Teaching is not easy an easy task. Just knowing the material is not enough to qualify us as teachers of the game. We must be able to deliver the material in a manner that our athletes understand, and we must develop a method for delivery and implementation.
The first step in skill development for an athlete is developing a foundation. Each sport has its nuances and its basic skill sets. Most team sports require running (skating), passing, receiving, shooting, and some form of stick-handling/ball-handling/cradling, etc. The trick in these sports is to evolve to a level where an athlete can perform multiple skills at the same time. Just like building a house, you must start with the foundation. Teaching and developing skill can be accomplished by keeping this four step process in mind.
Step 1: Develop the Skill
Skills are developed through repetition, and each player must learn to execute the basic skills of the game. Stationary skills with a purposeful focus on technique repeated multiple times is the tried and true method of developing the skill. The execution of skill must be an automatic function through muscle memory.
Step 2: Develop the Skill at Speed
Now that the fundamental skill has been properly developed, it is time to develop the skill at speed. The athlete must now learn to execute at the pace of play. I often tell the story to my players that a NASCAR driver does not take practice laps at 65 mph. A NASCAR driver takes laps at the speed he would like to drive at on Sunday. They hear me say “game speed” all of the time. If a player has never executed a play at the speed of the game, how do we know if he can execute it when it matters? If he is not capable of executing when it matters, then how can the coach count on him? How does he help his teammates?
Step 3: Develop the Skill at Speed Under Pressure
Now that we have our athlete moving at game speed, executing the skills necessary to be a successful player, what happens when that player is rushed? The game forces players to execute the skills before they are ready. Now a second element is added when pressure is involved. The player must process and make decisions. If the foundation is not strong, here is where the foundation breaks down. If the pressure forces the player to execute at a pace that is uncomfortable, the foundation breaks down. However, the foundation is still there. As the player gets more comfortable with the speed and pressure, the foundation will return. However, you are what you are. If you could not pass efficiently before pressure, then you will not be proficient with pressure. It still goes back to step 1.
Step 4: Develop the Skill at Speed Under Pressure When Tired
Fatigue changes everything. Fatigue affects technique, timing, processing, and decision-making. It adds yet another layer to execution. When do we need execution the most? We need execution when games are winding down and it’s tight. We need execution in overtime. We need execution in game 7. We ask for execution when fatigue has set in. If our players can execute at speed, under pressure, when tired, we would expect that the player can execute in any situation.
Skill development is just the first step to teaching the game, but it is the foundation of all elements. Without consistent execution of the basic skills of the game, players will be distracted from their ability to process the sport.
Let us know your thoughts. What methods do you use to teach skill? Leave a comment and start the discussion.