Jul 28

The Teaching Triad Within The Athlete-centered Model

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The following links to the previous June Newsletter #12 “Young Athletes Under Pressure.” Also, refer to Newsletter December 2015 “Spectrum of Teaching Styles and Learning Styles.”


Coaches need to take into account the respective ages of athletes, and the natural characteristics of such specific group in order to be effective and successful (Refer to June Newsletter 2016). Overall, 6 to 11 and 11-14 year olds see themselves at the so-called ‘participatory and instructional’ stage. Fundamental skills, FUN and Fitness are the primary objectives while competition should be exciting but foremost stress-free. The focus is on skill display and personal improvement – not on ‘winning at all costs.’

Learning to compete is an important part at this stage of the TLC triad: Teaching – Learning – Competing, according to Schloder and McGuire (1998). The upper end of this age group, on the other hand, functions in the more transitional paradigm. Athletes first develop fundamental skills, and then work on refining these skills. They establish short-and long-term goals, learn to set strategies, and develop racing/competition/game tactics. Even though competition takes place on a more elevated level it is still kept in ‘perspective.’ Rushall (1995) states that, competitions should only be interpreted as a positive experience.

Competitive events should be determined by the training effects, which have been consistently and successfully demonstrated in practice! Therefore, the focus should be on reproducing in competition/games what has been accomplished in training. Competitive stress is minimized if athletes feel competent, are familiar and comfortable with their performance. If initial competition is an unpleasant experience, the potential exists to develop the attitude of not liking competing because the experience may be interpreted negatively.

According to many sport psychologists, high intensity competition is not recommended until the later years (ages 15 and up). At this point, athletes are emotionally and cognitively more ready for serious-type competition. They are also psychologically more capable to deal with the ‘idea of winning and losing.’ Given all the considerations, coaches should endorse the ‘athlete-centered’ program more passionately for that reason.


Teaching Styles And Alignment Of Learning Styles

All of us process and perceive information differently. Children do not learn the same way or at the same pace but athletes are frequently grouped homogeneously to ‘save’ on instructional time. This is not beneficial because learning styles and learning rates vary, and differ between male and female participants. The effective and successful delivery of any training session is a challenge because planning such actually involves consideration and selection of appropriate teaching-coaching styles to suit the need of a specific group and/or individual learners. Do you even think about this? Teaching-coaching styles should be modified or adapted to meet individual needs, i.e. fitted to the style of individual learners or the group. Yes, I can hear you…who has the time to do that?… I only have so many hours at the pool site…too complicated! However, it goes back to personal teaching/coaching philosophy because it is NOT all about training in the pool –it is about a positive learning environment and successful learning.

Yes, this means, coaches have to (should) acquire a ‘repertoire of styles’ (broad range) to utilize appropriate styles for specific ‘learning/teaching moments’ at hand. Consequently, daily training should be designed (Pre-impact in the planning process) in such a manner that athletes receive suitable instructions, complimenting their individual learning style at least several times during any session. This can be accomplished by using the ‘experiential’ learning approach, incorporating flip charts, illustrations, drawings, pictures (mental thought pictures or cues), questioning strategies, holding a dialog or discussion, and varying teaching-coaching styles, etc.


Most learning authorities refer to three major learning styles:

Visual Learners: Learn through seeing

Learners need to be able to see the teacher’s/coach’s body language and facial expressions to fully understand the content or meaning; they tend to be close up in order to avoid visual obstructions (example in swimming: coach should bend down at pool site when talking to swimmers instead of standing high on deck); they may use mental pictures, and learn best from visual displays, including illustrations, diagrams, overheads or transparencies, videos, DVDs, flipcharts, and handouts (notes), computers.

Auditory Learners: Learn through listening

Learners operate best through verbal lectures, discussions, talking it through (with others or by talking to themselves), and listening to others; they interpret underlying meanings of speech through listening to tone of voice, pitch, speed and other nuances.

