The use of questions within session's can have a huge impact on player's learning. It can create an environment in which the focus is on the player and their exploration of a topic rather than being coach directed. Good application of questions can also guide players to answers by starting broad and narrowing down on a subject area. Testing player's knowledge can gauge where players are at developmentally before, during and after sessions. They can also be used as check's for understanding as topic's increase in complexity.
Once players have a base knowledge, coach's can start to use more player centred environment's within session's. This reduces the importance of the coach being the oracle and puts the onus on the player to explore, create and come up with their own solutions. The way in which coach's phrase their questions and challenge players is the difference between getting this right and facilitating rather than coaching.
- How many changes of direction can you do before you get to the other side?
- Show me one I haven't seen before
- Show me one you haven't tried yet
- Can you find a way that doesn't use the inside of your foot?
While player centred v. coach centred environment's are often debated, guided discovery questions can often be found in both camps. Questions can start broad but be narrowed in upon as player's gain a greater understanding and coach's seek to steer their learning. The difference, for me, is that the coach has a learning outcome in mind whilst using guided discovery (whereas player centered questions are content with a variety of solutions).
Start Broad: "What do you see here? How might you adjust things?"
Narrow It Down: "Where are you in relation to your teammate and the defender?"
Get Specific: "Where can you go that gives us width and also puts you in a position to receive as high up the field as possible?"
Testing the team's knowledge is a great way to gauge their understanding of a topic or give you a starting point to work from whilst coaching. It is important to avoid a few traps when asking these question's so that they're as effective as possible for the group:
Use A Pause
Give everyone time to think. First off, you need to give them time to process, not everyone does so at the same speed. Secondly, if you ask the first person who puts their hand up, they're either the quickest or already know the answer. You're looking for the players who are slower to raise their hand (still thinking) or don't at all (not sure or don't know the answer). You never get to this point if you ask the first hand to go up and then move on, assuming the whole group knows the same amount.
Following on from the pause, don't be afraid to cold call on people by name, and not necessarily with their hand up. This culture takes time to create, as traditionally, some players will sit back and allow the smartest or fastest hand raisers to answer questions. By cold calling: "Jimmy, why should we cut the ball back instead of playing square?" we are isolating one player and ensuring they're thinking problems through. It might take a few go's, but once players expect it, they have to be on their toes each time Q&A is used.
*Move On (But Come Back)
Testing your player's knowledge within the session is a great tool for gauging where players are at from; got it, to unsure, to flat out, I don't know... In these moments, it's important to:
Not linger on a player for too long if they don't know (you want them to think, and perhaps sweat, but not to the point of embarrassment within the group).
Take note and come back to it (this is a great way to identify areas of improvement and potential future topics to cover)
Check For Understanding
Similar to testing a player's knowledge, checking for understanding can be a string of questions to get a gauge from your players. The same principles from above apply; use a pause, cold call and don't be afraid to move on. It's the nature of these questions that is the most important as they typically need to be a little more open ended. The coach that asks "does that make sense?" will likely get yes' every time, whether players understand or not. Players prefer not to highlight their lack of knowledge or don't want to hold the group up.
"Does that make sense?"
"Everyone got it?"
Preferably, a check for understanding requires a brief explanation from a player:
- How would you explain that to your little brother?
- Sum up what I said in one sentence.
- In your own words, how would you teach this to your teammate?