Coaching, Physical Education, and FIP

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This blog post is dedicated to Coach John Wooden's legacy, and to Kim Sinkhorn, the best physical education teacher I know.  

In the book Talent Code: Greatness isn’t Born. It’s Grown. Here’s How., author Daniel Coyle shares the story of two UCLA researchers, who led the program Kamehameha Early Education Program (KEEP) in the early 1970s. KEEP was a language arts program designed for underachieving native Hawaiian children. The researchers were not pleased with the results of the program, and upon returning to the mainland, wondered which great educator could they meet with to study and learn practices that would positively impact the students in KEEP.

The two UCLA researchers decided to approach a successful teacher that worked right on their own campus—head men’s basketball coach, John Wooden. The researchers observed Coach Wooden for months and were amazed at what they saw during UCLA’s basketball practices. Wooden would spend two hours before each practice with assistant coaches planning the practice. Each practice had specific goals for the team and individual players. Throughout the months the researchers collected observation data, they noted over 2,000 discrete acts of teaching. Less than 7 percent of the acts were praise feedback and less than 7 percent were expressions of displeasure. More than 75 percent of the acts of teaching were providing feedback to the athletes, many times modeling how something should be done.

The talent that the researchers identified in Coach Wooden was his ability to move around in practice and deliver timely and specific feedback at the precise moment that players would benefit the most. When the researchers returned to KEEP, they implemented the teaching and feedback observed and the program improved immediately and won a prestigious education award. The researchers even credited what they had learned from Wooden in the program’s turnaround.

As a former basketball coach and physical education teacher myself, I always recognized the value of a great physical education teacher and program in a building.  When I was named the principal of a newly configured middle school, I was fortunate to attract the district’s best physical education teacher, one whom I believe is among the best in the state as well. As our teachers began to work in professional learning communities and develop their capacity to understand and use formative instructional practices, our physical education teacher led the way. She modeled, encouraged, and reinforced our journey. She reminded teachers that FIP is nothing new and includes what great physical education teachers have always done: identify learning targets, conduct task analyses to break skills down into easily learned steps, and most importantly, provide frequent, timely, direct, and specific feedback along the way. This particular teacher also provided her students an opportunity to display ownership of learning, as they would tap out (self-assess) after every lesson according to the level of commitment, effort, and engagement demonstrated.

Yes, great coaches and physical education teachers know that FIP is not just one more thing, or even something new. It is the way to communicate goals, provide feedback, and provide support so that our students and teams reach their highest potential.

 Check out this FIP module for Physical Education teachers  to learn how to create learning targets that lead to the kind of feedback that Coach Wooden was able to master.