My practices aren’t designed for your enjoyment.

A handful of people who read this blog might know that I used to coach high school soccer (assuming more than a handful of people read this blog). I coached for 13 years, including 5 years as the women’s head coach at my current school. I didn’t become a teacher so I could coach, but it was about the best perk I could ask for.

While I was coaching, I rarely talked about soccer during class. It was important to me that we stayed focused on the course. I also didn’t want my student-athletes to confuse the field and the classroom. The dynamics of teaching a class and coaching a sport are different. My classes are boys and girls, my teams were only girls. I am also a lot louder on the field than I am in the classroom. Soccer is competitive, and we were a (very) good team, but I wouldn’t necessarily want my students to compete against each other, or against students in another class.

In the end, teaching made me a better coach, just as much as coaching made me a better teacher. Indeed, there are several lessons from the field that I apply in my classroom on an almost daily basis.

1. Talk to every player every day. The starters as well as the bench warmers need affirmation and acknowledgment. Sometimes this can be tough to do in the hustle and bustle of a fifty minute class, but it is essential in building trust between the players and coach.

2. There is a classic anecdote from famed UNC coach Anson Dorrance that after being frustrated with his players during practice, he made them warm up for their next game in silence. He later admitted that it was one of the worst games those girls had ever played. He had imposed an unnatural behavior onto his players, and the results were awful. The point is, don’t force your students to behave in ways contrary to who they are. Let them chat while they work, stand at their desks, talk about their day.

3. Remember the purpose of the drill. A typical drill I would have my players practice was 3v2 to goal. There are three possible “winners” in this drill; the attackers could score, the defenders could successfully clear the ball, or the goalie could make a great save. In any given trial, two teams lose.  Who do I correct? Remember the purpose of the drill.  If the day’s focus was on defense, then correct defensive slip ups.  If the focus was on the goalie, then correct her. You can’t nag everyone about everything every time there is a mistake. Stick to the day’s focus, or learning objective, and practice doing that well.

4 Just let them play. Nothing builds confidence and comraderie like a good intrasquad scrimmage. However, a scrimmage is also a good way to identify weaknesses in team play. You’ll never know unless you just let them play. In the classroom, stand back as you let your kids wrestle with a problem. Listen to them as they share ideas. Let go of some control. You will hear their strengths in understanding the content, but you will also hear misconceptions that you can address later. 

5. Always end on a good note. A great shot, a great save, fast and sweaty sprints.  End class in a way that leaves kids looking forward to the next day. I use meta-moments to give kids time to reflect on their learning that day. They will recognize that they’ve learned something new, or that they have a question to tackle tomorrow. Similarly, if a student has had a particularly tough  day or week  in your class, find some common ground with him or her so they leave class knowing that you truly care about them.

This is by no means an exhaustive list, just a few suggestions that have translated from the field to the classroom well for me. Nothing like a little kick around.


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