By: Nicholas Boon

A coach’s role is extremely difficult to define, and often varies from one coach to another. Some coaches are leaders. Some coaches are disciplinarians. Some coaches are mentors. Some coaches are friends. But all coaches are educators. This post will highlight some important ideas around knowledge acquisition and the process of learning a new skill or concept – ideas that every coach should have a fundamental grasp of.

2 Types of Knowledge

Before teaching a skill or concept, it is important to understand what kind of knowledge you are looking to instil in your athletes. The idea that there is more than one kind of knowledge is unfamiliar to most – we are typically more concerned with what we know rather than how we know what we know.

There are two basic types of knowledge: Declarative Knowledge and Procedural Knowledge.

Declarative Knowledge is an understanding of what something is; factual information that is often conscious. This type of knowledge is important when first exposed to a new skill or concept, such where to stand during a free-throw or the differences between a left- and right-handed lay-up.

Procedural Knowledge is an understanding of how to do something; unconscious information that is used in decision making. This kind of knowledge is important for more variable contexts, such as how to respond to the rebound of a free-throw or when to perform a left-handed lay-up (instead of right).

When planning a lesson or designing a drill, consider which type of knowledge you are looking to build on with your athletes. For example, declarative knowledge typically comes first when introducing a new skill – you need to understand what the skill is before you can begin applying it. In contrast, focus on procedural knowledge once your athletes have an understanding of that skill – when you know what the skill is you are better prepared to use it in various situations.

4 Phases of Learning

Once you know what you are teaching, consider how you plan on teaching it (following the progression of declarative to procedural knowledge). Before breaking down the four phases of learning, we want to stress that PATIENCE is vital as a youth coach. Patience in your explanations, patience in answering questions, patience in providing feedback, and most of all – patience in progressing through the learning phases.

Phase 1: Supply

First, you need to clearly and concisely expose your athletes to the new skill, drill, or concept. Be sure to use demonstrations – these are your most effective tool as a coach. You are able to accommodate the three main learning types (visual, auditory, and kinesthetic) by physically demonstrating the skill, using verbal cues throughout your demonstration, and having your athletes repeat the motion.

Phase 2: Process

Too often coaches skip this phase, not providing their athletes with the opportunity to process, relate, or analyze the new concept. It is important for young athletes to understand how, where, and when to apply this new skill. The best strategy here is to use questioning; by asking your athletes questions and engaging them in the lesson, you force them to think critically about the skill.

Phase 3: Experience

As you may have guessed, this is when you have your athletes practice the skill or concept through drill repetitions. If you are hoping to avoid traditional repetitive drills (often a good idea with young athletes, particularly once they master the fundamentals) incorporate new ways to challenge them in game-like situations through modified games or guided defense.

Phase 4: Reflect

Helping your athletes reflect on their initial experiences with the skill is important to deepen their understanding. Provide constructive feedback as they go through their repetitions, and give positive reinforcement for effort, improvements, and successes. Try to use probing questions, further engaging your athletes in their own learning process and skill development.


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