Why do we continue to shout instructions?


Every Instruction Shouted is a Learning Opportunity Lost


In a recent short research project we found that the average time between instructions in Mini Soccer was less than ten seconds.

Get it out, not in there, pass, shoot……….

Go around the footballing fields in any part of the country and even before you get to the pitches you will hear the din of adults…..as you get closer and closer the din becomes clearer and you will start to hear the contents - get it out, pass, shoot, not in there. A constant line of instructions with the pawns trying their hardest to react to them although many of the instructions will mean nothing to a 7 year old (shape is one I often hear shouted).  Having asked a number of coaches about their need to send instructions to the children the majority answer with reference to developing players, I am shouting the instruction to help them, if I don't shout pass how will they know when to do it?


It is this final question that is really the crux of this article, how will they know?  If we were to review this from a schematic point of view (a system of organising and perceiving new information) it will illustrate clearly why an instruction will not help the learner.  In the first instance Schmidt suggests that we need to develop Generalised Motor Patterns (GMP) for each of the skills that we can produce such as passing, shooting, dribbling and these skills can be learned within a number of frameworks such as a coaching environment, play, deliberate practice.  However, unless put into the context of the game in which they will need to be exhibited the skills are nigh on useless.

In order to be able to execute the skills within the game a player needs to develop both their recall and recognition schema.  The recall schema provides information to your GMP so that you can make the correct decision.  For example when running on goal the keeper comes off his line this should provide you with the information to perform a lob in which your brain goes to the filing cabinet that holds this information on how to perform the lob and how much height, power and spin is required to execute it.  As we then perform the technique our recognition schema will tell us through the feel of the action whether we have been successful even before the ball has reached the goal.


So how does an instruction effect this process, quite simply put it prevents the recognition schema from being built.  The long term aim of each of the processes is that they become automated and in effect we do not even need to think about them, in order to be able to achieve this the cues mustcome from play and trial and error and not external cues otherwise the experiences cannot be stored for recall at a later date.  For example if as the player was running through the coach shouted “lob him” this would not be stored for recollection as the player has responded to the cue not the environment in which he found himself.

Whilst this ability to learn new skills and be able to replicate them automatically at any given time is of huge importance it is our belief that the failure to provide this environment is not the biggest issue surrounding over instructing.  Evidence is clear that there are huge benefits of sport such asincreased health, improved cognitive ability and career prospects.  However in this instance we will concentrate mainly upon health issues. The World Health organisation has recently described the obesity epidemic as a ticking time bomb and for the first time in human history there are more overweight than underweight people on the planet.  Whilst some of the blame can be put at the feet of the food industry or people’s poor eating habits we must also acknowledge that people’s movement has declined.  With all the other pulls on a young person’s time such as the technological advances and the attraction of the X Box we as coaches must make sport and other movement activities as appealing as possible.  

In order to make sport attractive we must give children more control over the activities in which they partake.  By giving the children control they will focus on their efforts and enjoy the sport, furthermore they will practice more and look to attain higher levels.  We need to get away from an purely instructional coach led environment and involve the child in the process and provide a 360 degree learning process rather than a simply coach knows all approach.  



There are numerous reports and research into why children leave sport but in these reports the overwhelming reasons are that they are no longer fun and too much emphasis on winning.  Think about the last time you did anything and you had someone constantly telling you how to do it, how much fun was it?  Little Bobby has just been watching his hero use his favourite skills and has tried to use it in the game to the crescendo of “just play it simple” how many times “play the simple pass” Bobby was dreaming of doing the Elastico past the last defender to score the winning goal in the World Cup……he was very quickly brought back to the cold muddy pitch in the middle of February and instead of experimenting and trying new things he is only encouraged to play simply, children don't want to play simply they want to be their idols they want to be creative, try new things be exciting dare we say it be children playing.

CLICK LINK:            https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ReKw6J5tK2c

What we need to do is give the sports back to the children and relax, remember it is just a game but this game has far reaching and long lasting consequences if we get it wrong.  We need to encourage more play, more spontaneity and remove the 50 minutes of pain for 10 minutes of game and in that game the adults need to be quiet and let the children work it out for themselves as Melunsteen states “once the ball is moving the coaches need to be quiet”.

If we go back to that original paragraph and the answer “if i don't shout pass how will they know” and analyse this for a bit.  Lets take the positive out of this- the coach shouts “shoot” and the child shoots and scores, the result of this is that the child feels great for scoring, the team feel great the coach feels justified and the parents are happy that there is a goal scored.  On the face of it the shouting of an instruction is a positive part of the game.  In the short term I would agree with this but should we just be looking at the short term?  The longer term effect is that instruction has between limited and no effect on the child’s learning and the more disturbing effects could be that this promotion of an adult centred approach will result in many of the children leaving the game and organised sport forever.  The roles and responsibilities of a coach are not to be underestimated as they can have massively positive or negative long term effects on children’s lives, short term wins should never ever outweigh the long term.