Coach education

12. Learning about learning

Learning to learn

Metacognition is the ability to learn about what you are learning. Or to think about our thinking. It is an essential aspect of expert coaching, but one of the trickiest to deliver and assess.

Children at MoF are potentially learning in lots of ways. Some knowledge will come from the coach of course, but they will also be learning during sessions from their peers, and exploring things themselves. Much learning will be happening between sessions too, so the child that left your session last week isa different one to the one who turns up this week.

If children can understand more about how those changes are happening, then they are better able to understand how they learn new things and where and how they get information, inspiration and acquire new skills.

A typical end-of-session question to the children might be "What did we learn today?". But a deeper and more profoundly impactful question could be "How did you learn things today?" By focusing on the process rather than the outcome, we firstly acknowledge that learning outcomes themselves are hard (impossible?) to identify in a one-hour session, and secondly that our understanding of the learning process is more valuable than the actual learning that may have taken place.


Definition: Taking skills from one context and using them in another

What skills? (in MoF context)

  • Technical football skills
  • Tactical football skills (decision-making in game-based activities)
  • Physical and movement skills (related to football)
  • Problem-solving skills (working with others)
  • Social and communication skills (working with others)
  • Confidence and creativity skills (related to football)

Further MoF context

  • One hour per week
  • No knowledge of what they are learning outside of MoF (school work or other football learning)
  • Football skills practices without competitive or larger-format games

So, what can we do?    

Bridge the skills through the game formats into larger sided games

1v1  >  2v2  >  3v3  >  4v4  >  5v5


  • When to pass and when to dribble? (creating and using 2v1 overloads). This could be taught in small 2v1 activities, but then bridged into a 3v3 game.
  • Can you take the 2v2 skills and use them in a 4v4? E.g. Creating width as a pair in attack, or depth in defence in a 2v2, and then relate this to the 4-person situation of a 4v4.

The session plan below was used in the Nov 2016 Coaches Meeting to demonstrate how the skills of Staying on the Ball can be bridged from using these skills individually, to using them as a pair, to using them as a small team.

The Growth Mindset

We need to ensure we deliver learning in a way which promotes curiousity, exploration and risk-taking. Children shouldn't see themselves as a 'fixed-asset' with no capacity to grow. We need to understand that humans change and developp throughout their lives, often in unpredictable ways, and those journeys are not linear and rarely smooth.

The graphic above compares two views on development and learning. On the left, the 'fixed mindset' sees intelligence as static. This could be a child who has always been told they are 'good at football', a 'natural talent'. How will they cope when other children start catching up? It might be better that instead of praising for them for their talent, help them to understand how they developed their skills through practice. On the left side is the 'growth mindset', where intelligence is viewed as something which can be developed. This is a more exciting, flexible and real view of learning.

As teachers and coaches, we need to remember that the children in front of us are not finished products. The diagram below was put together from an experienced football team coach, looking back on the ability levels of various children in his team, since he started coaching them all at age 6:

You can see the different stages of growth and change that happened for each child. These changes are largely unpredictable. Our coaching and attitude needs to remember that: All we can say about a wonderful 7 year old footballer, is that they are a wonderful 7 year old footballer. How can we help children understand their own journeys and learning so they don't limit themselves based on their current ability?

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Mark Carter

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