How players really learn

You may think you prefer to learn through a particular style – visual, auditory, by doing and so on. This is a myth and here are the four real reasons players learn at different speeds.

Preferences don’t mean we learn faster

If you were asked how you would like to learn something, you might think you are revealing your learning style, but in fact, you are just saying what you probably do best. Some of us like reading books, others listening to the book read out loud.

Plenty of sports people will probably prefer to play a game than sit in and listen to a lecture. However, there is no evidence that suggests we learn quicker if the information is given to us in our “preferred” style. Imagine you are asked this question: “I want to teach you something. Would you rather learn it by seeing a slideshow, reading it as text, hearing it as a podcast, or enacting it in a series of movements?”

Would your answer change if you were told you were going to learn a lineout move, the club’s post-match song or your pre-season fitness objectives?

And that example proves that you need to coach certain things with an appropriate style. That can mean, for the lineout move, a drawing of where the players stand, then a run through, with a reminder on the board before the next game, perhaps with a video clip on your laptop.

Learning how learning happens

The key is to understand that students have different abilities, interests and background understanding. Certain areas require more appropriate ways of coaching to help players learn faster. Whether a player has a so-called learning style or not, you are going to have to physically “do” tackling eventually. Work out which players can learn the game quicker and those who can’t and vary your coaching accordingly.

Players learn at different rates – make sure you are aware of these

  1. Talent and intelligence: Brighter people have a greater capacity to learn as do physically fit and skilful players. You will find it easier to coach capable players.
  2. Interested in the game: Players who love watching, talking about and playing the game will learn faster than those who don’t. Their attention span will be far greater.
  3. Background understanding: A player who has a good grounding in the sport or sport in general will learn faster than someone new to it when you introduce more involved skills.
  4. Learning disabilities: Some players will have problems with their learning process that are well documented, such as dyslexia or hearing loss.


1. Dweck, C. (2006) Mindset: The new psychology of success, Random House, New York, NY. 2. Paschler, H., McDaniel, M., Rohrer, D. and Bjork, R. (2010) Learning styles: Concepts and evidence. Psychological Science in the Public Interest 9, pp. 105-119. 3. The Myth of Learning Styles by Cedar Riener and Daniel Willingham, from Change, the Magazine of Higher Learning

Share this
Follow us