdom.
Let’s say at that time they have run out of answers and a half minute has gone by, or maybe less. ‘Is that all? O.K., now, will you likely run more, or run less, than your opponent if you hit the ball crosscourt, and they hit the ball down the line?’. You can see where this is headed, by asking questions, they then have to evaluate the situation. If we simply give them answers, they don’t really discover it on their own. If they are in a quandary, then you can make a challenge out of it and let them discover it on court.

Ask, Don’t Tell

In conclusion, the Positive Coaching Alliance has a saying that works very well “Ask, Don’t Tell, Keep Emotional Energy High.” Give players space for discovery, let them be the teachers of one another, ask them what they think the objectives can be, and collaborate. Of course, you are the adult, you have the final say, but to whatever degree you can engage players to do their own thinking, learn from one another, and draw out curiosity before trying to teach, the easier and more valuable it will be for everyone.

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