Line-up based learning

Now in the Corona-based learning days, I was watching a webinar from USA Hockey, with Dr. Dean Kriellaars, about how to create “the most effective environment”. Excellent! I agree to a lot of stuff, and it has also given me some perspective, given me more clear terminology on things that I was already on my way to, etc.

But, I have a very good example of something we often do in my classes, and why it’s important for us, although it goes against the theory presented in the Webinar.

Dr. Kriellaars states that it’s important with many repetitions, successful repetitions, so time spent with kids waiting in line is time that you steal from letting them do something repeatedly. I agree, and normally we wouldn’t be doing that. We have a huge Dojo, and we like “activity”. But, with smaller kids, especially on a class where we have practiced breakfalls and throws, I often line the kids up, sitting along the edge of the Tatami. Then I have a small “competition” with each kid, from left to right, and another coach does the same, from right to left. Why?

  • The smaller the kids are, the more likely the “getting quality repetitions in pairs” isn’t working too well for too long, so it’s better to avoid that in a class where it’s not working anyway than to keep wasting time on it that class. I accept a certain degree of kids just grappling around on the floor instead of repeating throws, as long as they have fun and learn, but if no pair is doing “what they should” after some time, I have to come up with something that works much better for still getting SOME repetitions rather than none. This gives us the opportunity to let them do a throw if they do it correctly, and simply stop them from using a bad technique (and then coach them into doing the technique correctly). This will raise the level of quality in the future repetitions in pairs.
  • The smaller the kids are, the more likely it is that hanging out with their friends is their inner motivational factor, rather than “I want to be good at martial arts by actually practicing as much as possible during the limited amount of time I have in the Dojo”. Screaming at kids to shut up is easy, but it doesn’t promote creativity or making good people out of them. Making sure that they stay sitting down in the line and “behaving” (accepting some small talk, as long as it doesn’t disturb) creates a good environment and teaches the kids some sort of level that is useful in other situations as well. Letting the kids always succeed (in front of their friends) will give them confidence. Seeing other kids succeed changes the inner motivational factor to be more connected to our “actual” practice.
  • The smaller the kids are, the more likely they will spend too much focus in class on stopping the partner doing their technique, rather than succeeding with their own technique. This is very useful when it comes to teaching counters! But the alternative to this at a more conservative Dojo is to tell the kids to don’t try to defend anything in class. However, that often creates a culture where everybody “succeeds” all the time, no matter if they do a good technique or not, and in the end, the need for (and understanding of) counters and combinations will be obsolete. So, finding a good balance between getting successful repetitions and making sure you don’t succeed too easily is difficult. Then it might be better to try your technique with the coach, instead of a partner. When small kids do techniques in pairs boys will normally just try to add more strength if they don’t succeed instantly, and girls will normally give the technique up too soon, in order to find another way to succeed. We don’t have to work against these instincts, but it makes it harder for small kids to get successful repetitions of specific techniques.
  • At some level, the kids will get more successful repetitions in pairs rather than waiting in line, as Dr. Kriellaars is saying. If it’s not too many kids in the class, I will do it anyway, but less frequently. It will promote technical aspects over physical, the kids will accept going harder than they can go with each other (while keeping tears and injuries away), and it will show us both things we can work with/on and the level the students are on in a better way than just looking at them practicing in pairs.

I also have an alternative for specific drills, that I will only make if we are at least three or four coaches (or someone from the youth group assisting with smaller kids) and not too many kids per coach. Instead of lining the kids up at the side of the Tatami, we will have different stations, with some form of line next to each instructor. Maybe the drill is to start from having taken the back and stay there, to pass guard, to bridge someone away from mount, and so on. If they succeed in a few seconds, they go to the next station, if not they go to the back of the line. The bigger or more advanced the kid is, the harder we can make it for them, so the level will always be about the same. You win some and lose some, but in the end, you always go through all the stations, and have a number of successful repetitions, in drills that would be too difficult for small kids to even practice in pairs.

So why does this work for us? What is the concept behind it? Probably because if you take a step back and look at this without the “Martial Arts glasses”, 100% of the class is not about learning Jujutsu! So, 100% of the class is not about getting successful repetitions, it’s more about making the kids hang around, getting a solid base for learning.

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