Tactile or Kinesthetic Learners: Learn through moving, doing and touching

Learners are successful through the hands-on approach, actively exploring the physical world around them; they may find it difficult to remain still for longer periods, and may become distracted by their need for activity and exploration (important consideration when providing drill instructions)

Other experts categorize Learning styles as follows:

Print learning: Refers to seeing printed or written words

Learners prefer charts, whiteboards, handouts, notes or articles to enhance the learning.

Aural learning: Refers to listening

Learners do well with brief instructions; they are usually excellent listeners, and can learn concepts by listening to tapes; can reproduce symbols, letters or words by hearing them; can repeat or fulfill verbal instructions relatively easily.

By the way, instructions should be no loner than 20 words, according to experts. Otherwise, athletes operate on ‘selected hearing’ and start to ‘tune you out.’

Interactive learning: … Refers to verbalization

Learners prefer to discuss tasks with others, enjoy question and answer sessions; they like to use other people as a ‘sounding board,’ and find small groups discussions stimulating; can be used effectively when teaching new concepts or principles. Teachers/coaches should use discovery/problem-solving methods, and/or involve athletes in creating drills or other activities.

Visual learning: … Refers to seeing visual depictions

Learners function well by seeing, observing and watching demonstrations; often have a vivid imagination, need something to watch, and like visual stimuli such as pictures, slides, posters, charts and graphs.

Haptic learning: … Refers to the sense of touch or grasp

Learners like a ‘hands on-approach’ to learning, like to do artwork or doodle on notebooks, and succeed with tasks requiring manipulation.

Kinesthetic learning: … Refers to whole body movement

Learners work best with direct involvement in tasks; often fidget or find a reason to move; often find success in physical response activities; use movement to help concentrate; usually poor listeners, and not particularly attentive to visual or auditory presentations.

Olfactory learning: … Refers to sense of smell and taste

Learners find that smells add to learning; frequently able to identify smells; can associate a particular smell with specific past memories (may not apply to swimming directly but may trigger unpleasant memories from a previous swim meet, competition stress relating to upset stomach, vomiting, or diarrhea).

Part of the teaching-coaching-learning paradigm is the ability to incorporate or apply several teaching-coaching styles during daily training. Twelve styles can be used, according to Mosston and Ashworth (1994). They are divided into two categories: Reproduction oriented (styles A-E ) and Production/Process oriented (styles F-L)


The A-E Cluster represents Teacher-centered Styles:

  • A-Command style– do as I say; do this; do that
  • B-Practice style– given a skill – practice until you get it
  • C-Reciprocal style– using a partner or teammate for assistance and feedback
  • D-Self-check style– practice the skill and check of learned skill on the list
  • E-Inclusion style– includes poor and stronger performers but modifies skill expectation. For example: planning sets of 4x25m front crawl versus 4x50m versus 1x100m; all swimmers work on the same skill with different challenges but finish at the same time.

I use the ‘Incline Rope’ to teach the high jump = lower skilled athletes jump at the lower end; higher skilled at more height; athletes can move up/down to suit their skill.

The F-L Cluster represents Learner-centered styles:

  • F-Discovery style– discovering and problem solving
  • G-Guided Discovery style– setting up the problem solving skill = what is the best way to? What do we have to do?
  • H-Convergent Discovery style– setting up the problem solving skill, and engage reasoning through critical thinking, trial and error. Why did this work better than that before?
  • I-Divergent Discovery style– same as previous but conclude with variations or options
  • J-Individual Programming– design style (for more advanced athletes – can design their exercise complex – sets in swimming)

      Could be uses as input by younger athletes for drill variation

  • K-Learner-Initiated style– Learners initiate the skills to be learned/trained
  • L-Self-teaching style– more advanced – Learners recognize readiness to move to move on with certain skills; design a personal program and perform it for self-development

It is evident that styles within the Spectrum progress from the ‘Command or Authoritarian’ style to those styles with lesser teacher-coach control until reaching the realization and self-development stage.

