U is for Understanding

        U is for Understanding.  Understanding's definition can be tough to "understand" because there are a lot of them.  For the purpose of the blog today, we are talking about "a mental grasp" or "the knowledge and ability to judge a particular situation or subject."  As educators, both on and off the field, we spend a great amount of time explaining.  We work with a variety of learners.  Some get things verbally, some understand better visually, and some are hands on learners who need "to do."  Knowing how your players learn can be a great advantage in getting the most out of their ability.  Extra effort is required, but being able to teach in a variety of ways will only make you a better coach.  There are a number of assessments you can give athletes to get a feel for what type of learner they are.  The assessments can have great value to the athlete and you.  Athletes gain awareness for how they learn and can apply the knowledge on the field AND in the classroom.  You get knowledge of how to best teach them.  An athlete who knows they learn through a more tactical (hands on) method may need to feel their way through learning a new movement more so than someone who is an auditory learner.  As a coach, you would really want to focus on how the movement feels and the difference with the previous way.  In reality, all your athletes are some combination of types of learner who will likely need a combination of methods to learn.  The coaches who are the most adaptive in methods will stand the best chance of reaching them.

        How about checking for understanding?  Something I read a while back really hit home with me about this topic and made me realize how much room I had for improvement in the area.  The reading addressed checking for understanding with athletes by simply saying, "Do you understand?"  This takes the athlete off the hook for truly having a "mental grasp" because they can just say, "Yes."  Then the interaction is over.  The athlete may not really understand what is being taught.  The result would then be frustration from both the player and coach.  Asking follow-up questions to really check for understanding is a much better way of teaching.  It takes extra time and risks the chance your explanation was not effective, but the time and risk are well worth it.  Getting an athlete to explain back to you what you were just teaching ensures they actually do have a mental grasp.  Something else that helps is to be conscious of how we react when they don't understand.  Do you react with frustration?  Do you make smart comments about how easy it should be?  If so, you're risking creating athletes who are afraid to make mistakes and to ask questions in order to grow.  Maybe not purposely, but that is a risk.  We have to put ourselves back in the shoes of the player and know that very few, if any, athletes aren't trying to understand.  Then, our reactions will likely be more appropriate.  We will show patience in our explanations and take the time to really help a kid.  The result, hopefully, will be a better understanding for all.  Coaching, at its core, is really just teaching after all.

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