Finding new ways of teaching

When I think about the concept of teaching I’m often taken back to the classroom at school and reminded of the years spent receiving information from the teacher in order to pass the exams. Admittedly school was not an environment that inspired me and running around chasing balls was far more appealing! But years later as a squash coach primarily working with young people the question now is ‘how do our coaching team ensure our players are inspired to enjoy and learn this great sport as effectively as possible?’

Over the last 10 years, having read articles, watched videos and talked to many interesting people around the ideas of teaching and learning a theme keeps emerging; that teaching in a traditional sense can be flawed and perhaps outdated and the idea of pupil–led learning brings better results. Dictating ideas will work up to a point but to truly engage in a subject or theme players need to feel it, to experience it mentally and physically.

We have experimented with our pupils running the session where they are given the theme and left to create routines and games that help their groups to learn ways to improve and apply the ideas. As a coach this can make you feel quite redundant at times, even lazy but this also highlights the point that as coaches we often feel the need to have to deliver and control the learning process rather than letting it evolve naturally. The results are astounding during the pupil led sessions as players engage more fully, feedback brilliant insights into the theme being discussed and invent new routines to execute it.

‘its not about making learning happen, its about letting it happen’  Sugata Mitra.

When we start to discuss broader themes within squash like skill development and deception the teaching process becomes even more pertinent. As the squash world witnesses the middle eastern players rise into the higher ranks of the game often not long out of junior squash, playing with freedom and skill that most European players can only dream of the question is ‘how did they learn this?’

From my experience of working with Egyptian players some of the answers become very clear. One main area being a lack of direct technical input and as to one way of hitting the ball and where it ‘should’ go. The short game is explored and developed for most of the junior years with the emphasis on hitting winners and playing with freedom – what fun! And fun should be part of process because it is a biological fact that our brains can partly shut down when we feel the threat of failure so keep the awareness on enjoying and feeling the process and great things can happen on the court.

If we restrict players into certain techniques or systems this can suffocate the individuals natural strengths and patterns, cause confusion and in some cases even boredom. Instead maybe its time to let the pupil lead the session and as a coach be secure enough to stand back and guide the process, helping the player develop a better feel for what is happening rather than delivering an abstract concept of technique or tactics designed for the masses.  Its possible, when a lesson reaches real flow to just stay quiet, admire what is happening and not talk, not even give positive feedback. Let the pupil find new areas; help them unlock from the structures which they are comfortable and then let them go.

The teacher raises the question and then stands back and admires the answer’

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