A Soccer Masterclass

Published by MrHonner on

Over the past few years I’ve attended around 100 youth soccer classes. Apart from the joy (and occasional frustration) of watching my children learn the game, it’s been interesting observing the classes from a teacher’s perspective.

I’ve seen lots of ineffective instruction. Too much teacher talking. Too much student sitting. Confusing directions. Meaningless metaphors. Wildly inaccurate assessment of prior knowledge. A lack of context for skill development. To be fair, the instructors are almost always warm, well-intentioned, and passionate; they simply aren’t properly trained as teachers. Observing them has been an enlightening professional experience.

But when the head of the program’s curriculum development led a recent class, the difference was dramatic. I watched with another parent, also a teacher, who described it as a masterclass on youth sport instruction. She was right.

Here were some of the most noticeable features:

  • The teacher simultaneously conveyed warmth, invitation, and authority
  • Routines were immediately established to capture students’ attention
  • Though only teaching the class for a single day, the teacher learned and used students’ names
  • Students had freedom to make choices, like poses to strike when freezing the ball, or names for each side of the practice field
  • The teacher masterfully blended seriousness and silliness

The students were moving for most of the class, and they were clearly having fun. It was an obviously successful lesson.

What was more subtle, and perhaps more impressive to me given my previous observations, was the instructional content. The students were engaged in activities that served a fundamental and developmentally-appropriate soccer skill: finding and moving into open space. And this goal was clearly communicated, both explicitly and through the instructional design of the activities.

It may seem funny that a group of five-year-olds running around in the park prompted some deep reflection on high school math instruction. But good teaching is good teaching. And regardless of the context, it’s a pleasure to behold.

Categories: Teaching


Sendhil Revuluri · April 23, 2018 at 12:51 am

Great post! Thanks for describing what you saw and pulling out such salient points.

Very curious about two points:
– How did you feel like the instructor assessed the kids’ knowledge and skill, and
– How did the instructor use what he/she surfaced to make decisions?

And of course, RIP the late, great Grant Wiggins.
He was a big fan of soccer, and in particular highlighted “finding and moving into open space”.
Reminds me also of Bruner: “We begin with the hypothesis that any subject can be taught effectively in some intellectually honest form to any child at any stage of development.”

    MrHonner · April 23, 2018 at 2:32 pm

    Yes, I felt like I was channeling a bit of Grant Wiggins here. “Create dangerous space on offense” he said.

    This was the first class of the season. The instructor appeared to have a good sense of the level of knowledge and skill of the incoming students. The teacher individually assessed (and provided feedback) during the activities, and extended the activities (with novel variations) as students struggled to balance the high-level goals (find open space) with the low-level goals of keeping moving, avoiding others, and maintaining possession of the ball.

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