Lesson number one: learn how to learn


Psychologist Rafael Rodríguez-Soler works with the coaches to encourage the use critical thinking in the football learning process of scholars.

When it comes to developing talent in sports not any strategy is valid. Repetition of technical aspects and tactical plans are important to progress, but it’s not enough. If the aim is to learn new skills, the first thing to do is… learn how to learn! It seems obvious, but there isn’t an approach that goes further than the traditional and obsolete methods of football training.

“It’s about learning how to think, about developing the players skills in self-regulated learning”, explains Rafael Rodríguez-Soler, Head of the Sports Psychology Department at the Marcet’s High Performance Academy. “Meagre mechanical memorisation should be avoided, because soulless repetition of concepts leads to superficial results. In this respect, the priority is to encourage the use of analysis and critical thinking. The goal is for players to be able to resolve problems by unravelling their ability to adapt to their footballing environment.

A different paradigma

For this to work, it is important for the paradigm shift to start at a coaching level. “This requires a new way of looking at the football coaching process”, points out Rodríguez-Soler. “The coach goes from someone who gives orders, organises and enforces to someone who guides, asks and stimulates. What’s necessary is a real role change with respect to traditional coaching methods. And the principal difficulty of this doesn’t lay in learning the new ideas, but in leaving the old ones behind”.

For the new paradigm to set in, Rodríguez-Soler and his collaborators use evaluative and formative tools to track the trainers at Marcet’s High Performance Academy. One of the tools is the CBAS (Coaching Behaviour Assessment System) methodology, that allows them to observe, analyse and systemise the behaviour of the coaches in a natural context, for example a football match. The way it works is they film simultaneously a game and the conduct of the coach. The videos are then analysed and discussed with coaches at internal sessions as shown in the video at the top of this article.

Aprendizaje auto-regulado

The Sports Psychology Department at Fundación Marcet is in charge of indexing the behaviour of the coaches according to the different parameters. For example, to determine whether their actions are reactive or spontaneous. Or whether actions are produced as result of a desired performance or a player’s error. Or if they’re produced as a response for encouragement, technical instructions, punishment, etc.

The incentive isn’t to correct the way coaches act, but to guide them putting the advantages and disadvantages of each option on the table, keeping in mind the circumstances of each different situation and each players individual features. “This is for sure”, advises Rodríguez-Soler, “teaching players auto-regulated learning skills implies a series of changes of which the coaches need to know how to adapt to through an open and flexible arrangement.

“The way the coach communicates has a huge influence on the unravelling of talent”, underlines the psychologist, “We’re talking about repercussions in both team culture and the motivational aspect. Also in the way the players communicate. Quality learning must be encouraged, ensuring the involvement from the scholars and making it clear that the search for the solution is more important than the actual solution. In this sense it is important to encourage players to take an active role. And for this, a coach’s role is vital, as their feedback is used in order to guide the perceptual processes that influence decision making and learning”. In order for the scholar to learn how to learn, it’s necessary for the coach to learn how to teach. This is key in the making of intelligent players (and coaches).

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