Lessons in learning

The manner in which we all learn can be categorised in three main ways: watching (visual learning), listening (auditory learning) and doing (kinaesthetic learning).

Some models also include verbal (linguistic learning), social (interpersonal learning) and logical (mathematical learning) categories, too – but visual, auditory and kinaesthetic are the three styles ever-present in all models.

However, when coaching, it is not as simple as selecting the single ‘best’ method of delivery. Few people, if any, will fall completely into one specific learning style.

When people are required to observe in learning situations – such as watching an active demonstration or an explanation on a tactics board – they would likely display characteristics of a ‘visual’ learner.

However, put that same person in a situation where they need to listen to information – such as when a coach issues instructions – and they will more likely show ‘auditory’ learning style traits.

And, when your players are actively participating in a training session, then their ‘kinaesthetic’ learning might come to the fore. In short, people adapt to situations.

Here are three key factors to consider when delivering your coaching sessions:


Mix up your delivery

Using a variety of methods to communicate with players will trigger different learning styles and reinforce your ideas.

For example, discussing the upcoming session will trigger their auditory responses; a tactics board, video or live demonstration will engage visual channels; and live practice reinforces kinaesthetic messages.

It has been shown that females, in particular, are better at switching between the different information channels and would benefit most from this more holistic approach. Additionally, in providing a range of communication and practice situations, players are likely to remain more readily engaged with the content.

Julia West (right) delivering instructions, which will be taken on board by auditory learning – but coaches must trigger players’ visual and kinaesthetic learning routes, too

Practice, practice, practice

Practice reinforces learning. How many times can I get each player to experience a situation? How many times do they need to be in that situation before they start to remember it, learn it and start using it in match performance?

The theory of deliberate practice, which suggests that you need to put in 10,000 hours of practice in order to be expert at something, has its supporters and detractors.

And while I like that it backs up the idea that players need plenty of actual physical practice time and plenty of touches on the ball to develop, do these 10,000 hours take into account when I am delivering auditory and visual learning for the same topic?

Personally, I feel they should – especially if the balance between watching, listening and doing is tipped in favour of doing.


“A variety of methods of   communication will trigger different learning styles…”


Recovery and reflection

A mixture of delivery styles is beneficial also because short intervals of watching and listening complement physical practice, while players rest and recover.

As a goalkeeper coach, some of what I deliver, such as repeatedly diving for a ball, is extremely intense physiologically. To negate the effects of fatigue, I need to ensure my keepers get sufficient rest periods.

I implement a mentally active rest period by asking them to recover while watching others perform, and to compare this with their own performance – could or would I have done that? What would I do in that situation?

Finally, take time to reflect on performance. Reflection is crucial – it is the part where players engage with what they did, what the outcomes were and how it felt for them.

It shouldn’t all be negative but neither might it all be positive. Player reflection should be regularly encouraged, sometimes during the session and sometimes a little while after, to allow time to fully consider how it went.

If the coach doesn’t follow up by asking about the reflection, it suggests it isn’t important. But, as with coach-led feedback – which is vital for learning – reflection is a great source of internal feedback, when carried out well.

Verbalising this feedback can then create a well-considered conversation around performance from an athlete-led perspective.

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