I have done some fairly extensive work with swimmers and this morning found a good theoretically-based article on USA Swimming's website, a frequent link I visit. This straighforward article covers E.L. Thorndike's Three Laws of Learning as applied to teaching young swimmers. Many coaches I have met often already apply these principles in their programs. The purpose of this post is to basically 'package' these concepts and provide commentary on USA Swimming's aforementioned article.
The first law is the Law of Readiness-stating that athletes learn best in an environment that is conducive to doing so; including enthusiastic and supportive delivery by the coach in a safe and movitating environment. In working with teams I typically reinforce use of motivational tools and having resources and supplies readily available; for example, easy access to kickboards or weights and equipment. Having a coach who's obviously enthusiastic about their sport and team sets the tone for successful development of athletes.
The Law of Exercise is a straightforward principle that emphasizes consistency in learning a skill. A good coach balances repitition with engaging the athletes attention in performing the skill, for example stroke technique. While some young athletes may grow bored executing the same drill repeatedly, coaches can come up with cues to remind the athletes or rewards for improvement in technique. Explaining in an age appropriate manner in a step-by-step fashion the why and how of what they're doing often works well with young athletes.
The Law of Effect is all about positivity. Athletes will train and compete more consistently and harder when they see their experiences as being positive. Positive feedback and verbal praise go a long way when an athlete works to master a skill, especially one that they may find initially difficult. In layman's terms, the Law of Effect is a technical term for the precept "success breeds success". I believe this is a great teaching anchor with young athletes, no matter how big or small the successful experience is.
Coaches often deal with how to balance pushing versus teaching athletes. I find that having at least some background knowledge in learning principles and teaching strategies, coaches can approach their athletes and teams with more confidence and have greater insight into where the team or certain members are currently at. While each individual athlete learns differently and has their own unique personality style, most learn best in a supportive environment with clear and consistent expectations, mutual respect, and a feeling that if they are not initially successful, they will not face reprecussion or feel as if they have failed (i.e. positive coaching).
For more information on how to foster a winning environment, the Association for Applied Sport Psychology (AASP) has a resource page exculsively for coaches. Questions can also be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Original article: "Creating a Positive Learning Environment". USA Swimming. www.usaswimming.org. September 7, 2011.