This study aimed to understand Volleyball coaches’ representations about the instructional approach they value over the long-term athlete development, according to their coaching education level.
Coaches’ representations of instructional approaches in volleyball training throughout long-term athlete development
This study aimed to understand Volleyball coaches’ representations about the instructional approach they value over the long-term athlete development, according to their coaching education level. Several type of learning tasks were considered: acquisition tasks, structuring tasks, simplified cooperative games, simplified and non-thematic opposition’s game, simplified and thematic opposition’s game, thematic opposition’s game and formal game (Mesquita, 2006). The study involved 79 coaches and five stages adapted by Côtê et al. (2003) and Balyi (2002): stage 1 (ages 6/8 – 12), stage 2 (ages 13-14), stage 3 (ages 15-16), stage 4 (ages 17-19) and stage 5 (ages +19). Data analysis procedure included a Likert scale questionnaire with five levels. One-Way ANOVA test was used to compare groups.
Coaches attributed more importance to: acquisition tasks (68,4%), followed by simplified cooperative games (51,9%), reduced and non-thematic opposition’s games (36,7%) and simplified and thematic games (27,8%) at the earliest stages, showing a predominance of a molecular approach. However, this tends to decrease over the long-term developmental process, where other tasks arise. Structuring tasks (64,6%), formal games (64,6%) and thematic opposite’s games (30,4%) were considered more important in the later stages, with a more game-based approach prevalence.
Coaches with a less coach education level gave more value to simplified cooperative games and to formal games during the first stage. Structuring tasks, reduced and non-thematic opposition’s games and formal games were the tasks more valued by these coaches during the second and third stages.However, while in the second stage coaches with a less coaching education level gave more value to acquisition tasks, in the third stage were the coaches with higher level (level III) that value more this tasks. Formal games were valued differently in the fourth and fifth stages by coaches from the level II, giving more value to this practice than the other coaches.
Excellence is a seminal goal of sport, as well as of any other human theoretical or practical domain. Ericson et al. (1993) has identified that it takes at least 10 years or 10,000 hours of training for a talented athlete to reach the top level and defined deliberate practice as “a highly structured activity, the explicit goal of which is to improve performance (p.368)”. Considering this approach, it is easily realizable that an athlete development is not a short-term process and the best sport development programs have a long-term vision. Research from elite sports players suggest that effective skill development eventually becomes linked with, or even dependent on, a planned and deliberate skill development program (Côté et al., 2003).
The Developmental Model of Sport Participation proposed by Côté et al. (2003) intends to integrate the concept of deliberate practice within a developmental framework. This model established that expert athletes, in general, throughout their careers go through three stages: the sampling years (age 6-12), the specializing years (age 13-15) and the investment years (age 16+). The practice changes from a focus on deliberate play – early diversification -, during the sampling years, towards a focus on deliberate practice – later specialization – during the investment years.
Another implementation model of the Long-Term Athlete Development (LTAD), was presented by Iztvan Balyi (Balyi, 2002) and suggested five specific stages of sport participation: Fundamental (6-8/9 years), Learning to train (9-11/12 years), Training to train (12-15/16 years); Training to compete (16-17/18 years) and Training to win (19+ years).
Researchers have been investigating the effects of different teaching methods, mainly the contrast between traditional teaching (based on technical development) and trough models based on tactical understanding. Adopting the molecular approach, isolating movement skills from the actual performance contexts (Rovegno, 1995), coaches take full responsibility for setting games problems, diagnosing player’s weakness and prescribing adequate solutions (Sousa & Oslin, 2008) providing a lack of support for the development of players’ decision-making capacity (Handford, Davids, Bennet, & Button, 1997). In recent years, several alternative models to teaching games such as the Teaching Games for Understanding (TGfU) (Bunker & Thorpe, 1982), the Tactical Games Approach (Mitchell, Oslin, & Griffin, 2006), the Play Practice Model (Launder, 2001), the Ball School Model (Kroger & Roth, 1999) have been introduced and support a holistic view of game-based training situations. They are seen to offer many opportunities for using cognitively demanding instructional strategies suited to enhance players’ tactical awareness, decision-making, as well as skill execution within game-like contexts (Light, 2004; Sousa & Oslin, 2008).
