In addition to my duties in the classroom, I also coach soccer. I began playing around age five and was lucky enough to play at the college level. The sport has been so good to me; opening many doors for me to travel the United States and meet amazing people and teammates from all over the globe. Even to this day, I get excited to go out to practice with my team…lacing up the cleats and jumping into a rondo to try and nutmeg everyone. It truly is a beautiful game that teaches so much about self-sacrifice, working within a team, and perseverance in the face of adversity.
Not only does play on the soccer field imitate much that can lead a person to being very successful, it also mimics the classroom. Most practices are setup the same way:
-Introduction of concept to focus on for the session.
This usually resembles players listening to the coach describe what/how/when/why this concept is important to the game. A short demonstration may occur where players watch the concept performed properly.
-Implementation of that concept at the individual level.
At this point, players are usually given a ball to slowly walk through the process, making sure they understand their role in the larger scheme. Ample amount of time here is important to insure correct understanding of how to perform the concept.
–Practice the concept in a small-sided game.
Now the entire team will, depending on the concept, split into a few small groups and practice together. The goal here is to see all players at least understanding what to do, even if they may not physically perform exactly correct.
– Application of the concept in a full-sided game.
Lastly, the concept is taken to a full 11 versus 11 game. Can the players properly execute the concept of the session?
Now, of course this is just a general day. Practice moves from direct instruction from the coach while players watch/listen, to individual attempts from the players, to small group work, to full field performance.
Do I see similarities between practice on the field and proper classroom instruction? Yep. Most days in my classroom begin with instruction of material coming from me before students practice on their own with the information. Then, students may work in small groups to chat and discuss any misconceptions about the material. Finally, we all come back together to further elaborate on the information and work to use our new knowledge for good.
My worry as a coach and teacher? One of the biggest criticisms of soccer coaching in the United States is that we generally gloss over or completely skip the direct instruction and self-practice aspects of many sessions, moving too quickly into the small-sided and full-sided games. I get it…it’s fun to play the games. And, honestly, when I was beginning as a coach, skipping to the games was a coverup for my lack of understanding of how to properly coach. It was a safety net and took the pressure off me to hold players accountable for the small aspects that create the beautiful game. As the coach, I didn’t need to have a superior knowledge base because the players were simply going to run around kicking the ball.
Do I see any similarities between this criticism and how classrooms are being run? Yep. Soccer practices where players skip straight to the games is akin to the classroom where instruction skips straight to the top levels of Bloom’s taxonomy:
Skimming over or ignoring Bloom’s bottom levels of ‘remembering’ and ‘understanding’ can be disastrous for learning (Doug Lemov wrote a fantastic blog on this topic). It is darn near impossible to move up the levels to ‘apply’, ‘analyze’, ‘evaluate’, and ‘create’ with information that you do not remember or understand.
It is impossible to be creative with knowledge you do not have.
I don’t know why, but I feel like have to throw a disclaimer like this in with most of my blog articles: Am I saying the top levels of Bloom’s taxonomy are bad or even unnecessary? No. Not in the slightest. What I am saying is I believe we are becoming so caught up with projects, creativity, and innovation in the classroom that we are forgetting a necessary ingredient for success…acquiring the knowledge. Without remembering and understanding the information, creativity becomes a moot point.
I would encourage you, whether on an athletic field or in the classroom, to ensure the basics are mastered before moving to larger application of the material. Your players and/or students will have a much better chance, in the long run, to be more successful.
How can you allow for students to be given the proper opportunities to remember and understand in the classroom?