This summer, with help from Virginia Youth Soccer Association Coaching Education Director Paul Shaw, I’ve been studying some of Virginia’s top soccer coaches and videotaping their sessions.
This week I’ll start sharing some reflections from Kelvin Jones’ session. Kelvin is a coach with Virginia’s ODP program and is Director of Coaching at Virginia Legacy Soccer Club in Williamsburg. I say “start sharing” because I’ve learned a ton from Kelvin’s sessions so there’ll be several posts coming over the next few weeks.
This first post is about an aspect of coaching that is deeply important but often overlooked: modeling (aka demonstration). Kelvin’s is pretty exceptional and studying a couple of examples of it can help other coaches give it the attention and intentionality it deserves.
In this video you’ll see Kelvin model three times. The first two represent different types of modeling and the third shows a combination of the approaches used in the first two.
The first model shows correct execution. Kelvin’s goal here is to demonstrate the correct way to execute a bit of technique—he wants the players receiving a pass to play their first touch in the direction they want to go and accelerate onto the ball.
You’ll probably notice the efficiency of his model. The whole thing takes about 38 seconds in real time and he demonstrates twice! That’s about half what a typical stoppage looks like and one result of this is that kids are able to try to use his feedback right away, with it, and the image of Kelvin’s execution, fresh in their minds. Thirty more seconds of talk… about some other topic… reiterating the same points… would mean that the vision of execution Kelvin showed them would be decaying in their mind’s eye. Less is sometimes more. If you want people to use the feedback implicit in a model, collapse the time between demonstration and when they get to use it.
My colleague Dan Cotton noticed Kelvin’s Economy of Language and in particular the short crisp prompts Kelvin used to gain and release attention: “You can’t demonstrate EOL any better than Kelvin does here: “Stop.” or “Relax” Then: “Eyes,” and after the model, “Play.”” Dan noted. “The result is that Kelvin’s players focus attentively on his teaching, and can quickly get back to practicing better.”
One other tiny reason Kelvin is able to model so efficiently is that he walks to the spot he will model from before he whistles the boys to stop. When they look at him he is already in position to teach.
My definition of efficiency, by the way, is maximum useful information & learning in minimum time. Kelvin increases his efficiency by doing something I call ‘calling his shot.’ He tells his players what to look for in his model before he does it. This allows them to focus on the key concept. If he said, “Ok, boys, watch what my first touch looks like,” some players might observe how he takes his first touch into space. But others might be looking at the wrong thing and therefore not learn much from the model. But Kelvin says, just before the model, “When this ball comes to [your] feet, I want you to take a touch in the direction you want to go…” Then the ball comes in and as Kelvin plays the ball into space ahead of him, everybody sees what he does and how. By calling his shot he allows his players to attend more efficiently to what’s most important about his model.
One other reason Kelvin can be so efficient is because he only gives his players feedback on one thing at a time. The design of Kelvin’s session was such that he broke his activity up into rounds. They did six rounds of this passing pattern, each round between 1 and 2 minutes long, and each time he gave the boys one—and just one—thing to work on.
“By focusing on a single success point and only later strategically adding only one more, Kelvin was able to keep his feedback (and thus the practice) highly focused,” my colleague John Costello observed. When you give kids feedback on four things at once you don’t know which if any players are trying to work on. They may not either. When there’s one thing to focus on, kids can concentrate on that. And as a result they are more likely to see themselves getting better. This is a big motivator.
Kelvin pointed one other benefit out to me when we discussed his session: “When you give kids a different thing to focus on each round of practice, they’re very engaged. It seems like ten different drills of a minute or two each. Sometimes kids struggle to stay locked in to a single activity for 30 minutes. But when the feedback changes the focus just slightly each time, players really sustain their focus.”
Here’s a chart of the six rounds Kelvin did on this passing pattern and the piece of focused feedback he gave his players each time.
|Introduction: Explanation of Pattern/Importance of Speed of Play (:35)|
|Round 1: Play for 1-2 minutes|
|Feedback 1: Hit the ball to feet with pace (:27).|
|Round 2: Play for 1-2 minutes|
|Feedback 2: Take first touch in direction you want to go (:38)|
|Round 3: Play for 1-2 minutes|
|Feedback Checking away/checking back by receiving player (:58)|
|Round 4: Play for 1-2 minutes|
|Feedback Adjust timing and direction of checking (:45)|
|Round 5: Play for 1-2 minutes|
|Feedback The pass into space should be softer and ahead of the player (:58)|
|Round 6: Play for 1-2 minutes|
|Feedback New Pattern (:33)|
|Round 7: Play for 1-2 minutes|
Many coaches might approach this my telling their players all of these things at the outset and then having them practice them all for 20 minutes but Kelvin’s approach is much more focused and productive. Players learn more, faster and stay more engaged.
Kelvin’s second model is different. Instead of modeling correct execution, he is trying to engage his players in a bit of problem solving, trying to build their understanding of the game, what to do and why when they are on their own. My team and I call this an analytical model. Kelvin is recreating a scene where he has seen a common error occur and is asking his players to problem solve it and then immediately execute a preferred solution. But notice also how efficient he is. Often problem solving sessions can result in a scattershot of lower value answers that dilute players focus and waste time. A coach asks, “What should we be thinking while we’re passing,” and get s a lot of plausible answers but not answers about what to do here, now, in this setting, amidst this context.
Kelvin solves this by starting his model first to recreate the scene very specifically, then he asks questions, “If he checks and I play this ball there, why is that a bad ball?” He then rolls the model ahead to another key point. “When we play this [second] ball in…where do we play the next one? Why?” When he gets his answer the players continue demonstrating the solution so even the analytical model ends with a vision of success. After a quick recap, the boys are playing again.
The third model is a combination: first he asks for a bit of analysis then he models correct execution when the players know what to look for. And again he’s back to playing within 30 seconds.
Kelvin’s coaching was a big hit at our office so I asked my colleague Hilary Lewis to sum up what she thought the most important themes were. What were the key points coaches and other educators should observe about Kelvin’s work? Here’s her summary:
- He keeps the cycle between his modeling and player practice tight (short) to preserve the importance of his feedback and immediate player implementation of the feedback.
- His tone of voice while giving his player is warm, purposeful, and direct. He chooses his words carefully and delivers his words with the same care to ensure that his players hear the feedback so they can improve their practice.
- Analytical model: In Kelvin’s analytical modeling he impresses the importance of being a player, and also a critical observer to find ways to better their practice and offer constructive feedback to their coach, and we can assume eventually, to their peers (other players).