Monday, February 6, 2012

PC and the Pyramid

One of the greatest challenges as program director - as I alluded to in my last post - has been finding an optimal balance between utilizing curriculum generated within our own organization, and that which has been created by externally. Similarly, figuring out our 'end goal' in terms of exactly what we want our youth coaches to achieve has driven this search for the right blend of curriculum design. Our decision to pilot the use of John Wooden's Pyramid of Success to help drive at achieving excellence - or 'competitive greatness' - for our coaches centered around the need to have a progressive model that builds key foundational skills in pursuit of a final goal. Wooden's record as a coach remains unsurpassed, and a brief consideration of his career in numbers at UCLA makes this abundantly clear; 10 NCAA men's basketball championships (7 in consecutive seasons), as well as 8 perfect regular seasons and an 88 game winning streak. In short, if you're going to follow someone's model, this is a pretty good one to choose! 

So how do we go about operationalizing Wooden's model in our own program? This past Saturday, 22 Project Coach youth visited Smith College as part of their pre-season orientation training ahead of this week’s launch of our spring programming. In keeping with the notion of linking the ‘supercognitive’ development of coaches to an established framework, coaches spent 3 hours during the morning session familiarizing themselves with the concept of John Wooden’s ‘Pyramid of Success’, and understanding how it relates to their development in Project Coach.

The session began with an overview of the pyramid, its 15 composite attributes, and the theory behind the hierarchical structure. To help better understand the concept of building to excellence - or ‘competitive greatness’ as Wooden refers to it - coaches interviewed their respective redshirts to uncover the qualities of someone that they know who has excelled in a particular field; responses ranged from ‘hard work’, to ‘working as a part of a bigger team’, to ‘loving what it is that they do’ -- all fundamental features of Wooden’s model.

To help see the pyramid in relation to themselves, coaches considered each of the various components, and engaged in dialogue with their peers to help consider which areas they believed to be personal strengths, and which areas they perceived to be skills that they still needed to work on. As coaches were working in the same assignments that they operate in during academic and sports sessions, coaching teams were able to see collectively what their combined assets were, while at the same time discussing how they could improve.

Following the Project Coach belief that you can best understand a concept through different levels of analysis (as it applies theoretically, as it applies to others, as it applies to oneself), coaches launched into a film study of Coach Carter, based on the true story of Ken Carter, a basketball coach who transforms the academic and personal fortunes of an urban high school team that are underachieving both on and off of the court. Determined to restore pride to his alma mater, Carter shows resilience in pursuing his moral expectations for student-athletes despite the controversy surrounding his methods, and his insistence that academic success supersede athletic pursuits.

Throughout the film, coaches considered how Coach Carter exhibited many of the same attributes that comprise Wooden’s pyramid, and highlighted examples from the movie to support their claims. More importantly, coaches were able to transition this knowledge into an appreciation of how these same skills can be harnessed an utilized in their own coaching in Project Coach.

After lunch, coaches moved from classroom study to a hands-on basketball clinic led by physical education teacher Dennis Nelson, who introduced them to an array of games that they will operate for their 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade teams during the coming season. As well as developing an understanding of the games themselves, coaches used the opportunity to refine the communication skills that are critical to successfully executing such games; a strong coaching voice, effective body language, eyes that track those around them, and being an active listener.

After further work on these fundamental aspects of coaching during Monday’s upcoming Academy session, coaches will be ready to hit the ground running as they get ready to greet the 125 elementary school students from the Gerena, Brightwood, and Lincoln schools that will be eagerly anticipating their arrival on Wednesday!

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