Students working together as part of the same team enhances the learning experience for everyone. Maybe it’s time to put some sports principles to use in the classroom.
Just trying to get students to participate in group projects can be a challenge for teachers, but coaches have developed many sports principles that not only win games, but allow each individual player to be their best and work together with teammates to achieve success. Teachers can apply some of those same sports principles to allow students to win in the world of education and beyond.
1. Achieve Balance
Coaches teach their athletes that practice and strength training are not enough. They must also get enough sleep, eat a healthy diet, and avoid alcohol and drugs. This sports principle of balance — trying to maintain just the right mix of good health habits and hard work — is important for every student. Teachers who can recognize that a child suffering from personal or family issues that prevent them from being physically prepared to learn can step up to help them find a solution to achieve balance in their life and succeed in school. Learning about trauma-informed teaching can be a good place to start.
Dr. Denise K. Wood, who has 40 years of coaching experience, advocates this sports principle in an article for “Sports Training Adviser.” Just as coaches should adapt their training for each athlete’s strengths and weaknesses, teachers can devise lesson plans that will allow some personalization to address each student’s level of understanding and skill. Differentiation is not a new idea in education, but can be hard to achieve when teachers are struggling with large class sizes and fixed scheduling. To begin applying this principle, think about each student’s weaknesses and how you can support students in turning them into strengths.
3. Dissect and Practice, Practice, Practice
Learning by doing is the theme of most sports practices. Breaking down each skill to learn how to throw a curve ball, or shoot a basket, or kick a goal, and repeating it over and over is the way to perfect that technique. Complex theories, difficult math problems, or learning the periodic table can be assisted by utilizing this sport principle. Breaking complex tasks and concepts down into smaller, more manageable parts can help students find an entry point and build up to an understanding of the whole through guided practice.
4. Recording Games
Every professional team watches game film – videos of the other team at play as well as their own performances as learning tools. This sports principle can be used in the classroom, too. Recording students giving a speech, presenting a special project, or conducting an experiment gives them the opportunity to see their successes and failures, not just listen to their teacher’s comments. In the same way, teachers should consider recording their own lessons as part of the reflection and professional development process.
5. Mix It Up
Coaches know a good training program is one that changes the sports team’s practice routine. They mix it up, varying the length of the session, intensity of the training, and the skills practiced. Students spend a long time sitting in a classroom and listening to lectures. Application of this sports principle allows a teacher to get their students’ attention by taking them outside for a nature walk instead of just talking about the environment, moving the desks into a circle and playing a game to review vocabulary words, or trying mini-lessons interspersed with guided group discussion.
Learning what works for each athlete and training them to become a team that is skilled, cohesive, and successful in their sport is the goal of every coach. Taking these sports principles and applying it in the classroom can help a room full of students achieve academic success.