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Distance Learning: Sports Edition

Updated: Apr 17



THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT

After weeks of getting our homes setup for distance learning and working environments, we’re learning more about technology, and ourselves, than ever before. For some of us this isn’t new but there are others who are struggling to adapt. But have you noticed the demographic that has acclimated just fine?


That’s right, the students.


By definition, distance learning is a way of learning remotely without being in regular face-to-face contact with a teacher in the classroom. Technology makes this possible and if you’ve had children in the school system over the past 15 years, you’ve likely seen how technology is already embedded in the classroom.


Today’s youth has grown up on technology so it’s a platform they are comfortable with, and in most cases prefer. Schools are using various learning apps, and devices are even issued to some older students to use away from the classroom. And as I watch my kids join their on-line class groups, I’m seeing the students (some as young as 7) help their teachers navigate this technology adventure!


So if there’s one group of people we shouldn’t be too concerned about coming out of this remote learning exercise it’s the kids. (Parents on the other hand - well that’s a whole different article.)


THE VALUE OF SPORTS

As evidenced in good ol' newspapers, sports tend to be tertiary, hidden in Section C behind the more important news from the world and business. Similarly, you likely prioritized your remote “office” and your children’s new “school” setup before giving much thought to their cancelled or delayed sports leagues.


While this is understandable, we can’t lose focus on the extracurriculars, whether it’s sports, drama, art, or many others. Kids need an outlet of “play” which is a critical component of their cognitive development. And sports are a perfect outlet that can offer so much more.

For instance, there are significant social benefits from participating in sports, with data showing more positive long-term outcomes. Leaders are built in youth sports, and the opportunity to deal with failure helps prepare them for the world ahead.


Even viewing sports as a spectator has value. Communities rally around their local sports teams and many fans of professional sports claim they rely on it as a relief from the stress of day-to-day life. Both of these factors played a large role in uniting the country when sports returned to action after 9/11.


So we can't take our eye off the ball.


Let’s take a look at how the wide world of sports is managing their students through this crisis.


THE VIRTUAL COACH

As coaches, we’re faced with the same challenges as teachers (some hold both titles), looking for ways to keep our players engaged and ready to return when possible. We don’t know what our season will look like when it returns, so we need to get creative with how we stay connected with our teams.


Coaches are scouring the internet, looking for easy plug-and-play content they can send to their players. Videos of exercises or drills specific to your sport can give players some guidance and provide structured goals to work on. Some programs are even posting these physical challenges to their social media feeds, motivating players to stay strong and focused.


So keeping players physically active should be relatively easy with the exception of access to space. But even in the smallest spaces, there are suitable exercises that will keep the body fit.


Then there’s the mental side of sports which can’t be overlooked. Staying sharp mentally is as important as physically. Coaches commit a significant amount of energy and time teaching fundamental concepts, building smarter players. This knowledge is typically delivered on the field in practice or in the classroom during film session. So without access to either of these options, what can you do?


Technology steps up again. Like the many educational apps used in schools today, sports curriculums can be delivered through learning apps. Athletes learn on their own time, in their own environment, and at a pace they’re comfortable with.


In addition to saving you field time, this also allows players with any hesitation to ask questions in front of their peers an opportunity to figure it out on their own.


A SMASHING STORY

It was about six years ago when this whole concept occurred to me. I was coaching 8-year-olds and attempting to successfully complete one rep of a simple drill in practice. After multiple tries, it was clear to me the kids didn’t understand where they should be on the field.


I stopped practice, called everyone into the huddle and drew up the drill on a whiteboard. I quizzed the team on where one player should go in the drill when one confident young man stepped up and touched the board in the correct spot. Ding!


That’s when it hit me. Why can’t they learn these basic concepts away from the field? We’d be on to the next drill already!


And what if they could learn it on a mobile app? Better yet, what if it was a gaming app that made the learning content even more fun, so they'd WANT to do it?


That’s when Smash Routes was born. As coaches, we constantly strive to find “more time.” There’s never enough time on the field to cover everything we want and truly, we should be spending field time working on players’ technique - not their alignment and assignments.


So by giving players the opportunity to learn away from the field, on a platform they live on already, we can get more time to develop their skills on the field.


HERE TO STAY

The current worldwide situation will have lasting impacts on many areas of our lives. But not all are bad. We’ll grow from this as adversity builds strength and sparks creativity.


Sports programs will need to find more, some completely new, solutions to address the needs of their players. We turned to technology to help us through this and it likely won't go away after we find our new normal. While games and practices have halted, interaction amongst teams in virtual environments is being proven feasible and possibly even more efficient for some purposes, which could provide extended value.


Athletes already benefit from distance learning tools year-round, even when we’re not sheltered from each other. Heck, some athletes actually prefer some level of isolation and desire this approach. So embrace the new normal and take this extra time to brush yourself up on it.


Give your players another way to stay smart in their sport, anytime, from anywhere. And get Smash Routes this season for your football team. (more sports to come...)


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