Coaching vs Teaching

I’ve been coaching hockey and teaching math for around 8 years. I thoroughly enjoy the contrast of the two positions. But I’ve slowly noticed that there are many strategies in one job that carry over to the other.

Here are some points for what makes a good hockey practice and a good hockey game.
The corresponding teaching strategy are in italics.

Practice

    • “Chalk time” is minimized (possibly done before getting on the ice, icetime is expensive), and players actually executing drill is maximized.
      Traditional models of teacher-centered teaching should be replaced by student-centered activities in most cases.
    • The number of players moving during a drill is maximized; the worst drills have only a couple of skaters moving. The best drills have a quarter to a third of your players moving. Ideally you’d like to have a work to rest ratio of around 1:2 for a practice (for every 1 minute of work, there is 2 minutes of rest).
      Students high-ability and low-ability should be busy during a lesson. A group of strugglers should not drag down the speed of a class just like a group of high achievers shouldn’t speed up a class. Ideally, if you imagine the students on treadmills, there is no reason for the speed of the treadmills to be constant among all the students.
    • All movement is done at full speed, there may be hestitaiton if the drill is new, but after the players get used to the drill they should be moving at “game” speed. You play games like you practice, so the faster you move in practice leads to fast movement in a game.
      Students are pushing themselves to their limits. They aren’t happy with just barely getting by, and aren’t happy to cruise at a level below their optimal level.
    • Drills emphasize specific hockey skills and the players know what skills they are working on in that drill. But they do not stop being hockey players; they must not abandon good hockey skills to just complete the drill.
      Students should know what skills they are improving during a class. They should be focused on learning that skill. But they must also solve these skills in an environment that is as realistic as possible. Less abstraction, more detail.
    • Players are exhausted at the end of the practice, physically and hopefully mentally. They were asked to go to their own personal limit (even if some players have different limits compared to others). Players in great shape should be pushed equally to their limit as weaker players.
      Everyone should be pushed to improve. High and low achievers both.
    • The coach is running the drills, may demonstrate specific portions of the drill, but team instruction is minimal (talking to the whole team when one players made a mistake), and individual instruction is ideal (one on one conversations). How many times has a coach yelled at the whole team for an individuals mistake? I hated that, and as a coach, I try not to make that mistake myself.
      “Everyone can’t factor this quadratic, you should know this” isn’t normally the best way to approach changing behavior. Don’t you hate it when your administration addresses the entire faculty for the faults of a couple teachers? 

Gametime

    • Players are excited but relaxed. Amped but in control. Prepared for the game but ready for anything.
      Students are flexible under pressure. Able to stay loose and show what they know and not freeze up.
    • Players have a short memory but a long vision. Mistakes don’t snowball.  Luck is not mistaken for a proper play.
      Even if students get a multiple choice question right by guessing, they understand that they need to be able to solve it without luck.
    • Players are relentless in their effort, from the puck drop to the buzzer. They start a game right, and they finish a game right.
      Students don’t have off days, when an assessment given out, they are ready to go.

Thoughts? Overreaching?

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12 Responses to Coaching vs Teaching

  1. Not overreaching at all–spot on. I’ll have to pass this along to my math-teaching-and-hockey-coaching friends (which number in the single digits,) though I think that coaches who teach subjects other than math would also benefit from these parallels.

  2. Hank Stevens says:

    I think your lessons/analogies from coaching to classroom teaching is spot on.

    The questions left rattling around in my head, both by your post and reflection on my own teaching, is about logistics. I am very comfortable with students working at different paces at least for a few days or maybe a week. Yet at some point I always feel the need to gather students back together to get them more or less on the same page. I often do this by giving the quicker working students challenge problems and working more one-on-one to answer questions with slower working (or reluctant to work) students in the name of preparing them for an eminent quiz. This seems to work, but leaves me feeling like I’m falling short of my own ideal.

    How do we structure classes to truly let students development at their own appropriate pace? How do we keep the reluctant students accountable? How do we prevent this from simply being students simply through “workbooks” at their own pace doing projects and taking quizzes when they get to a certain page (or maybe this is less bad than it sounds)? How do we keep it from being a bunch of students plugged into iPads watching KA videos? How do we keep it truly personal and individualized?

    Just my two cents.

    • Dan says:

      This seems to work, but leaves me feeling like I’m falling short of my own ideal.

      Certainly. I fall short of my ideal every day. No shame in that.

      You’re getting into one of the most difficult questions about teaching, how can we individualize education and keep it high quality. I wish I had an answer, but I have a feeling it isn’t an easy task. This is part of the reason I love teaching: it’s a very difficult job that has no easy or direct answers.

