The missing link in today’s coaching is pedagogy. Webster’s defines Pedagogy as: the art, science, or profession of teaching. The term generally refers to strategies of instruction, or a style of instruction. My generation of coaches was trained as teachers. We learned teaching methodology and teaching methods as an integral part of our education.
A huge influence on my approach to coaching from both a philosophical and a teaching perspective was my high school basketball coach, Mr. Charles Kuehl. As I look back on it he was clearly a teacher of basketball. He was a gifted history teacher who made history come alive. He took that same passion to the basketball court where he thoroughly taught us the game of basketball. He stared with fundamentals and then progressed from there but we never strayed far from fundamentals. Practices were structured to maximize learning. My senior year in high school (1964) we achieved well beyond our talent level as team because of his thorough teaching. Ironically that was the same year that John Wooden won his fist national championship at UCLA. In those days very few games were televised, but I distinctly remember watching UCLA with no starter taller than 6’5” execute their famous zone press to perfection and play tough defense and work for the open shot. It intrigued me to the point where I wanted to find out more about them and their coach. I did not know much about coach Wooden and his methods at the time, but in subsequent years I came to study and understand his methods. It was all about teaching. Wooden was trained as a teacher, he was an English teacher, he was a teacher trained in the principles of pedagogy. That training screams out at you when read his words and study his coaching methods. They were very basic, structured and always on point. The emphasis was on instruction. His practices were thoroughly planned and organized, each drill had a specific purpose. Player improved not by chance but by design.
The bottom line here is that from day one as an athlete I learned that coaching was teaching and that good coaches were good teachers. This was reinforced in my teaching methods classes in college both as a history teacher, a physical education teacher and in coaching methods classes. The classes that had the greatest influence on my teaching methodologies were PE 30A and 30B at Fresno State and Ed Psych from Ruth Wilvert at UCSB. In those classes the emphasis was on how we taught what we taught. We learned seemingly simple things like: how to plan a lesson, where to stand, how to project your voice, the importance of body language, how to move a large group and get them in formation for optimum learning. Where is this taught today?
So much for history and background, lets talk about today. Why am I talking about pedagogy? Isn’t that a given in coaching? Yes it is, but it is a piece of the younger generation of coach’s preparation that is missing. This is not meant as a criticism but as an observation. There are reasons for this, the shift away from physical education to exercise science and sport science with curriculum heavy on theory but short on practice is a major factor. Nowhere are you taught to teach. Today the common career pathway is to get a degree in sport or exercise science, then intern or GA in a controlled college setting and go right into coaching. We have the same problem with many of the coaching certification programs. Most are sit down two to five day courses that require no practical component, no need to show proficiency in teaching the skills and techniques of the sport. Some are even online that require nothing more than watching some video and taking a multiple-choice test. There is some notable exceptions soccer being one with their licensing system. Also in many cases coaches who have little or no background in pedagogy or actual hands on teaching and coaching are teaching the younger generation of coaches. This just compounds the problem. This is a huge deficiency that I believe it is starting to show in the performance arena. It shows up in the poor skill development we see in certain sports and it shows up in the high injury rates. Somehow we need to get back to teaching coaches how to coach. It is not what you know but how you convey what you know to the athletes you are working with. All the knowledge of the intricacies of muscle contraction, neurophysiology and so on is useless without the skills of how to teach and communicate.