Experienced coach and lecturer, Luciana De Martin Silva, shares an overview of her research on a connected approach to learning.
In 2018, when co-leading an international futsal team to a major competition, we (the staff team) were faced with many challenges that I am sure most of you (if not all) will be familiar with in your own unique settings. One of them was how to integrate new players (of different ability levels) into the squad seven months prior to a major competition. At that time, we had five training camp weekends remaining and we felt that we needed more learning opportunities to allow the players to develop to the level required to finish in the top four. We wanted to encourage learning to take place in and away from training camps and in a way that players could learn from and with each other. As a result, we adopted a collaborative and blended approach to learning, through utilising an online platform as well as face-to-face coaching to facilitate learning. Below I share some lessons learned and examples from the experience:
Ask yourself the question: ‘What do my players NEED?’
Flexibility is key when planning. Instead of having an already defined plan, aim to speak to other staff members and players to ensure you are taking the learning route(s) most appropriate to their learning needs. How can this be done? In our experience, we met with players in small groups on a regular basis to discuss their ongoing experience regarding the collaborative blended approach adopted. We (John, the performance analyst and I) also kept a reflective diary and shared our thoughts and observations on a regular basis throughout the last 7 months of preparation for the competition. These formed evidence to inform how our plan and preparation evolved.
A ‘CONNECTED’ approach to learning
Ensure the learning opportunities you provide are connected and ‘make sense’ to players. For example, you could introduce the content in an online platform prior to the training camp, followed by practical application on court and finally debriefs and follow up tasks linked to the topic covered during the training camp. This could allow for a more cohesive approach to learning as well as opportunities to consolidate what has been attempted at training. In our 7 month study, players referred to their experiences as a ‘little journey’ and recognised the benefits of having pre, during and post camp learning opportunities.
CHALLENGING players in a SUPPORTIVE environment is key
How good are we in challenging players and recognising when support is needed (or not)? How often do we accept that a certain level of uncertainty may be very beneficial to learning? In our experience, we wanted to ensure that players were getting involved in challenging problem-solving activities that required them to draw on their lived experiences and collaborate with each other when trying to come up with potential solutions. What did it look like? We used group activities such as game scenarios followed by questions that would encourage debate within each group. We often had to remind ourselves that learning takes time and therefore we set expectations that were realistic for the sessions. We often stopped ourselves from restructuring tasks in a way that those problems would be removed. Instead, we supported players through challenging situations when needed. How have we done this? We listened carefully to the conversations in an attempt to ‘notice’ what was going on. We focused on what was being said as well as the dynamics within the groups, looking beyond the immediate and deciding when to ‘zoom in and out’.
Focus on building TRUST amongst the group
A key focus in our preparation was how to build a foundation of ‘trust’ as our observations showed how crucial it was in developing players as individuals and as a team. At the start of the 7 month preparation, players mentioned how they were yet to feel comfortable when discussing tasks with some of the players. It often came from a fear of being judged, something that we (staff) felt that should be worked on as a priority. Among the interventions that we put in place were simple things such as providing players with a ‘social activity’ slot instead of what used to be another team meeting in the evening. Another example was to change our habitual practices of having staff and players designated tables at meal times. Instead, we made the most of informal interactions to get to know each other better. This resulted in a feeling of being cared for, strengthening the feelings of trust and respect amongst the group.
Finally, building a connected approach to learning is far from a straightforward activity. As coaches, it is key that we take into account the unique needs of those who we work with in order to co-construct a learning platform based on trust, challenge and support.
For a more detailed account of futsal players’ and coaches’ experiences in collaborative blended learning, please check the full article on https://hartpury.pure.elsevier.com/en/publications/it-is-like-a-little-journey-deaf-international-futsal-players-and
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Image credit - Getty images / stringer