  3. Michael P says:

    When you compare the way stuff is learned in school to the way that it’s learned anywhere else, anywhere else tends to make a lot of sense. The analogy that you draw between teaching math and coaching hockey is great, but you could’ve chosen so many other things.

    You don’t learn to ride a bike without riding a bike. You don’t learn to play the piano without playing the piano. You don’t learn how to cook without cooking. You don’t learn how to do math without doing math.

    That having been said, I think that there’s one big problem with the hockey/math analogy, and that’s the teamwork aspect. In team sports the players depend on each others strengths, and their success depends on each others success. It’s not quite like that in math, though it’s like that in so many other worthwhile things in life.

    • Dan says:

      That having been said, I think that there’s one big problem with the hockey/math analogy, and that’s the teamwork aspect. … It’s not quite like that in math, though it’s like that in so many other worthwhile things in life.

      You’re right, it’s not like that in math class. But the vast majority of careers are team based, and the educational system should prepare the students for this world. Not an easy task, and I certainly have more questions than answers.

  4. There are some places where the comparison is quite appropriate, and others where it breaks down for me.

    Activity over instruction, knowledge in context, and individual attention all seem like characteristics of both a good practice and a good classroom. With everyone focused on what they are doing, rather than what they are supposed to be learning, the process will work better for everyone. Ideally, some understanding of why they are doing it exists, and they can get help when they need it.

    However, the best classroom activities engage everyone simultaneously, not just 1/3 of the students at a time. “Game speed” isn’t always a good thing, in my opinion–some things should be done leisurely. And the classroom should be a place where people can play with mathematics. Serious team practices probably have to be very focused and disciplined, which are probably good attributes in a classroom in general, but there needs to be freedom to play around as well.

    All in all, a thoughtful and interesting essay. Thanks for providing some food for thought!

    • Dan says:

      And the classroom should be a place where people can play with mathematics. Serious team practices probably have to be very focused and disciplined, which are probably good attributes in a classroom in general, but there needs to be freedom to play around as well.

      To bring the sports aspect back into it, yes there needs to be a freedom to play around as well. The best hockey players with the best hands had days months of cumulative time spent playing with the puck in order to gain the individual skills necessary to perform at a high level. Most excellent hockey players are developed in their basement or driveway shooting and handling the puck in their free time. Leisurely practice that ends up in individual skills.
      Bringing it back to the math classroom, Vi Hart shows these leisurely playing skills with math. Surely she is a far better mathematician because of her mental flexibility gained from her mathematical doodles. And as you are getting at, these skills need to be taught in the classroom.

  5. Bryan Meyer says:

    @Hank
    You write: “How do we structure classes to truly let students development at their own appropriate pace?”

    I wonder if this might be accomplished by reframing our thinking about “pace.” If we consider mathematical development as covering more topics then I would agree that differentiation and keeping the class together would be difficult. In the inclusive model at our school I have seen some teachers effectively differentiate by depth and this, to me, seems a much more productive goal. In this way, I think it becomes possible to keep the class “together” while still allowing all students both access and challenge.

    • Hank says:

      Bryan,

      I would agree that one model could be using depth of content as a way to differentiate and at some levels this is what I do with my kids, pushing the high flying kids to ask more questions while trying to keep the lower performing kids focused on the more core ideas. I’m at a school with no math program, just some lousy textbooks with no other resources, so I have to create most instructional materials. Which makes differentiation by depth a time consuming challenge. Still I return to the logistics not because I question the ideas but because I am wrestling with how to implement them. At the end of the day do you give different assessments? Do you continue to differentiate in your expectations on projects? How do you work to create the classroom culture where students feel good/comfortable working at different levels?

  6. @Dan

    During basketball season, I often think the opposite way, how can my knowledge of teaching empower my ability as a coach, and for me I think your analogy is spot on. I wish I could report that I am doing this all the time (in both coaching and teaching), but sadly I am not. Thanks for the reminder, and another clear measure by which I can hold my practice accountable.

  7. K.N. Listman says:

    There are differences in teaching and coaching that I see coaches struggling with in classrooms. Typically there far more objectives to be learned in an academic class than in a sport, which changes the balance of time required for instruction versus practice. Coaches want students amped up and in control, and moving full speed because adrenaline increases physical performance, however adrenaline hampers initial learning of mental tasks, which requires a calm atmosphere. Teaching is more cumulative, if student doesn’t master one skill they may not move on the other, therefore slow students will require more time in instruction or the teacher will simply leave them behind.

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