Thursday, 11 March 2010

The Kangaroo Court!

Sticking with the theme from my previous post on team cohesion this post is going to look at a really fun way of developing a really tight cohesive community at your box. As I mentioned before, my experience with some of the best coaches in Welsh rugby has thrown up some great ideas that can easily be incorporated into a CrossFit community.
One of the first things you need to do is set up a "committee". The roles within this "committee"can include anything you like, but the best "committees" all have some common roles!!
  • The Judge - as the name suggests the judge rules on EVERYTHING his word is the LAW(this could be you the affiliate owner or one of your senior members)
  • Entertainment Secretary - responsible for organising any social events for the members.
  • The Prosectution - Put forward any "cases" to the Judge (chalk on floor, bars not stripped and weights returned to stack after every session-repeat offender!!!!)
  • The Defence - Defend any cases that the Prosectution put forward
  • Cheif Weights & Measures - Ensures what exactly the punishment will be (50 burpees. 2 pints, 2 shots on the head etc etc)
  • The Bailiffs/Enforcers - Ensures that punishments are carried out by whatever means nesscessary!!
  • Chief Snitch - Reports/spies/rats on/ snitches on EVERYONE except the Judge and reports to the prosecution, their identity must remain hidden from other members.
Once you have assigned these roles you can hold a monthly "Kangaroo Court" maybe at the same time that you annouce your member of the month and basically let rip!!! You can deal with all sorts of stuff - turning up late to class, not putting euipment back, knocking teeth out on the pullup bar, innappropriate / offensive workout clothing(Ron Hills) the list is endless.
I think the best way to explain what I mean is to show you a clip of a real old school Kangaroo Court! Have a watch and post your thoughts to comments!!!

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Team Cohesion

During my rugby career I was fortunate to play for 2 of Welsh Rugbys most famous clubs (and most bitter rivals!) - Llanelli RFC "The Scarlets" and Swansea RFC "The Whites". I consider myself extremely lucky as during my time at both clubs I was coached by not 1 but 2 British Lions - Scott Quinnell and Richard Webster. Both coaches had extensive technical knowledge but very contrasting ways in which that information was delivered. However it is some of the off field "team building" strategies that were used in an attempt to forge a happy, cohesive and ultimately winning team that I believe can help us as affiliate owners.
Our members, our communnity are basically a team and if we can develop a strong cohesive team then the community element of our boxes will flourish.

Team cohesion can be defined as "a dynamic process that is reflected in the tendency of a team to stick together and remain united in pursuit of its goals and objectives despite difficulties and set-backs. It is distinguished from group cohesion by the importance in team cohesion of dynamic processes and the pursuit of team goals".

I am sure you are all familiar with the "man of the match" concept, the media were usually responsible for selecting a "Star Choice" during our matches and it did serve as a good motivational tool. However one really clever take on the "man of the match" tag was introduced by Scott. After everygame he would get the players to vote on who their MOM was, coaches and technical staff had no input only players. To recieve that acolade from your fellow players took the meaning of the award to a whole new level, there were no extrinsic rewards just the respect from your teamates and this sent motivation levels through the roof!!

So how does this relate to our boxes?
Consider having a "Star Choice" or whatever you want to call it that is voted for by your members after every WOD. Put that name all over your whiteboards and blog and let them select it using whatever criteria feels right for that WOD. It could be a firebreather that has hit a new PB, the new graduate from your On Ramp who has just "gutz out a workout" or your member who has hit one of their targets from their individual programme that they have been working on for months and performed a WOD RX'D for the first time.
Track who wins what and have a overall member of the month who gets certain privelges e.g best car parking spot or all their bars and equipment loaded and stripped for them by others, t-shirt whatever, the prize is irrelevant. If you can arrange a few beers together or something similar you can then present the "Member of the Month" and make it a real highlight of your community. This will start to form a very tight cohesive team! My next post will look at some other fun/beer related ways to develop team cohesion at your box!
"The magic is in the movement, the art is in the programming, the science is in the explanation and the fun is in the community.” –Greg Glassman

