How Coaches Can Cater to Different Learning Styles
Amanda Winstead explains how your teaching style can respond to your athletes and their needs.
Good coaching requires attentiveness, flexibility, and a deep understanding of how your athletes learn best. Of course, all athletes learn differently, and sports psychologists have previously developed different models for understanding styles of learning, including:
However, almost all research on learning styles widely debunks the approach, and a recent meta-analysis of learning styles and teaching suggests that teachers put the learning-style approach to rest until it is supported by further empirical evidence.
But that certainly does not mean you should ignore the ways that your athletes learn. Even if learning-style methods are outdated, your teaching style must still be responsive to your athletes and their needs. This is because all of the characteristics associated with successful coaching revolve around communication and relationship building.
So, here are a few ways you can cater to your athletes and ensure they are fully engaged during every practice and game.
Model Yourself as a Learner
Coaches who believe they know it all are usually ineffective and use outdated methods. As a coach, you should always seek new knowledge to gain a technical advantage for your team/athlete. This will ensure you can respond when opponents throw up unique challenges and will help you innovate in your sport.
It is also possible to take inspiration from other sports or industries. Successful coaches like David Brailsford are well known for “stealing” ideas from the military, sports psychologists, and sleep specialists. The reason is simple: the most innovative coaches always model themselves as learners.
As a coach, you can model yourself as a learner by exposing yourself to experts in different fields. For example, if you coach Judo, consider attending a Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu class. If you coach American Football, perhaps you can follow in Pete Caroll’s footsteps and take inspiration from other sports like rugby. This exposure will throw up fresh ideas and help you discover something new.
Present Information in Different Ways
Rigidly following learning style methods does not work, but that should not stop you from presenting ideas differently, particularly if you feel that your athletes are not resonating with your advice.
As a coach, you have many tools at your disposal. One of the simplest ways to present feedback to an athlete is to share video footage with them. You can do this by engaging in film-study sessions where athletes view opponents and identify their weaknesses. Or, you can film the athletes themselves to visually show the athlete your coaching point.
A great example of video's value is in Olympic lifting. The movements in Olympic lifts (clean and jerk and snatch) are completed in well under two seconds. This means that athletes who have not yet developed a smooth technique and a kinesthetic feel might not resonate with your coaching if you present it to them with audible cues. Instead, you can record their technique and slow down any moments where they have gone awry. This way, you can identify issues and communicate with the athlete.
Organize the Mind
As a coach, you likely have in-depth knowledge of your sport and see how techniques, skills, and strategies blend. It is much harder for athletes developing to know where the points of connection exist within their performance.
Your job is to help athletes grow their mental map of the sport they are competing in, as this will help them respond successfully to their opponent’s actions.
The easiest way to present athletes with a fuller performance image is to create a visual mind map. You can create nodes of information like “skills”, “technique”, and “strategy”. You can point towards connections that help athletes understand their performance with the same depth you do from these nodes. It is your playbook for new material.
Respond to Your Athletes
Your athletes have lives outside of sports. What might be motivating one day could be highly deflating the next. As a coach, you must understand how factors like your athlete’s diet and mental health might be affecting their performance.
Responding to athletes is particularly important if you are coaching teenagers. Teenagers are going through significant physical and mental changes and might be undermining their performance by participating in dangerous crash diets or obsessing over social media.
You also need to be aware of social events occurring while you are coaching and have a plan when something needs to be addressed. This will help your athletes remain focused on learning and create a positive environment in which external factors are not an issue. As a coach, you can navigate these moments gracefully by supporting athletes who offer their stories to the group and authentically engage with social problems.
Coaching Beyond Learning Styles
You should always seek out the best way to connect with your athletes. Even if rigid learning styles have been debunked, you can still find great value in the principles that informed them. So, as a coach, find ways to connect with your athletes through things like mind maps and visual cues while listening to them and addressing their day-to-day needs.
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About the Author
Amanda Winstead is a writer from the Portland area with a background in communications and a passion for telling stories. Along with writing she enjoys traveling, reading, working out, and going to concerts. If you want to follow her writing journey, or even just say hi you can find her on Twitter.