Framed upon didactical ideas derived from TGfU model (Bunker & Thorpe, 1982) and the Skill Development Approach (Rink, 1993), Mesquita et al. (2005) have introduced an instructional approach in volleyball setting, called Step-by-Step Game. It emphasizes the adaptation of learning tasks to the games’ demands and considers three types of instructional tasks, namely acquisition tasks, structuring tasks and adaptation tasks. From the first tasks to the last ones, the variability of practice is gradually increased resembling more the actual game conditions (Williams & Hodge, 2005). Moreover, the time to spend in acquisition tasks needs to be reduced to the minimum necessary to prevent game disruption (Mesquita et al., 2005).
To what extent volleyball coaches are staying in with technical instructional approach or moving toward a more player-centered, game-based approach is a matter badly in need of descriptive empirical work (Potrac, Jones, & Cushion, 2007). Examining the manner in which coaches use the acquisition, structuring and application tasks will provide a useful starting point to expose their instructional approaches to games teaching. Furthermore, one of the aspects poorly explored and investigated in sport sciences is the importance given by coaches to the development of tactical skills during players’ lifespan. The purpose of this study was to understand Volleyball coaches’ representations about the instructional approach they value in the coaching practices over the long-term athlete development, according to their coaching education level.
The sample consisted of 79 volleyball coaches divided according to their coaching education level (level I, level II and level III). Five long-term developmental stages adapted by Côtê et al. (2003) and Balyi (2002) were considered: stage 1 (ages 6/8 – 12), stage 2 (ages 13-14), stage 3 (ages 15-16), stage 4 (ages 17-19) and stage 5 (ages +19). The coaches filed out a questionnaire, previously validated by experts, where they rated the importance of several type of learning tasks, namely, acquisition tasks, structuring tasks, simplified cooperative games, simplified and non-thematic opposition’s game, simplified and thematic opposition’s game, thematic opposition’s game and formal game (Mesquita, 2006). The answers were chosen by the coach from a set of alternatives supplied by the authors using 5-point Likert scale. Data were analyzed through one-way ANOVA and post-hoc multiple comparisons were done through Tukey HSD test. Statistical significance was set at 5%.
In general, coaches attributed more importance to acquisition tasks (68,4%), followed by simplified cooperative games (51,9%), reduced and non-thematic opposition’s games (36,7%) and simplified and thematic games (27,8%) at the earliest stages. However, the importance of these tasks tends to decrease over the long-term developmental process, where other tasks arise. Indeed, structuring tasks (64,6%), formal games (64,6%) and thematic opposite’s games (30,4%) were considered more important in the later stages.
Coaches’ representations according to Coaching Education Level
Coaches with a less coaching education level gave more value to simplified cooperative games (p=0,03)and to formal games (p=0,03)during the first stage. Structuring tasks (p=0,04 and p=0,03), reduced and non-thematic opposition’s games (p=0,03 and p=0,03) and formal games (p=0,04 and p=0,01)were the type of learning tasks more valued by these coaches during the second and third stages.However, while in the second stage coaches with a less coach education level (level I) gave more value to acquisition tasks (p=0,04), in the third stage were the coaches with higher level (level III) of coaching education that value more this type of learning tasks (p=0,03). Formal games were valued differently in the fourth and fifth stages by coaches with coach education level II, where they gave more value to this type of practice than the other coaches (p=0,01 and p=0,01). The means, standard deviations and statistical differences between the stages for different coach education levels and long-term athlete developmental stages are presented in Table 1.
Table 1 – Coaches’ representation of type of learning task acording to coach education level
The aim of the present study was to identify Volleyball coaches’ representations about the instructional approaches they value in the coaching practices over the long-term athlete development, according to their coaching education level.
The overall pattern emergent in this study is the prevalence of acquisition tasks at the earliest stages, decreasing the importance of these tasks over the long-term developmental process where other tasks arise, such as structuring tasks, formal games and thematic opposite’s games. This can be probably explained by the reliance in a molecular approach to teaching team sports, especially in Volleyball where technique is traditionally highly favoured (Rovegno, 1995). Findings may also reflect the widespread belief that skill development must be firstly addressed in an out-of-game context, under the rule of a prescriptive approach (Blompvist, Hayrinen, Selanne, & Luthanen, 2001; Jones, 1982; Williams & Hodge, 2005). This suggest that coaches employ preferentially a molecular approach valuing more the acquisition tasks at the earliest stages of developmental process which moving toward a more game-based approach with the evolution of long-term developmental process.
