When I was a young basketball coach I was influenced by the coaches who often caught my eye in the media, and they tended to be the loud, aggressive ones. The ones who picked up the coach technicals. And picked up chairs and threw them. The ones who shouted a lot…and I thought that that was how I was expected to behave as a young coach. I shouted. A lot. Barking instructions at players, telling them where they were supposed to be, who they were supposed to guarding, how they were supposed to be playing. And berating them for failing to follow my instructions. Shame on me.
After one game I asked my players “can you hear what I’m shouting at you from the sidelines?” and unanimously they said no. They were too focused on the game, it consumed them and they were too busy trying to play to the best of their abilities.
As I matured as a coach I learned that the real work takes place in practices. Well-planned practices put players in situations they will most likely face in a game. Carefully selected drills, that got progressively harder helped to prepare my students for whatever they faced in the future. I became calmer, my players were better prepared, and were encouraged to think for themselves instead of me telling them what to do. After the game we would reflect on what happened and construct a practice session to address any of the issues that we were unable to overcome.
Skills-based health class is similar to coaching basketball and I tell my students that all I’m really doing with them is practicing layups. Students look confused until I explain that health class is all about practicing skills that they can apply in the game…the game of life.
Just as coach practices unopposed layups, then adds a defender, then it’s 2v1, 3v2 and finally something closer to a game, it’s the same in the classroom. I’ll model a skill and walk my students through it, with some guided questions. Then we’ll walk through a more advanced version of the skill together before putting students in groups to practice the skill with each other. Finally, after multiple opportunities to practice, students will apply the skill themselves in preparation for an assessment.
Just as coach won’t put you in the game until you are ready, I won’t assess students until I feel they are ready to be successful.
I admit that sometimes the participatory methods used in the classroom, that allow students to practice their health skills, can seem unrealistic. But at least it gives students the opportunity to practice in a safe environment, where they are encouraged to make the healthy choice. Once students are out there in the ‘real world’ they now have a frame of reference, and can look back on all of the occasions that they successfully practiced the skill in the classroom.
My students know that in health class I play the long game, I want them to be successful in life. I want them to earn the ‘A’ in life that they deserve.
And that’s why I tell students that all I’m really doing, all I really can do, is layup drills in the classroom. I want my students to practice skills safely, to repeat them often, and reflect on the outcomes, so when they are out there in the ‘real world’, the game of life, they are able to be as successful as my basketball players were.
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