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How to apply the science of learning with your athletes (part 1)

How to apply the science of learning with your athletes (part 1)

We may be sport and performance psychologists, but a lot of our work here at InnerDrive is making resources for education, helping teachers and students understand how learning works.

But we can all learn from these lessons. Why not apply these findings from the education world to sports, and help coaches and athletes understand how to learn more effectively?

This can help athletes to really understand what they are being taught and apply it to their practice so they can perform better. Learning is just as important in sport as it is in the classroom. So, here are some key effects of learning that you really need to know about…

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The Protégé Effect

This refers to how teaching someone else what you’ve learnt helps transfer this information to your long-term memory. Some research has even found that just expecting to teach someone else has benefits, as it requires learners to engage with the material differently.

Research has found that this beneficial because:

How can you use this in sport?

  • Tell players at the beginning of the session that they will teach what they have been learning to one another.
  • Get players to explain different tasks to each other.
  • Remember: coaches should monitor this in order to avoid players spreading misconceptions between themselves.

The Production Effect

The Production Effect describes how an athlete is more likely to remember information if they produce something new with it.

Basically, by making something with the material, a learner is actively engaged in strengthening the connections in their brain, as opposed to passively letting it wash over them.

How to use the Production Effect in sport

  • Get athletes to read key information out loud. One research paper found this enhanced learning by 13%.
  • Encourage athletes to sketch out their thoughts and answers to questions.
  • Get your athletes to perform physical drills based on the learned information.
  • Remember: this strategy is all about the manipulation of information, not the aesthetic quality of what is actually produced.

The Spacing Effect

Another way to both learn more effectively and check for understanding is the Spacing Effect.

Also known as “distributed practice”, this effect states that regularly revisiting material makes learning more efficient and effective compared to doing it all in one session. It essentially means that a when it comes to learning, little and often is better than a lot all at once. In some studies, using spacing instead of cramming has resulted in a 10% to 30% difference in final test result.

There is no optimal time to leave between each chunk of learning – it is related to how long you need to remember the information for. For example, if players need to remember information in a few days’ time, it should probably be revisited every few hours.

How to use the Spacing Effect in sport

  • Regularly revisit information, as much as necessary.
  • You can change revisiting formats – if original learning happened in formal meetings for example, you can still revisit informally in conversations with players.
  • Remember: people forget things quicker than they realise. Players may believe they have it consolidated, but may easily forget it later on after the session.

Final thoughts

Here at InnerDrive, we believe these theories are an important tool for coaches to be aware of to help improve the way athletes learn. They will help athletes to understand and learn better and consequently, perform better.

But this isn’t all we’ve got! Check out part 2 of this blog series right here for three more teaching & learning strategies you can use with your athletes...


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