Todd Beane

Surfing, Soccer & Prototypes - The Way Players Learn

Todd Beane
Surfing, Soccer & Prototypes - The Way Players Learn

I have six children and thus have personally funded a human laboratory in learning and chaos. Those of you with more than two children will understand this blog. I say more than two because once we have three or more children as a couple we are in a “numbers down” match and are just fending off disaster until the bedtime whistle blows. Mom and Dad can handle two kids just fine as they can play “1v1” minimizing damage and controlling the match. 

In my family laboratory and on football pitches worldwide, there are some truths we hold to be evident about learning. Children do not learn the way we tend to coach them. Just observe young people and you will add countless examples to the ones I share here. 

My oldest son wanted to surf at twelve years old. Oddly enough, he did not do drills on the dry sand simulating paddling. He took the board, threw himself into the open sea and gave it a go. He fumbled, tumbled and tossed about in full delight as I watched from the shore. Being a father and coach, I thought I should give him a few critical pointers first. He would have none of it and he proceeded to stand, surf and smile on his own. Iteration upon iteration. 

My four year old started skateboarding. And oddly enough, he did not want to start with a series of Daddy’s drills. Surprise, surprise. Imagine how boring and unproductive that may prove to be. He took the board, went to the skate park, watched a few older boys, and gave it a go. A few scrapes later he dropped in and made his way around the curves to the delight of some far more experienced teenagers.  Positive feedback, a new challenge and a deeper drop. Iteration upon iteration. 

I share these two simple examples and I am sure you can add a million more. Our kids act first and then they seek the skills required to improve and to excel. 

If this is such a natural process, should we not tap into it as coaches?

Prototypes and Iterations

Protos – “first”
Typos – “mold, pattern”

Children do not self-impose inane drills when they go to the beach, the skate park, nor the pitch. We do that. They build prototypes. They play, which in effect is their “first” “mold” of the game. It may be primitive, but they soon refine it. Iteration upon iteration. This is indeed the creative process at work.  They make minor adjustments as the game they play resembles the more mature and sophisticated version they see the pros play.

If we can allow this process to unfold as we “train” the players then we will be exponentially better prepared to facilitate the guided discovery. If our exercises and activities ask the players to make these “first” primitive “molds and patterns” then we are constructing the game conceptually. We are reinforcing the fact that prototypes in their primitive nature are merely less sophisticated versions of the final model we hope to play on the weekend or in the years ahead. 

We must ask players to build prototypes of the game and to think their way through the iterations required to build more sophisticated models.

We can line them up and pretend that children learn by us barking out instructions to execute thoughtless drills. It will feed our ego for sure. It may even appear to the parents that we are in charge of learning. If this is our aim, I suggest that we buy the latest training toys, put on colorful bibs and give onlookers the impression that deep learning is underway. Just to reinforce our authority, we may even want to shout out the word “hustle” every other breath just for effect.

But it will not nourish our young players. 

If we want learning to take place, we must ask our players to do what they do best and do naturally. We must ask them to build prototypes of the game and to think their way through the iterations required to build more sophisticated models. Activities that are self-regulating and self-evident will give our players just the right feedback they need to rethink their models and to seek out the skills and knowledge required to build the next, better version. We may intervene as guides to challenge their assumptions and to applaud their discovery.

After all, we are in the business of player development. And if that still rings true, we have an opportunity to facilitate the learning process for every unique player in our charge. 

Or we can have our kids sit on the beach for dry land training while the waves of life pass them by. 

Surf’s up! Let’s let them ride.