“Both teachers and learners go to sleep at their post as soon as there is no enemy in the field.” ― John Stuart Mill
Recently, shares in the food company, Beyond Meat closed up 163% after their first day of trading, valuing the company at $3.8bn. Beyond Meat make products that mimic the look, feel and taste of animal-based products, with their flagship product, The Beyond Burger, said to be the first plant-based burger to “look, cook and satisfy like beef.” Bizarrely, this got me thinking about sports coaching this week following some student discussions.
As part of a modular assessment, the students submit a series of linked session plans that they have delivered along with a one page rationale. This then forms the basis of a critical discussion with module staff, whereby we try to explore and get underneath their reasoning and justification for why they did what they did in the sessions.
In both the session plans and discussions, there were lots of references to game-based approaches to coaching, with students singing the praises of approaches like Teaching Games for Understanding (TGFU). When pushed to dig a little deeper, however, it became apparent that lots of this explanation was more like advocacy than reasoned justification, which leads me back to the Beyond Burger…
When we look at what’s in them, it’s clear there is a lot going on, with some 23 different components making up the burger:
Given the ever-growing body of research highlighting the potential negative impacts of ultra-processed foods on health, this could be an area for concern. To what extent is the increasing popularity of ‘plant-based’ products like the Beyond Burger therefore reliant on consumers being overly focussed on what these products are not (i.e., meat), at the expense of considering critically what they actually are as a result?
Similarly (in a bit of an admittedly tenuous link), many of the students mentioned earlier were too focussed on what games-based coaching approaches are not (e.g., drills and/or direct instruction, which seem to be public enemy no.1 these days!), as opposed to critically considering, appreciating and justifying what they are. When probed on when, where, how and why alternative approaches might be more or less appropriate, the students often under-appreciated the opportunity costs of their chosen approaches, as well as the potential trade offs for participant learning.
For example, one student admitted they employed a guided discovery approach in sessions as it made coaching (in their view) ‘easier’. They lacked self-confidence when working with an older age group and were reluctant to utilise direct instruction, despite recognising that in the specific scenario discussed it might have been more appropriate. Similarly, another student realised that the TGFU approach they employed was perhaps inappropriate for a young participant new to their sport who was highly introverted with their peers and might have benefitted from some more structured one-to-one interventions, at least initially.
The moral of the story?
The approaches we employ shouldn’t be one-size-fits-all or set in stone. We need to be flexible and adaptable, and more aware of both the potential pros and cons of the approaches we employ and those we could do.
N.B. I can appreciate the multitude of reasons why an individual might be vegetarian or vegan – this post does not take aim at what is a way bigger debate. Furthermore, this post is not intended to trigger yet another drills vs. games debate, but merely highlight the need for enhanced awareness of when, where, how and why different coaching approaches might be most appropriate in different situations and contexts.