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The Self-Reflection Tool

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Many of the children in the MoF programme have been with us for several years. Something that I have observed over these years is that children seem to make most progress with us in their first and second year compared to their third and fourth year. There are probably several reasons for this, but one of them I believe is that learners become comfortable with what they can do within a specific environment and their learning speed seems to halt. When a new child joins us - and everything is fresh and different - they have not yet set any boundaries on what is possible for them, and they learn quickly and erratically. But later, after two or three years, they have worked out how to cope in the environment and they seem less thoughtful and less challenged. They have reached what Joshua Foer calls an "OK Plateau".

An OK Plateau: We're happy with how good we've become at this, and we're happy to turn on auto-pilot

- Joshua Foer


This idea of an OK Plateau for children learning football may be familiar with other coaches too I imagine. I quite often see coaches asking questions to groups in their football sessions. They say things like "What does this kind of movement create?" and all the kids answer "Space!". Yet, back in the practice session their movements are as they were before, and it is clear that the answer of "Space" is a learned, autonomous response to an over-used question. Sometimes I think that children are just going through the motions of the session, appearing to be learners, without actually seeing themselves as learners.

I often think about the relationship between what the coach plans to teach in a session and what the children actually learn in a session. As coaches, we should come to a session having planned everything the children will learn, and having considered in detail how we will teach it. Yet if you ask the kids when they are leaving the session "What did you learn today?", then most of them will look at you blankly. Of course, this does not mean that they haven't learnt anything. Often the things we learn are not easily described in words, especially not straight after the learning event. But I wonder how well the key things the children have learnt correlate to the learning outcomes that the coach had planned.

At Ministry of Football we believe in learning through play. It is a real challenge to keep all the children focussed on our learning outcomes while also giving them the freedom to play and make their own decisions. It is normal in all education in sport and at school for the teacher to choose a topic for a session. Learning is seen as something all the children do en masse, on the same topic, lead by the teacher. But do all the children really need to work on the same area?

As coaches, we rarely ask the children what they want to work on, or what part of their skills do they feel most need work. Perhaps it would be too challenging for the coach to have this kind of feedback. How would we manage and deliver a programme that was lead by the children?

The concept of the OK Plateau is just as relevent to the coach as it is to the learner. As coaches, we reach OK Plateau's where we are often happy to repeat familiar sessions, and stop challenging ourselves to be better and to try new things. We need to shake things up sometimes in order to challenge and test ourselves.

A solution

The Ministry of Football Self-Reflection Tool will give children the chance to assess their own skills in football performance, practice and learning. It will help them develop goals for their future, and provide teaching and learning materials for them to help them reach their goals. In this way, we will allow children to take more ownership of their own learning, and empower them to become better learners (not just of football).

For coaches, we will no longer be deciding what to teach, and delivering the same session to all children. Instead we will be responsive to the chosen needs of the children, and will need to plan and deliver activities and interventions which are tailor made for the individual children we are responsible for. The idea of this is to take both teacher and learner off their OK Plateaus, and get them climbing mountains once again. 

Diagram: The key drivers and concepts behind the Self-Reflection Tool

1. Ownership of Learning

Learning is something very personal. It is different for everyone. It rarely happens by force, but can be hugely accelerated under the correct conditions. At Ministry of Football we believe that the essential condition for high-octane learning is that it is driven by the learner. Football sessions should not involve teachers dragging the learning out of the child. We want to create people who can love to learn, and who have the skills to learn for themselves. It is likely that we will produce a much wider variety of footballer (and person) if we hand the steering wheel over to the child and let them learn to lead the way.

2. Flipped Learning

Flipped learning is the idea that learners do homework before the session, and come to the session having researched the background of what they will learn, and practised some of the key points. A simple football example might be that children watch videos of various turns or moves, and practice two or three of these on their own in the week before a coached session. They then attend the session, and the coach works on how to use what they've learned in a game situation. The coach and the group don't waste session time doing the technical practice, they can get straight into the meat of the session.

For more information on Flipped Learning, visit the excellent

3. The Internet as a Learning Resource for Football

A key ingredient on Flipped Learning is the use of online learning material. With the growth of YouTube in particular, children are less reliant on the teacher to learn knowledge and even master practical skills. In football, there are some excellent videos and learning materials on the web. In order to make these effective as teaching tools, the correct knowledge needs to be identified. This knowledge needs to be easy-to-learn from good quality video, and the correct questions or tasks given to the learner. The Self-Reflection Tool provides all this for the learner. 

4. Better Using the Skills of Expert Coaches

The key part of the Self-Reflection process is action. Without action, reflection is a redundant method in skill development. The football session itself is still the centre of learning for football, and the coach takes on an even more important and even more highly-skilled role. In a group of 12 children, there will probably be many different areas that they have chosen to work on. The coach will need to be familiar with the areas that the children have chosen to improve, and also familiar with the child themselves (What stage are they at? How will they respond to tuition or suggestion? etc). Interventions and activities will need to be tailored to what each child needs. The coach is no longer the leader of the session, but an additional and expert support person for learning.

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I am amazed by the early progression and skill acquisition of children when they join the Ministry of Football programme. If we could keep that development continuing at  that rate for longer then we could dramatically enhance the quality of player and person that leaves the programme years later. The Self-Reflection Tool may be part of the solution. You can download the Tool and read more about it by clicking on the link below.

The MoF Self-Reflection Tool (SRT)

I envisage trialling the MoF SRT in early 2014, and improving and enhancing what we offer based on the feedback we get. I would love to hear from people who are doing similar things or who want to get involved in what we are doing. I think there are huge and exciting opportunities for developing a similar Tool for coaches, or for goalkeepers, or for referees - the possibilities are endless! One thing I am currently struggling with is how we measure success of a SRT intervention. It would be good to be able to easily evaluate the impact of what we've done.

Mark Carter, February 2014

Thanks Liam.
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March 26, 2014 | Registered CommenterMinistry of Football

I would love to get involved in what you are doing. I attended a Youth Development FA event recently where the focus was on 'delvering/developing the practice' which was good, particularly the practical which was with 15 year olds rather than adults and a lot of the points you make above are spot on. The talk was encouraging and there is definitely a concerted effort to change the way we coach our youth going on at the FA but the practice is not yet matching the talk. I believe that one of the biggest obstacles is rhetorical. The 'Language' hasn't been found yet. Most of the qualified/qualifying coaches seem to be conventional thinkers who are struggling to incorporate the ideas into the practice. Its all well and good assesing the players and thier development but its the coaches that really need the work. To be fair there is willingness which is a welcome start but there is certainly a long way to go. I am a firm believer in many if not all of the MoF values and would very much like to get on board.

February 11, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterLiam Foley

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