The recent rebranding of the Australian Sports Commission (ASC) to Sport Australia has got me thinking about the complexities of 'grassroots' sports in this country...
Last year I was given the honour - although an ultimately unworkable one - to be the 'Game Sense' coach (no proper references but look up Rod Thorpe, ASC, Ric Charlesworth or any recent Australian coaching manuals), at my local junior Australian football club (AFL). Although in reality I was probably pushing a 'Constraints led Approach' (Keith Davids and friends), mixed with small sided games (chat to any PE teacher), it was indeed a huge eye-opener around the challenges of any alternative pedagogy (the art and the science of teaching) to assist unique learners.
To add more context, the previous year (2016), I was coached by the wonderfully giving South Australian academic, Shane Pill (Flinders University) to design an intervention where I could assist local AFL coaches through mentoring around the Game Sense Approach (GSA). It was here that I discovered that there were many pedagogical issues of even more experienced volunteer coaches. In fact, despite AFL coach development measures that sometimes even I was involved in, coaches were studied defaulted wide-scale acceptance of the use of closed drills through activities like the AFL's S.P.I.R approach (AFL coaching manuals including 2017). In AFL culture, the common drills are called names like 'Kick to Kick, and 'Lane-Work' and are undertaken for the majority of the session before the final 'scratch match' at the end. (Google 2017 ACHPER International Conference Proceedings to find the study or join 'Grassroots Coaching and Consulting' Facebook group and find the original in 'files' section, or, look up many papers by AFL inspired academics like Pill).
Having taught PE at school and university, as well as lecturing in sports coaching, I knew that this had been the case in PE teaching for eternity it would seem so it's no surprise that the pedagogical cousins in sports coaching laboured over closed drills as well despite all the previous development and education (Moy, Edwards or Sue-See in Queensland). Also Mitch Hewitt pointed out that tennis coaches (professionals) do the same but in my experience in teaching and lecturing most PE teachers and Tennis coaches at least enable more balls between participants in their closed drills, whilst sports like AFL use columned line-ups in the majority and multi-balls sparingly, as a way of keeping athletes 'in line'...
For a solution, I consulted my favourite PE pragmatist and academic, America's Judith Rink. Focussing on small sided games, Rink reminded me of two very important points:
1) For Rink, like in some of my YouTube videos (above is an example but feel free to go to YouTube from my website routines are essential. For example, so foreign are my academically, and, 'teaching 101' supported methods to my AFL peers that my craft is noted as: "Gunny Madness", "Ugly Footy", or, "Gunny Chaos"... Which they are anything but!
2) Rink's wisdom also forced me to abandon any thoughts of changing mentees' coaching methods to something like GSA altogether. Instead I favoured Rink's four stages (1993) ideas, that basically focused on making 'drills' messier before a modified game. Wow! With this I felt, I and mentees were making progress on player learning. (See above options mentioned to gain access to stages)
Let me give you an example. I presented at the obligatory coaches' 'in-service' - where three years before only five turned up - but this time there was much excitement. In fact, I was contacted a few days later by a coach (U/8) who I considered the best in the club. Enthusiastically, he asked if I could come along and watch his GSA session. So I did!
Now, I arrived early as always and I was told that he would do four GSA Australian football activities. Of course, due to past experiences, I was a 'tad' sceptical that he could pull this off. However, as he was from New Zealand and a different sporting background, I figured he might be a chance of success having not been beaten down with closed Australian football drills.
He started with aplomb had the kids eating out of the palm of his hand. They absolutely loved him and his planning was well above the nine previous Gunn and Pill participants I worked with. Thus I thought, Let's see how long it lasts! Second game of four... Absolute uncontrollable mayhem that was getting out of hand. He turned to me for help... I blew a whistle long and hard and got down on one knee without looking up for a few seconds and made some open armed 'calm-down' type hand gestures. By the time I did look up most of the kids mirrored my actions and the great coach helped the others to do the same.
From here, I helped him with the rest of the planned games but this awesomely reflective coach's biggest insight was, "That was amazing Gunny!" What? "When you hopped down on one knee everyone else did too..."
Now, despite having done all of this for many, many years in differeing contexts over many sports, I can tell you all that it takes me at least 45 minutes to get youth and adult players used to the routine and tempo of an ecological approach like GSA. Now for 8 year olds, I start with 'Tiggy' and ramp it up slowly and it probaly takes an hour and a half.
As such, with, Sport Australia and most of our National Sporting Organisations in full knowledge that youth sport numbers are falling like 'Drop Bears' from a gum tree, when are we going to get back to teaching coaches how to teach??? Don't worry by the way, about the kids under the previous coach's care mentioned above. They loved him and him they!!! He provided a safe, warm environment of trust just like Maslow would have approved of. And, I reckon he could do closed drills and the kids would come back happy each year.
But... For the rest of coaches in Australia...??? Over to you well paid stakeholders... But I'd say we are in deep trouble...
Meanwhile, I'll keep to my bit at the 'grassroots' in coach and parent development. For example, September, 13, 2018, Mr. Henderson's, Sandgate, Queensland (6-8pm) sees the doyen Kelving Giles, plus head of ACU Brisbane Exercise Science Gert-Jan Pepping with me trying to 'brainstorm' on LOVE in sports coaching all for $20 which includes drink and nibbles. Would be nice to see some of the 'elite' there...
But in the end, the ASC to Sport Australia, or AFL going online with 'CoachAFL' rather than manuals has me scratching my head saying: Same old s$&t… Just a different name!
Bit just like (and nothing against AFL as it's probably most sports) a few weeks ago when I was told by 'top brass' that I couldn't do a Level III course because I wasn't from 'High Performance'... Well: firstly, that's insulting to kids at the bottom who need the best coaches! Secondly, I find it bizzare that my experience or coaching 'rep' youth boys, state girls and senior men and women at state league level, plus coaching their coaches, wouldn't be considered worthy!
Some reasonable issues I'd suggest that need more than wording changes to affect declining participant numbers? But I've made this point before in an earlier article: Do the main sports want viewers or players???
Invite me to your organisation or session if you'd like me to share my answer...
Yours in learning,
Photo of girls playing: owned by Gunny but taken by 'Kwickpix'