Why process is far more important than outcome in a learning environment
Good coaches know that focusing on process rather than outcome is the best way to help youngsters learn new sport skills. Process keeps us focused and on task without worrying about outcome. Process helps us keep our eye on what we're doing to achieve our goal rather than the goal (outcome) itself. Why is this better? Because it encourages persistence in learning. Persistence in practicing new skills is the single most important key to learning them.
There really isn't any magic to learning something. It's a process. To be successful learners we need to embrace the process and not worry about the outcome.
Teaching is actually creating the environment where learning takes place. The better the environment, the more persistent the student. Persistent students not only learn more, they learn at a faster rate.
Good coaches create these environments all the time. Poor coaches don't, or can't. It is this skill, creating an environment that encourages persistence, that separates the good coaches from the others.
Why is this so important? Think about what happens when we're learning something new -- physical skills, a musical instrument, mathematics -- it doesn't matter what it is. The key to learning it is practice and lots of it. The more we practice the better we get. Not everyone approaches a new skill with the same enthusiasm, thus practice time varies but as a general rule those who practice more get better.
The coach's greatest task then is to figure out ways to encourage young athletes to practice, to actually want to practice. When I was coaching swimming the challenge, especially with younger swimmers, was to construct my teaching environment so that the athletes would want to come back the next day. If I was able to do this over the long term then I knew that my athletes would eventually reach some measure of success relative to their abilities.
Constructing this environment is difficult but it is the single most important thing a coach does and, luckily, it gets easier as a coach gains experience. Unfortunately, this is also why many young coaches or former athletes fail when they enter the coaching ranks of their sport. They think their technical knowledge or personal ability is important to young athletes when it is probably the least important thing.
Creating a fun and challenging environment allows the process of learning to take place. Each coach will have to find their own way to create this environment but here are a few basic guidelines:
Praise increases practice persistence. All people enjoy praise. Young athletes, especially, will try to repeat behavior that elicits praise from coaches. Praising effort will get athletes to put in even more effort in hope of more praise. You can see what's happening here. The effort (practice) is exactly what we want because we know that the more people practice the better they get at something. Praise the effort and don't worry about the outcome.
Offer performance feedback
Feedback that focuses on performance rather than results is far more effective in helping athletes improve. Only coaches can provide information about the performance and tips on how to improve it. Athletes can usually see the result and really don't need the coach to provide information like this.
Few things are more motivating than seeing how far we have progressed on our way to achieving a goal. In a good learning environment coaches help athletes see this progress and understand what it means. Tracking progress takes many different forms and it's vital that it be done. Progress toward a goal can add purpose to any practice session.
These three tips can go a long way in helping a coach create a good learning environment. Understanding the importance of the learning environment and how it affects practice persistence is the mark of a good coach.
Bill Price (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the owner and Chief Data Scientist at Sportkid Metrics.