Why Technique does not need to be taught
GAME PLAY LEARN promotes a shift from traditional common concepts towards a modern approach that empowers learners and embraces the complexities of the learning journey.
The purpose of this piece then, hopes to move us on from the traditional focus on technical training towards a modern view that accepts: 1. Perception-action cannot be separated 2. There are varying functional solutions to a complex task, and 3. The ‘how to’ of a task or the technique in itself, doesn’t matter.
With regards to teaching, we seek to redefine the traditional associations with teaching and coaching being mostly instructing and correcting, and move towards facilitating, guiding, designing exploratory learning spaces and with it a deliberate shift from the focus being on Teaching and Coaching to being about Learning.
“It’s not about the coach and their coaching. It’s about the learner and their learning.”
We believe both technique and the way we teach it are in need of a re-think and so have decided to take two blogs to give us space to digest and discuss these important change-of-views.
Does Technique really matter?
Technique is merely the way the player performs an action. Does that really matter in a game context? Technique naturally emerges as a functional solution to the information the games presents. As long as it was effective at solving the problem, how the solution was performed does not matter.
Even in the closed skill game of golf, as we can see from the image above, Peter Arnott’s approach to the golf-swing accepts it’s not the technique that’s important but it’s unique functionality. As one of his player’s give testimony to:
“What I love about Peter’s approach is that he keeps things really simple and is not obsessed with how my swing looks. He is more interested in how it functions on the golf course.”
How much more important then in complex sports, does the game information in the form of defenders, direction, space, goals, etc (read Game Design: Uphold the Game’s Integrity) need to be perceived by the player to act. They cannot be separated. The perception/action is intertwined. Must perceive in order to act and must act in order to perceive.
So why do we continue to focus on the actions on their own? Including some form of game information is crucial to perceive and explore possible solutions.
Rather than the common focus in practices to ensure a high number of actions (for repetition), we now need to ensure a high number of purposeful actions to provide the learning opportunities to explore.
For example, in football, getting more touches on the ball isn’t enough. Players need purposeful actions in some kind of game form to be of any relevance to learning in context and be transferable. This is where representative learning states its case. (Read Repetition Must be In a Representative Setting)
IMAGE CREDIT: Graeme McDowall
It’s still too common to see coaches prescribing solutions without providing a ‘question’ of the game, and furthermore directing learners to certain techniques yet doing it without a context presenting any game information to perceive and therefore act in their own functional way;
“Traditional pedagogical styles tend to prevent individual learners from exploring and discovering their own functional movement solutions to a performance problem. Finding their own solutions is a more appropriate characterisation of learning in sport and physical education (Davids et al., 2014). Successful performance in sport involves the individual learner being challenged beyond mere repetition and imitation of a putative classic action. Instead, as a result of learning, individuals should be able to critically interpret patterns of play, make their own decisions, and create functional actions that can be adapted to solve competitive performance challenges (Renshaw et al., 2010). (Excerpt From: Jia Yi Chow. “Nonlinear Pedagogy in Skill Acquisition: An Introduction.” Taylor and Francis, 2015)
Is their a perfect technique? There’s only functional solutions of interactions between performer, task and environment. If we force certain techniques on learners we squash and rob learners of creativity, uniqueness and dare we even say, soul.
The movie ‘Ginga - The Soul of Brazilian Football’ made in 2006 is an inspiring expression of ‘joga bonito’ (the beautiful game) we admired of Brazil at the time. But we see more than just how mezmorising they move with the ball. We’re introduced to the person and the game. It’s the soul of a person that brings the game to life. And the game that gives life to the soul.
It’s time for change people. Can we please stop focusing on technique, not only because it doesn’t matter, but by doing so the learners miss out on the varied expressions and complexities of focusing on the game.
We take responsibility for “WHAT” (structure), but the concept of “HOW” (variability) the players must themselves fill with life. Mark O'Sullivan
So ‘What’ Does matter?
Yes, what matters is the ‘What’, not the ‘How’ of technique. What?? How? Stay with us.
Whether the learner is 5 or 15, we need to give the ‘What’. What is the game? What is the task? And you watch the ‘How’ evolve.
If we focus the learners on the ‘What’ of the game, it’s principles and the complexities of team dynamics, the “How” on kicking a ball becomes irrelevant. It’s called external focus.
“According to Wulf (2007), an external focus of attention is described as ‘where the performer’s attention is directed to the effect of the action’, while an internal focus of attention is defined as ‘where attention is directed to the action itself’.” (Excerpt From: Jia Yi Chow. “Nonlinear Pedagogy in Skill Acquisition: An Introduction.” Taylor and Francis, 2015)
We need to get on with an external focus on the game, otherwise we fall into the dangers of players being:
‘Friends with the ball, strangers to the game’
Forget Technique, let’s get on with the game shall we?