Sunday, 21 February 2010

Learning Styles Part 2

In part 1 I discussed the 7 intelligences as proposed by Howard Gardner and how they determine the way in which information is transferred to learners. Part 2 will deal with practical ideas to use in the day to day coaching at your box.
The term VAK was a big buzz word in teaching a few years ago and teachers started teaching lessons that catered to visual, auditory and kinaesthetic learners. As PE teachers we could not understand what all the fuss was about as we had always taught this way and were always coached in our respective sports in this way. We just called it something different:
  • Visual Guidance
  • Verbal Guidance
  • Manual Guidance

Visual Guidance
This is the use of a demonstration to help guide the performer to form a mental picture and reproduce the movement. The demonstration, or model, must be as perfect as possible and must be realistic. Forms of demonstration other than live models can be used, for example photos, diagrams (although very static) and video. The display can also be enhanced by increasing the visual stimulus, for example placing targets on the floor for the jumping/landing phases of an Olympic lift.
Verbal Guidance
This is thought to be the least useful style of guidance when used in isolation. It is most often used in conjunction with visual guidance. The teacher/coach provides cues for the athlete to remind them of parts of the skill, for example, saying "elbows up" to a athlete performing a front squat. It is important to consider, when using verbal guidance, if the performer understands what is being said, if they can remember the information being given and if they can translate this into an action.
Manual Guidance
Manual guidance can come from another person or an object to help the performer learn a movement whilst building confidence and getting a sense of how it should feel. Examples of guidance are a teacher/coach moving an athletes knees out so they track over the toes through the required motion in a squat, and using bands when learning to do a pull up or handstand. The kind of guidance where the teacher/coach guides the athlete through a movement is known as forced response. This is useful to give the athlete a feel for the movement although if it is used continuously they may become dependant on it or lose motivation.

Gardners multiple intellegences can largely be catagorised in one of the three forms of guidance. Liguistic = verbal etc. It is in the form of "guidance" coaches tend to be most comfortable with.

In the post Differentiation in CrossFit I talked about the need for individualsied programming and how some coaches may be relucatant to do this as they may feel the athlete is not getting the coaching / attention they are paying for. Consider the use of coaching cue cards and video clips in your everyday coaching.

The coaching cue cards are nothing more than a few pictures and some written coaching points. The CrossFit Journal is an obvious source to create them from. The issue on the squat for example contains some great pictures of good and bad technique as well as some clear easily understood coaching points (eventually you may want to create your own with the help of your members). These will be great for linguistic/visual learners etc

The video clips are simply clips of certain movements that can be paused, analysed etc. Set up a laptop with a bank of clips (again the mainsite/journal is a great source) or if you want to go gangsta hook up a laptop to a projector. Athletes can then study movement over and over which will be a big benefit to visual learners. These days everyone has a camera phone with video capabilities encourage your athletes to film each other so they can get instant visual feedback and correct faults accordingly.

Imagine your class, athletes working on movements programmed for them, coaching themselves via learning styles that best suit them. This allows you to get around everyone in the class and give them some of your specific expertese safe in the knowledge that everyone is benefiting from excellent coaching just in a format you may not be used to!!

Wednesday, 17 February 2010

Learning Styles Part 1

Once learners were thought to have a genetic disposition for learning, or not, which was measured by their ‘IQ’. This placed an upper limit on their possible achievement. Some students were thought to reach their ‘ceiling’ after which further teaching would be in vain.

This is no longer thought to be the case. Experts on the brain and on learning now stress that everyone can learn more, if they are taught appropriately, whatever they have previously achieved.

Howard Gardner's Multiple Intelligence Theory was first published in Howard Gardner's book, Frames Of Mind (1983), and quickly became established as a classical model by which to understand and teach many aspects of human intelligence, learning style, personality and behaviour - in education and industry. Howard Gardner initially developed his ideas and theory on multiple intelligences as a contribution to psychology, however Gardner's theory was soon embraced by education, teaching and training communities, for whom the appeal was immediate and irresistible.

Basically Gardner proposed that there were 7 intelligences (styles of learning):
  1. Linguistic (words and language)
  2. Logical / Mathematical (logic and numbers)
  3. Musical (music, sound, rhythm)
  4. Kinaesthetic / Bodily (body movement and control)
  5. Spatial / Visual (images and space)
  6. Interpersonal (other peoples feelings)
  7. Intrapersonal (self awareness)

The types of intelligence that a person possesses (Gardner suggests most of us are strong in three types) indicates not only a persons capabilities, but also the manner or method in which they prefer to learn and develop their strengths - and also to develop their weaknesses.
So for example:
A person who is strong musically and weak numerically will be more likely to develop numerical and logical skills through music, and not by being bombarded by numbers alone.

