Monday, January 24, 2011

Psychomotor learning

Yesterday afternoon, I spent a freezing hour and some change on the side of a very muddy rugby pitch watching my son's team take on the team with the worst reputation for dirty play in the league. It was a good, hard game which threatened to spill over into violence a few times but never quite did.

I was struck by a few things about the learning involved in a psychomotor activity like playing a sport.

There is unavoidably a fair amount of behaviourist learning that goes on. Twice a week the team practices for a couple of hours. Over and over and over again, they practice the drills. Pass this way, kick that way, tackle this way, lay the ball off that way. Again. No, not like that. Like this. Again. Better. Once more. Now you're getting it. Again.

And last week, my son enjoyed the fruits of this kind of learning when he scored his first try. He was running down the left wing, following their outside centre (who is one of the most gifted young players I have ever seen). Alex had the ball and was running, whippet-like for the try line. My son was exactly where he should be. Alex got tackled. The ball popped up and my son picked it up beautifully and dotted the ball down for a try.

Torv's perfect take

He was in the right place at the right time and, thanks to the drills, he did the right thing. He told me afterwards how it 'all just came together'. He had been prepared for exactly this eventuality. He saw the point and the benefits of the drills and will work at them all the harder now.

He believes.

Yesterday, I was chatting on the side line to one of the coaches (the father of the prodigy, Alex), who pointed out that my son needed to develop his skills at 'looking for work'. I explained that he had come rather late to the game of rugby, and was still learning the ropes. The fact that he makes the team with gaps in his knowledge is testimony to the fact that he has a lot of raw talent, but it needs to be developed. The coach promised to help him in this area and offered to get his son on the case as well.

Shortly thereafter, he stepped up to the line and yelled to my son, who was close by "Torv! Look for the inside ball." Torv looked for the inside ball. A little while later, he could see that the other team was preparing to kick the ball out to touch right where my son was standing on the left wing. In these situations, there is the possibility that the winger could hoick the ball out of the air and start a run for the try line. André yelled, "Torv! Get ready for the kick!" Torv got ready for the kick.

Because he really wants to improve, and because he has high regard for the coaching he gets, Torv responded to this touchline guidance.

And my face lit up like a beacon.

All that coaching, all those drills? That's the 'just in case' learning that you have to have in place in a psychomotor situation. But those calls from the touch line? That's 'just in time'. That's embedded learning, that is. That's learning while doing.

And it works.

What a happy geek I was: on a Sunday afternoon, watching my 17 year old son and his friends demonstrating the outcomes of two different approaches to learning and taking a 20:15 victory in the process.


V Yonkers said...

Your son is lucky he has a coach who is willing to work with him. My son was the kicker for American football for the first time in his last year of school (he had played soccer or football as you call it since he was 7 and wanted to switch). While he had the raw talent, he had very little direction. The position was given to a freshman who's dad coached him on the sidelines. What was unfortunate was that this boy was still growing (literally) so he was small for the team, and he had issues with knowing where his body was on any given day. My son was ok with this as he just wanted to be on the team. At the end of the season, his coach did say he regretted not using my son more and giving him more coaching initially.

Just as a side line, it seems strange to see the images of them playing rugby as we are not able to do so between November and March (at the earliest, often they don't start until April) as the ground is dangerously frozen during that time.

The upsycho said...

@Virginia My son doesn't get anywhere near this level of support from the school coach, I assure you. This is the town team - an altogether different prospect!

In South Africa and the UK, rugby is a winter sport, and is even played (within reason) in the snow. South African pitches are known to be very hard and injuries can be severe... but the understanding is that it is a rough sport and you have to be prepared to take that into account when you play.

My son accidentally dislocated the top joint of one kid's finger yesterday during a tackle. No-one turned a hair.