From 2000 to 2004, I ran an elite/development squad of female water polo athletes at the Western Australian Institute of Sport (WAIS). This was just one of the many parts of my 15-years long sports coaching career, from juniors to multiple Olympic medal winners. I have very fond memories of the time but as I look back, I would have done many things differently too, particularly in the running of the squad, working with athletes, fellow coaches and supporting staff at WAIS and beyond. I also wish I had Moodle THEN !
If I got my old job back today, I would get myself a Moodle and..
First, there would be no more paper printouts of schedules, pool changes and types of sessions. One calendar, accessible 24/7 and from anywhere with internet connection. Every player has a mobile with it … so there. Any changes would be seen immediately as each player logged in. And for lengthier up-to-speed items – there is always the News and Notices forum, a default in any Moodle course.
I would have a published, annotated annual plan in a shared space, where the players could see what sort of training we’ll be doing, why so, and see how it fits within a myriad of other plans. Previously, this had been always a big printout job that frankly mostly got lost in girls’ bags, together with wet costumes, caps and towels. Maybe a simple webpage, even a wiki with a table in it would do just fine, or even an Excel or Google Docs spreadsheet, linked to be accessible with a single click. And because even the best laid plans change, the changes would be shown immediately in the document. This way, training plans (annual, cycle, week, even session) would not only be easily accessible but easily stored for any future use, reflection, and analysis.
A bank of drills and plays, ours and opposition’s (in either printable or video format, depending how far we’d want to take it) would be there at the fingertips of anyone we allow, not back at the office or ‘left it at home’. I remember printing out a forest before a tournament for the players and shoddy scouting notes on opposition shooters from my own playing days, pre-Moodle (Always a goalie! Crazy, I know 🙂 )
But I would not use Moodle just to keep the training plans, playbook (yes, the most downloaded extra module in Moodle is called ‘Book’) and scouting notes. For example, one of the biggest pains (literally) of any athlete and their coach are the injuries. A simple wiki, paged further into each player’s name would be great to create and keep a permanent, trackable record of each player’s recovery. And the best part? Let’s say the player sees the physio at our institute … instead of typing an email to the coach that needs transferring, storing (forgetting to) the physio simply types a couple of notes [if important] straight into the wiki after the treatment. For sensitive athlete information, the coach would simply adjust the level of access on various activities and resources – because in Moodle, you can. Any sports science details (physiology, psychology, nutrition, biomechanics … yes, coaching an elite squad is not easy!) – all there in one place, easily updated by the relevant person, even the athlete themselves. The repository could grow, perhaps easily turn into searchable database in Moodle (yes, you guessed it – standard in Moodle) and offer a coherent, integrated picture of athlete’s progress over time.
I remember the times I used to fiddle around with cameras, tapes, burning (multiple) CDs and DVDs in biomechanical analysis sessions. Each player had a CD to look at themselves, never really comparing and learning from (the analysis) of others. If I were to do it today – record straight onto hard drive, analyse with appropriate analysis software, then upload the exported videos onto a shared space on Moodle (multimedia plugins and multimedia centre block make this a breeze). If they were in a Moodle database, named eg. ‘Shooting Analysis – March 2010’ I could easily add comments and maybe allow players THEMSELVES to self-analyse before seeing a biomechanics specialist and myself about their technique. And if we’d want to go external in analysing a video or critical snapshots of eg. a game … there would probably be a plugin for that (eg. VoiceThread) or just an embed, even a link. All there!
Any master of their sport will tell you that one of the pre-requisites for success is to be a constant learner of the sport you play. Having Moodle (the ‘L’ in the acronym does stand for ‘learning’…) would make it easier for me as a coach to encourage and facilitate players to become ‘students of the sport’. There were countless occasions where I came across an interesting article, clip, website, something that would really be useful to players in my squad. The trouble was, when gathered at training, I couldn’t ‘waste’ 20 minutes of whole-squad time on such items (unless, of course really important). With Moodle I could easily post the interesting items up for players to access and maybe mention, talk about, refer to (geez, even quiz them…bloody teacher-in-me 🙂 ) in our interactions. For example, water polo has an incredible history nationally and around the world that local kids who were playing the game were not aware of. Once they would come across some classic material, stories and examples of masters of the sport they played, they would (and always have!) gained a much deeper understanding of it and respect for the sport itself. With lots of these things ‘on tap’ via Moodle, the chances only increase.
