As a football coach, I work with the whole range of players; from youngsters taking their first steps in the game to ex-academy adults playing semi-professionally.
These experiences have taught me that not every individual will respond to everything you try and coach them. Whereas some coaches may palm off these players as ‘difficult’ or ‘bad players’, I have found that if I adapt the way I deliver my session I can engage and ultimately get through to these players.
Anyone who has been involved in education during the past 10 years will be familiar with the term VARK. This is an acronym for Visual, Auditory, Reading & Writing and Kinaesthetic, four different learning styles that children (and people in general) use.
However grassroots volunteers may be unaware of the importance of these different learning styles and the effect their use can have on an individual. Indeed, the effectiveness of a coaching session can be drastically improved by accommodating all of them.
Before I go into any more detail, I will point out that there are going to be times when it is impractical to cater to every learning style. It should also be noted that, whilst most individuals have a preferred learning style, nobody learns exclusively in one style. This means that someone who is a Visual learner will still be able to take on board information in an Auditory way, and vice versa.
With this said, let’s take a look at the four learning styles, and how they may be used in a coaching environment.
I am sure most coaches have explained a drill over and over and still had players who “aren’t listening” or “just don’t get it”. In most cases these kids will be visual learners who simply need to see a picture to understand the practice.
As a coach, the key with Visual learners is to make use of a variety of coaching props and materials. Tactics boards and white boards are fantastic, as they allow the individual to focus their attention on something physical. This could be in the form of tactics boards, print outs, iPads or videos of your coaching drills.
Whilst this may seem slightly unusual, think about your audience. Young people (from the ages of five upwards) will attend schools which use whiteboards, wall displays and projectors to teach basic skills such as reading, writing and counting, making it a technique they will be used to, and respond to.
Auditory learners prefer to hear things explained to them. The children that sit attentively during explanations and who tend to recall your Q and A answers later in a session are usually predominantly auditory learners. Sometimes these players aren’t looking directly at you when you talk but they are concentrating on your words.
Auditory learners also like to have information given to them in a structured, almost linear fashion, in which progression and development comes in a natural order. These players might also prefer to verbalise their points as opposed to showing them to you.
As a coach, accommodating Auditory learners is a case of making sure what you are saying to them is clear and well organised. Delivering a session by explaining the set up, structure and rules will make understanding for Auditory learners much easier, and allowing them to run back the session to you verbally will help them consolidate their own understanding.
When dealing with Auditory learners, think about the language and terminology you are using. Asking a seven year old to “push out” is much less effective than asking them to “move forwards”. Using a hundred words to explain something you could have done using ten only confuses players.
Read – Write Learning
Read – Write learners prefer to deal in text as opposed to other means of information, and this includes answering questions by writing as opposed to verbally or by doing. They work well using key words or lists, and learn by silently reading to themselves to take in information.
As a coach Read-Write learners are very difficult to provide content for as, ultimately, football is a physical activity that requires practical involvement. Having the ability to recall the name of a move or trick is not as beneficial as being able to perform the trick, and therefore Read-Write learners will usually have to adapt to one of the other learning styles when it comes to being coached.
However providing challenges on written cards, referring players to websites that can help consolidate their learning, and providing whiteboards and flipcharts with key information at training will engage Read – Write learners. This is something that can be built upon more and more as tactics are introduced in their early teens.
Kinaesthetic learners, by their very nature, learn by doing. They like to solve problems for themselves, take a hands on approach and would rather learn through trial and error than be told what is right and what is wrong.
A characteristic of some Kinaesthetic learners is that they talk slowly and, when asked a question, will take longer to provide a definitive verbal answer. Indeed, a prevalence of kinaesthetic learners in the elite game may account for the monosyllabic responses many footballers provide in post-match interviews.
As a coach, getting Kinaesthetic learners with a ball at their feet as soon as possible is the key. Ask questions in which the answer is a physical action is also an ideal way of engaging this kind of learner; for example, “how can you get past that defender?” or “can you show me a way of performing a trick using both feet?”
Dedicating aspects of a practice to simply letting players have a go and working things out for themselves is also key when dealing with Kinaesthetic learners. This also allows you to see which players is not picking up certain techniques or methods.
If you have a young child, or have ever seen one in their home environment, many of the skills they learn will be developed through Kinaesthetic learning. Verbally explaining how to walk or showing a diagram isn’t going to help a one year old to stand up and put one foot in front of the other. They have to crawl, stumble and toddle about until they eventually pick it up.
Because bad habits can be established by constantly using incorrect technique, it’s important for coaches to identify poor technique early. But it’s also crucial that coaches give young players chances to work things out for themselves and gradually shape their technique.
VARK in Practice
As a coach, take a look back at your last session and think about how you delivered the information to the participants.
If you have a session coming up in the next few days, think about how you may incorporate one or two new techniques in to cater for all learning styles. If possible, try and identify the predominant learning styles of one of your better players, and one of your weaker ones. See if by changing the way that you deliver information to that weaker player, you see a change in how they perform in training. You will be surprised by how often a simple change in the style information is delivered changes the resulting actions.
How do you accommodate different learning styles in your coaching sessions? Let us know in the comments below…