Are you ready for some school-ball? What coaching & teaching have in common

Effective teaching techniques have more to do with coaching NFL football than I ever presumed.Football1

I was persuaded to watch “Hard Knocks,” a mini-series on HBO featuring the Miami Dolphins training camp.(My husband is a devoted Dolphins fan since the Dan Marino years–I’m a Pitt fan.) Despite some of the language and hazing that the players can get away with because they are, no surprise, adult men, the similarities between coaching NFL players and teaching 8th graders unfolded one after another as we watched each episode. The one unfortunate difference is that ALL the players, undoubtedly, WANT to be there.

Fundamentally, the components of coaching are similar to teaching:  activation of learning (connecting to prior knowledge), student (player)-centered objectives, engaging and meaningful activities, evaluation/assessment. The coaches are prepared to teach, and the players come ready to learn. Everyone is dressed appropriately for the day. Everyone puts forth effort, and the ones that don’t are told as much, directly and sometimes even harshly. Because that’s life if you want the job. You get a break to regroup and refresh, but then you continue the work for the day. The coaches encourage open dialogue so that everyone is involved in the learning process, and the players apologize when they haven’t demonstrated their best performance. The coaches have high expectations, and when they aren’t met, their strategies change; players are given multiple chances to succeed, but follow the directions they must, or they’ll be redirected. At the same time, players are complimented when expectations are met. Players are expected to follow instructions, cooperate and work hard because not everyone can make the team–only the best will stay. And, that goes for proper behavior, not just performance. Although there are disagreements, teasing and some pushing and shoving at times, there is ultimate understanding of the purpose at hand–to learn the game and to play without errors. There are manners and handshakes, thank you’s at the end of the day. Hopefully, everyone feels like a game could’ve been won; but if not, both the coaches and the players know they need to return tomorrow with a renewed willingness to try. I wish every day were like this in school. Doesn’t it seem like a successful climate for learning?

I was especially impressed with three scenes. One was during a pre-season game when a player got into a tussle on the field and ended up being penalized. When the player came off the field, the coach calmly asked, “What happened?” He let the player explain without accusation in tone or statement. The coach knew this wasn’t a battle to fight. The player felt accepted and redeemed and the focus could return to the game overall. A second was during a one-on-one meeting between the head coach, Joe Philbin, and Chad Johnson (of “Ocho-cinco” fame). The coach was having to “let him go.” Their conversation was polite; each person was respectful and understanding. The coach said he knew that this was disappointing for Johnson (I liked how he acknowledged the player’s feelings) but that he had given Johnson three chances, AND he had warned him after each of the prior two offenses that exhibited behavior unbecoming to the team (I liked how clear warnings made consequences logical). This process alone taught lessons. The third scene was a conversation between Coach Philbin and a quarterback. The player was being told that he’d have to be back-up, not starting. Again, there was politeness and respect even though the player was clearly not happy, perhaps feeling wronged after working as hard as he could. But the player said he was still 100% for the team and would continue to work towards their shared goals. Again, a lesson in life–it’s not always going to be the way you’d like it to be. The way you respond to those dissatisfactions will show you how strong and persevering you are. School is supposed to prepare you for life ahead not pretend that life’s a game where everyone wins or plays without consequences.

I wish that I could run my 8th grade classroom as Coach Philbin runs his Dolphins team, at least based upon the training camp scenes that I saw, without running into backlash from parents or misunderstanding from administrators. Regardless, these are some maxims I’d like to teach by, if not live by:

1. When you are wrong, Coach will tell you so.

2. When you do well, Coach will tell you so.

3. Not everyone is good at everything, but do your best and you will make something of yourself to be proud of.

4. Be respectful no matter what. It feels better that way.

5. Be truthful. Talk to each other genuinely because it’s right and will get you further towards your separate and mutual goals.

6. You get what you get, and you don’t get upset.  Work harder next time, and maybe you’ll get what you wanted in the first place.