How Experience Drives Stronger Learning and Why Clickers are so Important.

How Experience Drives Stronger Learning and Why Clickers are so Important.

So here we are, I was introduced to the concept of using NightClub Clickers by Russell Earnshaw, I will be forever in his debt for this. This blog is my experience of using them, but first lets start with why experiential learning is so important when coaching sports and also I believe these will start to trickle into PE lessons across the country.

I want to take you back to my third year at University, I was studying PE and Sport, our assignment was an adventure based assignment and on the reading list was a book by John Dewey called "Experience and Education" this tiny little book blew my mind! It gave me an insight into learning through experience for the first time. The more I researched how experience impacts learning the more it made sense to me, the experience of players is so important especially in the early steps of their development. This led me to another strain of education which is called: purposeful practice, Practice needs to be purposeful otherwise it will not directly transfer into progress. For example we could practice passing the rugby ball, by standing in a line and passing it down the line, but to make it purposeful the sessions needs to have all elements of when you would put the skill into practice, so passing the rugby ball within a game. 

I added together all I had seen into my own teaching and coaching philosophy and I put a big emphasis on experiential learning and more importantly designing lessons and coaching sessions that specifically targeted experience and making it purposeful to the specific subject I was teaching or sport I was coaching. 
I used a experiential learning cycle to plan all my sessions / lessons:

So how would this apply to coaching Rugby?

Drills Based Approach:
(ACT)              Practicing the spin pass up and down a line
(REFLECT)       How did it feel? What happened?

With a drills based model this is where the cycle ends.

Games based approach:
(ACT)                     Playing a game of down touch with a specific focus on the                                spin pass.
(REFLECT)              How did it feel? How did we behave when a defender came                                in or when we didn't commit a defender?
(CONCEPTUALISE)  Why did it happen? No telling! just drawing out the answer.

(APPLY)                  Lets commit to what we have learnt and apply the findings.

Now I used this theory for planning and implementing learning during my coaching and my teaching and the progress I witnessed was excellent - the athletes took their own progress by the scruff of the neck and started to really push themselves. 

TOP TIP: Make the games you play loaded with opportunities to practice what you are working on by weighting the score, 1 point for a try and 5 points for a successful spin pass for example. Then add in a time limit (This game will last 10 minutes) and you could even add a situation - one team is 10 points up for example.

The issue I came across:

It didn't look like traditional coaching / teaching - I faced a substantial amount of resistance - often I would here "But what are they learning? they are just playing games" - my answer was always to explain the what and the why. But I always felt that my approach was missing something, a way of tracking the short term progress and enabling the players to really push themselves by committing. 

Then I was introduced to the clickers and my players progress has changed dramatically, they are set targets in training and games and we track them using the clickers. For example: Do you think you can make 20 line breaks? How many turn overs can you make in a half? We are now at a place where players expect to have these targets and are enjoying working towards them. One important part of this process is that the players set their own targets.

Some of the targets we have set:
1, Season long offload target
2, How many turn overs a player can get in a game
3, How many line breaks they can make
4, How many tackles they can make in a game
5, How many times they review their performance in a natural break in play.
6, How many times they can delay their pass until the very last minute.

Then you can add in position specific competition for example: Do you think you can make more line breaks than this player.

What is important here is this, be transparent - make sure the players know they are in an environment of learning, a safe place and can try things that would not normally encouraged (Cross-field kicks from props) and if they commit to the target then don't scream and shout at the players when they get it wrong. Guess what players will get it wrong! That is when the best learning takes place  - make a mistake and learn by it (Refer to the experiential learning cycle).

Coaching is not about telling, as coaches we are there to support and facilitate learning. The clickers have added a dynamic way of tracking progress and supporting players development. 
One thing coaches must not do with the clickers: Track score related targets (In my opinion). Thats not what they are for and actually not beneficial for the players progress.

Thanks for reading the blog, I hope you find it interesting and please leave a comment. 

Next instalment of the blog is another free ebook! Rugby Union Games.

Thanks again and keep clicking!

The Rugby Coaches Blog Team.
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