So far, I have only talked about things that I as a coach would put on Moodle for players to access – schedules, documents, lists, calendars, videos, notes etc. This is a bit like the first steps of Moodle use in schools – teachers put their ‘stuff’ in and students access it. Because sport can be quite ‘army-like’ we have ‘experts’ who know and ‘novices’ who don’t (and need to get there, faster the better), many people don’t see too much point in involving players in creating their paths and contributing, they ‘just do it!’ (ah, the number of times I said that 🙂 … ). But I beg to differ and Moodle is well built for that!
Let’s start with players setting their own goals. Give them time and space and help them come up with something realistic that they CAN explain, aim for and achieve. Say, a wiki in Moodle can be edited by a young player at 10pm when she gets the idea and writes it down. Next day, I (the coach) see the edit and chip in my part to shape things up – together. The player then owns the goal. Oh yes, there is a module called Indivudual Learning Plan in Moodle. Think we could use that?
How about team goals? Weekly or monthly focus? Coming up with rules of the squad? Many would say at this point “that’s why you have team meetings” but I have seen too many loud, Type-A personalities kill off great ideas of the quieter players in team meetings. A simple forum or even a wiki in Moodle to write, edit, confirm the rules (you can still discuss them) in a given time of a week to think rather than 15 minutes to squabble and yell over each other.
How about reflecting after a game? Season? Game? Tournament? How do you gather the rich and important voices of players easily and equally? Well, ask each player to write a quick blog entry (good to see some WAIS athletes do that already!) or a special type of forum (Q and A) where you need to post before you see what others have posted.
How about setting performance targets as Outcomes or Standards and get each player to self-evaluate how well they are doing on a regular basis with the coach able to confirm or change, then comment on the changes and the performance? No paper, all automatically collated, tracked and easily commented on either in person or online (first, if needed).
How about social events? Tour photos? How about allowing each player to personalise their own space by turning on MyMoodle and keeping a few key blocks and resources ‘sticky’ so they can’t possibly ignore them?
Now, you may say “this may be all possible and fine in team sports … but what about individual sports, particularly those with high level of technical skill involved” (yes Ben, thinking of you 🙂 . Let’s walk over to the rowing, kayaking, or swimming coach. Very technical sports, all of them. Well, most of the above applies really. There may be fewer ‘squad meetings’ but there could be greater emphasis on video analysis (as stated, Moodle plugins handle a good lot of media, commonly exported from analysis software like SportsCode, Dartfish, Swinger, Garmin, GameBreaker, SiliconCoach and the likes). You can easily embed the clip and have a chat about it (yes, Chat is standard in Moodle) or you can just install one of many plugins (the good old Skype would probably do just fine) to have a live chat (for 0$ usually) if on remote location in a city, pool, track, river somewhere (with net access, of course). With Moodle, events, times, results, analysis, everything travels with ‘the team’ to be available anywhere with net access at any time. No more long ‘tour notes’ back at the office when jetlagged and forgetful.
Tracking of times, statistics, heart-rates can be automated by linking the resource to Moodle (eg. Polaris heart-rate system, Garmin GPS) and have it all at the athletes and coaches fingertips when required. Coaches could very easily exchange Notes (yes, there in Moodle as standard) on their athletes or even build a series of observations through them to help them with that important team selection or trials. And more, and more, and more … By the way, when it comes to individual sports, when their squads go away they often support and work with each other more than the team sports. Not to mention a team of people behind every serious athlete.
Back in the days ( 🙂 ) and as one of the assistant coaches for the national team, I often had to consult with the Head National Team Coach about the players in various national squads, their training requirements, drills, plays, travel etc. Well, rather than playing an e-mail tag and endless phone calls, he could have gotten get a very good picture of any of the players in my squad simply by being a member of our ‘course’ (or rather ‘space’) in Moodle and talk to me and/or with the players directly, avoiding (often) the guessing and misinterpretations. I know a player who nearly missed out on the Athens Olympics berth because of such an incident!
And then imagine the entire sporting oganisation (eg. national association, sporting institute, club(s) …) sharing a Moodle (much like about 32 million people around the world do right now). And have I mentioned the social networking features of the upcoming Moodle 2.0 and things like ‘community hubs’? All of this for free, no licensing fees to pay, ever ! (I sound like a dodgy salesman now 🙂 but it’s true! )
Yes, you can do all these things across the tools like Google Docs, even the new Google Wave, wikis, blogs, email, videoconferencing, social networks, video sharing sites etc. But if you ask me – I would have all my bits under one roof, accessible 24/7, where I can control, change access and roles as much as I like (yes, sport is a competitive thing and some things are just to precious to share…) in a stable, secure and easy-to-use environment.
So, would using Moodle make me a better coach? Only as much as I would nurture the skill, experience and wisdom of my players (and my own) with the help of it.
No computer software will ever score a goal or race a world record time. But it sure can help to if used well.