In the cluster F-L, the physical, social, cognitive, emotional and moral channels of the individual are addressed, which is not the case in the ‘A-E’ style framework. Would it therefore not make sense to discover ways athletes learn and respond best to a given method?

Coaches usually use the so-called ‘bottom-up’ or part/part/whole-method approach (mostly used in sport skills). On the other hand, the ‘top-down’ or ‘whole’ method may be more successful in certain instances. For example, teaching the gross-motor patterns of the butterfly stroke in swimming; the learner already knows the front crawl kick – adds the 2-foot kick, uses the 2-arm front crawl with lower and wider elbows, and moves the body like a dolphin or a wave using mental pictures). The DVD “Fly Away: Progressive – Sequential – Creative – Experiential” demonstrates this approach with a three year old beginner (Schloder, re-edit, 2011).

The experiential learning, discovery, and/or directed discovery styles are very helpful for using the ‘top down’ approach as athletes gain insight to ‘what works and what doesn’t.’ Coaches and athletes alike interchange questions to encourage creativity, analytical thinking, and problem solving. This approach, however, requires a large selection of teaching and learning cues, and variety of creative images; it is therefore more time consuming in the planning process. Nonetheless, it is also very rewarding in the end because it captures the learner’s interest and motivation.

Sports skills can be divided into two different categories: ‘closed’ and ‘open’ skills. The former takes place under fixed, unchanging environmental conditions. They are predictable with clearly defined beginning and ending points. Examples are shooting a free throw, serving a tennis ball, throwing a dart, and swimming in a pool. ‘Open’ skills usually take place under conditions of a temporarily changing environment. Decisions and adjustments have to be made ‘on the run.’ An example would be a quarterback adjusting his throwing based on the location of defensive players.


Cater To Individual Differences And Make the Difference

Think about the way you teach or coach! Do you notice or even know the way you affect athletes, especially when changes take place during growth and development phase, or during injuries? Most Junior High school teachers have many a tales on that famous ‘pain in the butt’ period of growing up! Every aspect of athletes’ lives is affected and that includes sport activities. As already discussed, a wide range in the rate of individual differences is apparent among younger ages and even more evident during adolescence (14 years and upward). As stated, the developmental age can fluctuate by as much as two years of the chronological age in either direction. This means, for example, a 10 year old can be in the range from 8 to 12 years in his/her developmental age (Refer to June Newsletter “Young Athletes under Pressure”).

Coaches have to be mindful of such occurrence and identify the potential impact on performance levels and/or scheduling competition events younger athletes can actually master physically, emotionally, and psychologically. Indeed, emotional maturity may be a real factor when deciding on the kind of competition athletes should partake. These considerations also pertain to planning of day-to-day coaching. Are athletes truly ready or does only the coach think so? In the end, it is the perception of personal efficacy, competence, self-esteem, and mental factors that make the difference for performance readiness.


The Skill Acquisition Model

The ‘art of teaching and coaching (pedagogy) is a process, which combines positive interaction of both teaching/coaching and the learning environment. It includes accessing the personal teaching-coaching ‘toolbox’, comprised of organizational tasks, drills, progressive and sequential from simple to complex.

…I learned that teaching-coaching and learning is an intricate process.

The success depends upon on the ability to adjust, modify and experiment.

At times, this may include some ‘risk taking’ and sometimes it may not be what everyone else is doing or expects you to do (Schloder, 2015).

Drill training has to have purpose and meaning, and variety is created from the base repertoire but needs to link and transfer from the specific Warm-up complex (set of exercises) to the technical skill training that follows (example: dry-land in swimming to water). I refer to this process as skills and thrills” to challenge creativity and empower athletes. For this reason, I designed the Skill Acquisition Model to enhance skill training.

Download my Skills Assessment Worksheet – CLICK HERE

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