This can have a huge impact on how you coach your athletes. Imagine an athlete who is struggling with the clean. You have demonstrated correct form and technique and given him every possible verbal cue for the clean that has ever existed at precisely the right time, yet the athlete still does not get it. One of two things can happen here:

1) The athlete becomes demotivated and frustrated and gives up trying to learn the clean because "it's just too hard".

2) The athlete becomes demotivated and frustrated and gives up on CrossFit altogether as they "just can't do it and everything is so complicated and I'm always sore.........". It easy for things to quickly snowball when your confidence is low!

So what is the problem here? Yup you guessed it, the information being transferred to the athlete does not match that athletes learning style or intelligences. Only verbal (linguistic) and visual (spatial/visual) learning styles have been used and it is clear that they are not the way this athlete learns best. Lets say the athlete has a strong musical intelligence a simple little rhyme like "hips,shoulders arms last and fast" may be enough for it to "click" with the athlete and a potentially de-motivated, frustrated athlete can be avoided!

Its is obviously not always that straight forward and in Part 2 I will try and suggest ways in which we can cater to each of the 7 intelligences when using CrossFit cues to improve performance. The cues do not have to change just the way we deliver them!!

In the meantime get your athletes to take this simple test that will identify which learning styles suit them. You do not have to know each individuals learning style. Get your athletes to know how they learn most effectively so they can rock up to a session and tell you "hey I'm logical and spacial learner" then when you are working with them you know how to deliver your cues!! I know it sounds a bit hippyish but it really does work!!

Tuesday, 16 February 2010

Differentiation in CrossFit Classes

One of the biggest discussion points in my A-Level PE lessons is the role of the "coach" as opposed to the role of the "teacher" are they the same thing or completely different. The Coach vs Teacher is the topic of a number of research papers in Physical Education and a host of opinions and viewpoints have been documented. To give a brief summary:

Traditionally teaching is very directive and technique focused, teachers can be depicted as quite authoritarian with emphasis framed within a rigid, inflexible structure and that decision making is that of the teacher. The transfer of information is indicative of one-way flow (i.e. from teacher to athlete). Therefore teaching may be looked upon as instructing and presumes that the athlete doesn't have any prior knowledge of the skill being taught.

Alternatively the coach should be focused on the growth and development of the athlete and Lombardo (2001) believes that the coaches’ role is to create better human beings.
Coaches should help the athletes reach their goals by providing the most positive learning
environment that best meets that athletes needs and as athletes have varied learning
preferences so too the coach should be respectful by modifying his or her delivery methods to
suit (Kidman, 2005)

Once education was a sieve. The weaker students were ‘sieved out’ and they left the classroom for the world of work, while the able students were retained for the next level. ‘Drop outs’ were planned for, and seen not just as inevitable but as desirable. Put bluntly, the aim was to discover those who could not cope, and get rid of them.

In the last 10 years the teaching profession has advanced immeasurably, the days of chalk and talk are long gone. Teachers now deal with a plethora of differences in every lesson: learning style, age, motivation, prior learning and experience, gender, specific learning difficulties such as dyslexia, and so on. Teachers once taught courses, subjects and classes. But no more. Now we are teaching individuals and the methods we are using can have a profound benefit to the athletes that train at your box.

As I have mentioned when teachers are planning a lesson factors such as learning style, age, motivation, prior learning and experience, gender and specific learning difficulties all have to be accounted for (I will address topics such as learning styles and how they can help your athletes in future posts). Clearly there are a number of factors to account for in every lesson! If teachers do not plan lessons considering these factors then this can result in the learning experience of pupils being severely diluted.
Imagine a gymnastics vaulting lesson where I am trying to teach a headspring. Three lanes of trampette, long box and landing mats. Pupils form three queues, one from each attempts the vault on my command, this scenario (one which was commonplace in gymnastics lessons) has a number of problems:

  1. Pupils have to perform in front of the whole class and therefore are exposed, no problem if you are a competent vaulter but a huge problem if you are not.
  2. No consideration given to your ability (just get on with it!).
  3. Risk of injury from improper technique and lack of confidence.
  4. Hiding (keep going to back of the queue so you never have to vault and hope Sir doesn't realise).
  5. No consideration given to your goals.
  6. Failure leads to loss of motivation and possible behaviour problems.
  7. Competent pupils quickly get bored from the lack of challenge and can also become de-motivated or disruptive.

