Towards Better Teaching

Towards Better Teaching
By Katherine Thomas

Katherine Thomas is with the Department
of Exercise Science and Physical Education at Arizona State University
in Tempe. She teaches with the Maglischo Coaching Seminar conducted by
ASCA, and will be a featured speaker at the ASCA
World Clinic in Orlando, Sept. 2-6, 1997.

In the issue of QUEST, a publication of the National
Association for Physical Education in Higher Education, 1994, she had an
article entitled, The Development of Sport Expertise: From Leeds to MVP
Legend. This article makes a number of relevant points regarding the automation
of skill execution in athletes. The following are some of the summary points
from that article.

As skill execution improves, the cognitive aspects
of motor execution become automated. For Low-Strategy sports such as swimming,
variables such as physical size and ability combine with motor skill to
determine expertise. In other high strategy sports, such as basketball,
the cognitive pattern of knowing what to do in a situation plays a more
significant role in expertise.

Practice does not guarantee skill. Skill tests
must include an analysis of form. Consistency of good form is one factor
in developing expertise.

At lower levels of expertise in swimming, knowing
what to do and how to do it, can mean significant performance differences.
(i.e. knowing when to do a flip turn, and when that is inappropriate (breaststroke and fly) When efficient execution is less likely (young ages) then
size becomes an advantage. Children with average skills levels will be
outdistanced by children with greater size. Once everyone is doing the
skill with reasonably effective form, then the differences come from other
areas like strength.

In studies of swimmers at the high school and
college level, distance swimmers were able to elaborate more knowledge,
had more facts, and expressed a greater need for knowledge than did sprinters.
Some sprinters expressed the idea that they were not much interested in
the understanding of swimming, they just wanted to swim. Long distance
swimmers expressed a clear need to understand stroke mechanics.

All the nationally ranked age groupers in the
study were able to generate many facts about their stroke technique. There
were 85 facts that had been identified in the study about breaststroke.
The 7 and 8 year olds were able to identify 60 or more of these, and the
older swimmers up to 81 of the facts. As age increased, the swimmers could
verbalize the stroke more, and needed to rely less on demonstration to
show what they knew.

Coaches were also studied, with one group being
interested in stroke understanding, and the others were not. The knowledge
oriented coaches turned out an almost equal number of nationally ranked
sprinters and distance swimmers, while the non-stroke interested coaches
turned out an overwhelming number of sprinters. Knowledge may not guarantee
success, but it may be an essential ingredient in success with certain
types of skills.

Initial motor skill is cognitive, and knowledge
is critical in the early stages of motor learning. You must know what to
do. The second stage is refining the skill, so the facts about effective
and efficient movement are critical. In the second stage, the learner learns
how to detect errors and correct them. Those who become experts move through
this stage. The non-experts do not.

The third stage is automatic. The learner no longer
has to think about the performance of the skill itself, and can concentrate
on strategy, effort and similar items.

With this in mind, the teacher at the initial
stages should begin with a demonstration, and a few simple hints and cues.
First attempts simply allow the learner to get the general idea and understand
the goal. Provide more demonstrations and many practice trials. As long
as the practice is inconsistent, more cues or information will not help.
Add cues as the practice becomes consistent in a given area. As more competence
appears, the teacher should provide more opportunities for practice, and
limit demonstrations while asking the learner to verbalize both the goal
and the tasks. Once the task looks similar at all trials, then the learner
is ready for more information that will refine the task. Provide one point
at a time, and many trials until consistency is achieved.

As the coach progresses with the athletes, the
cues should take the form of questions that require the learner to think
and verbalize. Did that feel right? What was wrong with it? What should
you do next time to correct it?

The final goal is to have the athlete detect the
errors. If the coach is always detecting errors, there is no need for the
athlete to do so himself. This is a point where many athletes become stuck as they do not engage their own minds in seeking creative solutions to
their needs. The coach may ask the questions, but at the level of higher
learning, the athlete must recognize and solve the problem themselves.