“But my Mrs can’t kick a ball.” Really? Well tell her to score a goal and give her a few attempts and we’re sure she’ll find a way. We underestimate and actually disrespect the individual and the game if we judge someone on how they connect with the ball. The beauty of a game, especially football, is that everyone can play, in their own way. Everyone can attempt to score a goal and protect a goal. And the beauty of being a team sport, is that we each have our own expression when the ball is at our feet, but what you decide to do with it or how you spend your time without the ball is played with the head.
We can get caught up in obsessing over the details of what the technique must look like and we miss out on the joy of the game that can be loved by all when we just play.
So ‘What’ is next?
If we are honest, we’ve all at some stage followed tradition and been guilty of isolating and trying to correct technique. Yes, we’ve focused on the ‘How’ of our learners rather than the ‘What’. It’s all part of the learning journey.
How much more then, now that we are aware of our our mis-leadings, do we need to move forward towards a modern learning landscape where player’s are given freedom to explore and express their own solutions in response to the game information as they perceive/act.
So the ‘What’ for us as Leaders then becomes ‘What does a supportive learning space for exploration and expression look like? (Read The Performance Playground)
Do we teach? Rather, we become facilitators, guides and designers. The GAME becomes the teacher. We coach the GAME, not the player.
So since we’ve now established why technique does not need to be the focus, next we will explore why we need to move away from traditional teaching concepts in the learning space and when we actually let go of looking at technique and carefully design and manipulate games and tasks, the beauty then comes as a learner’s own solutions emerge, and other’s then begin to notice “Wow, that kid has got great technique” and you haven’t even taught it. Or have you? The learning journey continues as we next explore teaching…
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This article makes me really angry!!!
I coach hockey to Children and I coach coaches to work with children to help unlock hockey for them.
My anger stems from the fact that yes we do NOT want to coach kids hockey technique around cones and we want them to explore the game to find solutions for problems. Game problems (i need to get the ball to the right of the player and out of contact) and technical problems (how do I drag the ball right with the reverse stick or on the front stick using footwork)
BUT much like skiing, where one has to force yourself over the top of your boots and face downhill which goes against instinct, hockey is a complex sport involving equipment in this case a hockey stick.
How you hold that stick will hinder you or help you. Understanding that holding the stick differently is allowed is something that the vast majority of young children (8-16) don’t get.
Understanding that there is an inherent weakness to be exploited in your opponent due to the asymmetrical nature of the game (one side of the stick) again will not be discovered without help. How you exploit that weakness not in terms of space and use of stick again won’t simply be discovered by the vast majority.
Getting lower to give you vision ahead when your young developing limbs don’t want to as they get tired very quickly means player star up and bend from the hip resulting in bad backs in later life. Very few players will just bend at the knee precisely because their bodies don’t like it and they expend energy really quickly and so have to “stand up” again.
You can work on these in game situations but they are technical issues which must be coached. Coaching by questioning, coaching by example, coaching by facilitating.
My anger stems partially from your misuse of the golf example. The point is that the swing works because it follows some implied parameters at contact with the ball. (The coaching isn’t seeking to change to an orthodox swing but wrong with what is good about the swing and this will be with a player already well practised and coaches!) How you get there doesn’t need to be the same. But good luck doing it with your hands apart for example.
Then my anger is compounded because the new fashionable message being bandied around is throwing the baby out with the bathwater.
I have an MBA and understand paradigms and models. So well in fact that I understand that models never live up to reality and that each model has something to offer. Mechanistic to organic tc etc. Each model offers an insight but without being reality itself.
Your one sided view offered to break the paradigm of technical coaching is being jumped upon by coaches as an excuse not to understand technical issues and be able to analyse and identify the problem.
If they can’t do that then how do they crete practice space with constraints to try and help leaders discover for themselves. More to the point how do they lend a helping hand when something is stuck. “why don’t you try holding the stick a qtr turn and see if it feels easier”.
Technique DOES need to be taught its just how you teach that matters.
Hi Mike and thank you for your comments.
It’s great to hear you’re passionate about your coaching and it’s not surprising that this stirred some strong emotions for you.
It is adventurous of us to take on this big topic of technique in what can be seen as a ‘fundamental’ of learning.
Trying to move to more of a discovery and exploring approach not just for our learners but for us coaches can be very different to our natural adult tendencies to want to help others, which in itself is an honourable quality and definitely required when called upon.
But as you say, we can use questions and facilitating rather than giving them our answer as ‘the’ answer. Is there really only one way to hold a stick? How wonderful, even if it took a while longer than we expected, that the learner ended up finding the best way of holding for themselves. We need to be careful when we try and speed up the learning by giving solutions and as the great Jean Piaget quotes “When you teach a child something you take away forever his chance of discovering it for themselves.” Hope that helps.
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