The teacher is in complete control and there is no room for pupil led practice.

So what is the alternative? Differentiation!

‘Differentiation is….. the process of identifying, with each learner, the most effective strategies for achieving agreed targets’(Weston 1992).

That same lesson differentiated may include a number of small groups each working on different components of the vault. One group may be working on their run up and take off, another practising headstands while the more advanced pupils may be performing the full vault but moving the trampette further and further away from the box in an attempt to get more flight.

This type of scenario can easily be seen in most CrossFit classes. Think of a typical class, the format is usually warm up, work on the major skill involved in that particular WOD and then get stuck into the workout. Immediately you can see that there will be athletes who will become demotivated at having to perform a heavily scaled movement as the full movement is beyond their present ability. Firebreathers will also become bored at having to practice and drill a movement that they already have dialled in. Either way this is not good for you or your athletes in the long run. Do not misunderstand me, there is still a place for a coach led command style classes examples of which may include teaching a new complex skill or working with beginners in an On Ramp scenario, it is in your mixed ability WOD classes where differentiation can have the biggest impact. It is important to note differentiation is not scaling. Scaling deals with load, reps, ROM etc differentiation is concerned with changing how you deliver to accomodate different learning needs.

How would a differentiated CrossFit class look?

The first most important factor is to sit down with your athlete and identify some goals. I have found the use of a "I suck at" board to be a big help. The first persons name on the board is mine and I do this to show athletes its ok to suck at something and admit to it!! Alternatively the use of a training diary is very effective whatever method,the goals must be recorded! Try to identify 3 short term goals and 1 long term goal. If you are dealing with someone very new to CrossFit e.g someone who has just completed your On Ramp program then the goal setting process will be largely decided by you. If you are dealing with a more experienced CrossFitter then they can take responsibility for planning their goals along with some input from you. Make sure the goals stick to the S.M.A.R.T.E.R principle. The whole goal setting process is invaluable as it gives your athlete something to focus on but also allows you to develop an understanding and relationship. Next you need to dedicate time during a class for the individual to work towards these goals. Karl at CrossFit 3D calls this "individual programming". During this time athletes work on whatever goals they are working towards, it could be better balance in the 10 physical skills so their time may be spent doing some strength work or improving flexibility or it can be a specific skill such as a kipping pull up. The idea of "individual programming" during a group class may seem unachievable. Granted it cannot work for everyone as the beauty of CrossFit is that each box is different and so you may not have the equipment to cater for multiple activities. If you are the only coach you may feel unable to get around all athletes to offer them the coaching they have paid for (I will offer some suggestions to this in future posts). Some may feel that allowing athletes the freedom to do what they want is a easy option and not what coaching is about. Make no mistake you are still coaching and in someways only very experienced coaches can work this way as you will need to have a wide range of knowledge as you could be coaching a squat, then a snatch and then a muscle up and so your knowledge, ability to spot and correct faults is tested in a much more demanding way than if you were just teaching one movement to the whole class. Housner and Griffey (1985) noted that during classes experienced coaches were concerned with athlete skill development while novice coaches focused on ensuring that the athletes were active, content, and obedient.

Once the "Individual Programming" is complete the whole class then performs that days workout as usual and so all the benefits that the group WOD brings are still there.

There will come a time when it is necessary to sit down with the athlete and discuss the goals they set and if they were achieved. This assessment of the learning process is again invaluable as it will help to plan the next set of goals and give the athlete a tangible gauge of the progress they are making. A school type 'report card' could be used where you as the coach make a written assessment on the athletes performance at certain times during the year. This will act as a superb motivational tool as all your athletes will being aiming for 'a good report' and at key points in the year it will generate a good buzz and plenty of banter at your box and more importantly it will chart your athletes progress.

Things for you to consider:

  1. Indentify goals/targets with your athletes
  2. Record them
  3. Individually Programme for your athletes
  4. Allow time for athletes to work on their individual programme
  5. At certain times in the year assess what learning has taken place
  6. Produce a 'Report Card' for your athletes

Next post "Learning Styles and how you can alter your delivery of CrossFit cues to suit different learning styles"