Nevertheless, it seems that after an early privileging of technical issue, in a later stages coaches seem to attribute a greater importance to tactical and strategically situations (Leite, Sampaio, & Ferreira, 2007), with the increasing of game tasksimportance.Researchers have been analyzing the effects of different teaching models in the learning outcomes, teaching games for understanding and traditional approaches and the results reinforced the importance of developing tactic issues early (Harvey, Bryan, & Wegis, 2007; Holt, Strean, & Bengoechea, 2002; Keh & Yu, 2007; Rink, 2001; Turner & Martinek, 1995). It is suggested this may benefit later learning and solving of more complex tactical game-like situations, largely because game tasks are not only moments for skill application, but also spaces to solve problems (Griffin, Butler, Lombardo, & Nastasi, 2003; Hopper, 2002; Nevett, Rovegno, & Babiarz, 2001). Game-based training situations are seen to offer many opportunities to enhance players’ tactical awareness, decision-making, as well as skill execution within game-like contexts (Light, 2004; Sousa & Oslin, 2008). Critics would claim that scarcity of game-like practice results in players with poor capacity to solve problems during games, becoming bad decision-makers with low autonomy to appreciate, understand and implement opportune decisions (Sousa & Oslin, 2008).Even more, researchers of Motor Learning and Pedagogy fields (Boyce, Coker, & Bunker, 2006; Gentille, 2000; Rose & Christina, 2006) uphold that variability of practice should be introduced as soon as players were able to figure out and replicate the basic motor pattern. This means that acquisition tasks (low variability) should be reduced to the minimum time required for acquiring the basic motor patterns (Rink, 1993).
Considering coaching education level, coaches from this study showed different conceptions about learning tasks approaches. Curiously, coaches with a less coaching education level gave more value to simplified cooperative games and to formal games during the first stage,and to reduced and non-thematic opposition’s games and formal games during the second and third stages, showing the importance given to game-based approach promptly in the first stages. These results are congruent with the suggestion of studies about the advantages to the long-term players’ development in privileging game-like situations throughout team sports teaching (Light, 2004; Sousa & Oslin, 2008). Even in Volleyball, where technical proficiency is important to sustain the ball in the game, the focus on game-based tasks showed to be effective in several technical and tactical measures of play performance (Mesquita et al., 2005).
The ascendant of game-based approach was evident in the latest stages, where formal games were more valued by coaches in general. Only in the fourth and fifth stages this type of learning tasks were more valued by coaches with level II of coaching education. The results can be understood as a consequence of the increasing frequency and complexity of competitions during the later stages, which makes coaches feature a greater importance to tactical and strategically situations (Leite et al., 2007). Therefore, it is necessary to give space for personal interpretation and this happens in the game, where the players have to decide what skills to apply and/or how to apply it. Discovery learning could work more positively, compared with tightly controlled learning, by encouraging learners to more effectively explore constraints for decision-making and skill execution variability (Chow et al., 2007; Vereijken, 1991).
Although the presence of this propensity, structuring tasks were also still one of the most type of learning tasks valued by coaches with less level of coaching education (level I) during the second and third stages, which shows a maintenance on molecular approach focus and a prevalence of technical instructional approach.
Notwithstanding, more empirical research is needed to examine the impact of different instructional approaches on the players’ learning. Moreover, research needs to analyse deeply the instructional approaches used by coaches in a more extensive way accompanying the coaching daily practice of the same coaches throughout a sport season. Qualitative analysis is required to attend to the ecological nature of the coaching process and underlying beliefs, knowledge and reasons for coaches’ behaviours in particular coaching surroundings.
The effectiveness of instructional approaches in producing long-term improvement in players’ performance is not a linear and easy quantifiable process. The overwhelming dominance of a molecular approach is evident, with a predominance of acquisitions tasks involving situations of low contextual interference bearing in mind skill efficiency, without much concern to the constraints present in game situations.
Based on the findings, the instructional profile observed in this study is quite different and far distant from the recommendations extracted from the recent research evident on sport pedagogy, coaching and motor learning. Efforts have to be made in producing and delivering ecologically knowledge, enhancing coaching educational programs, and giving opportunities and support to help coaches to improve their practice and instruction.
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