By Tyler Fenwick, Head Coach
Missouri University of Science and Technology
As a staff, we continuously discuss how we can grab the focus and attention to our student athletes in our position meetings and practices. The daily position meetings and practices can become monotonous and routine if you don’t challenge the minds of the players. Our student athletes at Missouri S&T are dealing with a rigorous academic schedule filled with lectures, labs, study groups, etc. as a large number of them are studying to become engineers or other STEM careers. So, when they show up to the position meeting or practice, we have to find ways to shift their mind and focus to learning football and away from the typical classroom setting in which they have been sitting in all day.
A few years ago I was introduced to the flipped teaching method which reverses the order in which material is taught. In most learning environments a student sits in the classroom for an hour and listens to a professor lecture the material as the student takes notes and then is assigned homework after the class to do at home and bring the work back. In the flipped teaching method, the lecture or material that is to be learned is given prior to the class either through reading or a video lecture and then during the class time the material is practiced and discussed. The attention span of students these days doesn’t do well sitting in a classroom listening to one person for an entire hour.
A group of professors from different departments on campus were holding a seminar on the flipped teaching method so I e-mailed the person organizing the seminar and informed her that myself and my coaching staff would be attending. She questioned why we would be interested in the subject, so I explained, we as coaches are just as much teachers as anyone else on campus. We teach the game of football just as a history or math teacher would teach their subject. Needless to say, the professors at the seminar were impressed to find out we did more than just show up to practice and games and throw a football around.
The way we, as a football staff, use the flipped teaching method in our football program is done in a variety of different ways. Leading up to fall camp or spring practice when we are installing our offense we will video a short “lecture” of what we are going to install on day 1 for example. I will break up the videos into short 3-5 min segments. The first segment may be how we call our personnel groupings, another may be what formations
we are installing on the first day, another would be what run plays we are putting in and so on and so forth. Once the short lecture videos are completed I can sync them with video clips if need be or with illustrations. You can be as creative as you would like to be with how you put your video together. After the video is uploaded to the video system it is sent to each player in the position group. Now the player can view the video lecture from anywhere – lap top, phone, computer lab, dorm room, etc. In our case, our quarterback can study the 5 minute video in between taking a break from studying for his physics exam or in between classes while at the computer lab or at lunch on campus viewing it on his phone.
When the athlete attends the meeting he will already know what the material is going to be about and we can now spend the time answering questions, or discussing further depth of the material. I can put together a list of questions for the players to quiz them on what the lecture video discussed to see what they have retained, or if they understand it. Or I can have a player from the group re-teach what was on the video. We have now taken the material they need to learn, given them the tools and made them accountable to knowing it. We have also cut down the amount of time the athletes are sitting in the meeting room.
If your lecture does have video cut ups on it, I do recommend watching the cut-up in the meeting room again only because I don’t believe watching cut-ups on a phone is the best way and the athletes may need clarification on what to watch on the video. I feel there may be some detail missed by watching on such a small screen. Instead of a classroom meeting you may decide that after sending out the lecture you follow it up with a walk through. You can use this time to review the video lecture on the field in a more active way, again changing the learning environment for the student athlete. The other advantage is that the athlete can always go back and re-listen to the lecture to review.
Narrowing the Focus at Practice
The repetitiveness of practice can become too routine to the point where the athletes will start practice by going through the motions and just get through it. Again, our athletes at Missouri S&T have been through a rigorous day of classes and labs, etc. and get to practice not completely focused on football. They may be there physically, but there mind may not be completely there. We have created different ways to narrow the focus to football. We want them to clear their mind of everything else for two hours and focus on what they need to accomplish on the football field mentally and physically. In order to physically perform, you need to mentally be prepared. Our first ten minutes of practice is always some kind of special teams practice. One day may be the punters, snappers and returners perfecting their skill. Another day may be kickers, snappers and holders working on field goals. Everyone else is with their individual coaches either going through individual drills or talking through scheme as an offense or defensive unit. The next ten minutes of practice is our stretch routine. After we stretch is when we incorporate the focus technique.
5 and Back
The first exercise I like to start with since we are only in helmets is the 5 and back get off on the whistle. This is a full speed get off (from a 3 point stance) 5 yards, touch the line with the hand and sprint back. It is not a taxing or tiring exercise, yet the focus is on getting off of the line on the whistle, physically bending down to touch the line and sprinting back through the line. The coaching staff is watching each line making sure everything is done correctly. If it is not done correctly then we start the drill over. This is not a difficult task. If a player can’t simply touch a line, what makes me think he will be accountable to playing the correct gap on defense or dropping into the correct coverage?