Within the youth athletic development context, not every athlete you coach will go on to become an elite level performer. We can, however, focus on developing learning skills to help young people be prepared for greater success in other areas of life, whilst still challenging those at the upper end of performance. One of the key parts of this is creating a positive learning environment.
The Connect, Facilitate and Consolidate framework is a coaching tool developed for optimising learning, and was inspired by an academic INSET day at Millfield School, a leading UK independent school, and modified for practice by Graham Williams, lead practitioner of Millfield Institute of Sport and Wellbeing. The structure of the framework helps to build relationships with pupils, challenge their understanding and seek to improve knowledge retention. Following this structure may result in a more favourable environment for learning through encouraging critical thinking towards their training process. This article is a guide for I used the framework whilst working in the youth athletic development context and should give you the understanding to be able to implement it within your own area of work.
First, make sure to greet and understand the current state of pupil. This is a chance to address any immediate needs or concerns, for example some lower-than-usual readiness scores or if the pupil is visibly less energetic than normal.
Next, introduce the session and its goals within the larger context of their training with the use of the “so that” principle. For example, “The goal of this session is muscle capacity so that you can build up to a higher training load in the future.” Try to draw them a picture of their training journey through their experiences with you. This can go from a more general sense of progress with less experienced athletes and become more detailed as you have more specific goals for them in the context of measurable KPIs. As the pupil gains more experience, challenge how much they can identify the context of their training themselves, for example asking where the upcoming training block fits within their season/multi-year plan.
Lastly, challenge their ability to recall previous key take homes to focus their attention in the current session. Connecting can also introduce new concepts or exercises, to fully give the context to each of the working parts of their training session.
Using both open and leading questions, we seek to check the pupil’s current depth of understanding of their training, for example a concept or exercise selection. This can be achieved through either asking questions individually, allowing pupils to confer with training partners, or even bouncing responses to others in the room to hear multiple takes on a subject before giving your thoughts.
Allowing pupils time to discuss their thoughts with their peers creates a more active learning environment, which improves long-term retention, while questioning specific pupils within a group setting also gives an opportunity for the more reserved pupils to express their thoughts who usually stay quiet when questions are asked more broadly.
Typically, sessions end with challenging the pupils to re-phrase their experiences or information received within the session to demonstrate understanding. We challenge pupils to condense their learned information into a sentence, then a few key words, and finally one key word which will remind them of the rest of their learning. A worked example:
Can you summarise the main themes of what you’ve learned today into a sentence?
“We worked on getting low to the ground when changing direction, and pushing hard with the outside leg”
Can you cut that down into 3 words?
“Low, pushing, out.”
Can you make it into one word, so when you tell yourself this word next session, you’ll remember everything?
In practice, the ‘Connect, Facilitate, Consolidate’ framework allows for a structured approach to facilitate self-driven learning to further pupils’ understanding even within the athletic development domain. However, working in a dynamic environment where stress can build up throughout the week, other coaching styles may be more appropriate. It is important to note that this process is another tool in a practitioner’s toolbox to guide the pupils through their training. In some sessions, pupils may be more energetic and be ready to learn, where it will be possible to introduce new concepts and ask more questions to challenge their understanding. On other occasions where the pupil’s mood state varies, all they may need is for someone to connect with on a personal level.
What processes do you use to enhance learning within your coaching? Are there any ways you feel like we could improve our processes? Feel free to comment and share this article with anyone who might be able to contribute.
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