The concept of learning progressions involves taking a higher-level desired skill, objective, or learning result, and breaking it down into manageable components which can then be taught in an ordered fashion from the lowest level, back up, to achieve the higher goal. This happens in the human experience all the time, whether in a formal setting or not. An example could include the goal of writing a novel. The next higher-order level of skills necessary to write the book might be broken down to include knowledge of the subject matter, experience, logical thought, and effective use of language.
Effective use of language, for example, could be broken down into the component parts of plot, characterization, chapter development, and writing. The skill of writing could be further broken down into paragraph construction, sentence development, vocabulary, noun and verb agreement, and use of words. Words are broken down into spelling and letters. In achieving the ultimate objective, the author of the great American novel started by first learning the letters of the English alphabet.
Learning Progressions In Soccer™ are no different. The ultimate objective for most players and coaches is to try to play the totality of the game at the highest level possible. Usually without realizing it, the army of volunteer American coaches typically starts a lengthy, complicated, series of learning progressions with something like, “This is a soccer ball. We kick it with our feet.” Most of these coaches still tend to be drafted into their role and they fall into teaching the learning progressions intuitively. Instruction and education for coaches on the learning progressions in soccer can change that.
Following the analogy, the totality of soccer could be broken down into the next-higher-order levels of: skills, tactics and teamwork, fitness, rules, psychology, and administration. There is no one, single, answer or best approach to this breakdown. Distinctions of this nature can be subjective and the significance or degree of importance of any broad or specific breakdown can be open to interpretation. There are successful coaches of all stripes who take their exposure to soccer source material and modify it reasonably and properly for their own use. That’s just another part of what makes coaching interesting and challenging. There is no one “correct” way to coach, only frameworks borne of experience, and one should be wary of any organization or individual that claims to have all the answers. Using the concepts of learning progressions is just one tool.
It is extremely important to recognize and appreciate that, in addition to working through a logical, ordered, series of learning progressions, there is a maturity factor associated with player development that must be taken into account during instruction. Soccer skills, for example, may be broken down into introductory skills, intermediate skills, advanced skills, and professional skills. Players mature at different rates, however, both intellectually and physically, and a “one size” approach to instruction does not necessarily “fit all.” Some players “get it” and can perform more quickly, while others are “late bloomers,” or soccer may not ultimately be “their thing.” Under any circumstance, it’s clear that intermediate skills should be taught after the introductory skills are mastered, and so on. It just may be at different rates for different players. The concepts of learning progressions include a feedback loop for evaluation and tailoring instruction to individuals.
Introductory soccer skills may be broken down into such activities as dribbling, shooting, goalkeeping, the push pass, receiving and controlling (trapping), juggling, throw-ins, the instep drive kick, and heading. Each of these skills has their own, fundamental breakdown that establishes the initial learning progression for that skill. These most basic fundamentals must be taught properly, in order to establish the basis for the instruction that ensues. At the beginning levels of youth instruction, the importance of correct, and ongoing, repetition of the fundamentals cannot be understated. Tactics and teamwork, fitness, rules, psychology, and administration follow the same pattern. Many of these progressions are performed in parallel. Understanding and implementing all of this is a lot of work and takes time, but focusing an overall coaching approach using the concepts of soccer learning progressions can be a most beneficial framework.
A basic example of a skill progression in soccer is a series associated with the instep drive technique: Introduction of the instep part of the foot leads to use of the instep as the most important kick in soccer. The ability to use the instep then leads to the modification of the instep drive to perform long passes and lofted kicks. Further modifications lead to the ability to perform such techniques as chipping and the outside of the foot pass. Others include volleys, half-volleys and the more advanced skills of “bended” balls such as “inswingers” and “outswingers.”
(To be continued…)
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