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Why We Should Stop Teaching Players to “Check Their Shoulder”

Many coaches, when we are conducting training sessions, will emphasize certain actions that we want our players to do. We want players to consistently perform these actions to make them more aware of their surroundings and be able to make better decisions.

For example, when a player is about to receive the ball, one of the most common instructions that coaches tell players is to “check their shoulder!”

With this instruction, we are trying to train players to be aware of potential oncoming defenders and then make the best decision of how to receive the ball and what to do once in possession.

The Problem

The problem most of the time is that coaches are left repeating themselves time and again without success. We struggle to get players to perform rudimentary actions like this in practice, and even if players finally do, it does not often translate to the game. No matter how many times we tell players to “check their shoulder,” they can never seem to make it a habit in games and consistently struggle to scan the entire field.

The Solution

As described above, we are often stuck trying to teach the actions and behaviors, with little-to-no success. Instead, we need to teach our players the concepts behind certain actions or behaviors. Instead of focusing on a mere action like checking our shoulder, we need to teach why checking our shoulder is important to create success within the game. If we teach our players to focus on a desired outcome (the “why”), they will perform the actions needed to achieve such a result.

To continue with this example, instead of constantly reminding players to check their shoulder, we need to teach players why they need to be aware of their surroundings and how such awareness can lead to achieving a desired outcome.

Rather than doing a technical passing activity and insistently repeating “check your shoulder,” we could create a game or activity that requires players to look behind them in order to be successful. If the objective of the game is to receive on a turn and score to goal, then our players will have no choice but to look behind them to know where the potential defenders are coming from. If we repeatedly engage in activities like this, such required actions will develop into habits. Sometimes, we won’t even need to say anything about looking over the shoulder since the demands of the game will naturally teach it. Furthermore, developing these habits through perception, realism, and repetition will help them stick more permanently than a repeated phrase.

So, as we go forth in planning our training sessions, in order to effectively teach our players to perform certain actions, we must teach the concepts that make such actions necessary, instead of merely teaching the actions themselves. As a bonus, since we won’t have to repeat specific phrases so often, we might even save our voices in the process! :)


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