Introduction

In 2012, Dr. Mariale Hardiman published a book entitled “The Brain Targeted Teaching Model for 21st Century Schools.” Dr. Hardiman and her team of researchers at Johns Hopkins University spent several years conducting and reviewing neuroscience research on how children’s brains function in the learning environment. From this research, Dr. Hardiman and her team constructed a model for classroom teaching that is based on scientific evidence of the best practices in teaching and learning. Brain Targeted Teaching® is based on six “targets” that educators should strive to address when preparing and delivering units, lessons, etc. The targets are as follows:

Target 1: Establishing the Emotional Climate for Learning

Target 2: Creating the Physical Learning Environment

Target 3: Designing the Learning Experience

Target 4: Teaching for Mastery of Content, Skills and Concepts

Target 5: Teaching for Extension and Application of Knowledge

Target 6: Evaluating Learning

Earlier this year, US Lacrosse was invited to participate in a roundtable discussion at The Center for Transformative Teaching and Learning. Our Education and Training staff was so intrigued by Dr. Hardiman’s model, that we immediately recognized its’ potential impact on the lacrosse community and were compelled to dissect it and rebuild it into a model for lacrosse coaches everywhere. We call it Brain Targeted Teaching for Coaches®.

Target 2: Creating the Physical Learning Environment

Scenario: Have you ever gone to a new field, gymnasium, etc. that was markedly different than where you normally work out and noticed that your athletes responded differently (in a positive or negative way) to your coaching? Once the initial “wow factor” of the new site wore off, were they more attentive?
 Did they play better or worse? These differences in how they responded are attributed to the change in their learning environment.

Coaching Implications: The brain responds differently to a new environment. Because of the change in environment their Neuro-Alerting Network is engaged and thus captures their attention, essentially refocusing them on learning. Over time, the new stimulus fades into the background and the athletes resume “going through the motions” and again lose interest or even may become bored.

Strategies for Creating the Learning Environment

We can create activation of the brain’s alerting network by changing the learning environment. That’s not to say you need to constantly change the field you practice at, but rather make more frequent smaller changes, such as the location of the field where you run drills or the way that you group athletes. These subtle changes will activate the Neuro-Alerting Network and tell the kids that “Something is different here, I should probably pay close attention to the coach.”

Sounds also play a critical role in learning. Think of when you’re working at your desk during the day. There are many ambient sounds in your environment that you can't control, and they may distract you from the task at hand. Sounds such as the buzzing of the lights, doors opening and closing, phones ringing, etc. Many of us play music at our desks to mask these unpredictable background noises. We’re not actually focused on the music being played; it fades into the background and allows us to focus more directly on the task at hand. Music can also affect our mood. When we go to the gym to workout, there is usually upbeat, fast tempo music playing. This serves to motivate us to go a little faster and a little harder in our workouts, thus improving our performance. Too many different sounds at the wrong time, creates a distraction to learning. Conversely, consistent sound during routine activities relaxes the athlete and they are actually more able to focus on the task at hand. For example, consider playing music during stick-work, conditioning and the like. This is not a critical learning period during practice and having the athletes calm and relaxed, yet focused during these times can improve their ability to perform. The music will serve as a mask to other background noises that may distract the athlete’s attention.

It goes without saying that movement plays a critical role in learning in sport. The more opportunities we can provide for athletes to be active and engaged in the lesson we want them to learn the more information they will retain. Think of how you would teach athletes a new play. You could draw it on a dry erase board. You could put 6 or 7 players into position on the field and direct all of their movements while the other players watched, or you could design a series of drills that all relate to specific parts of the play and have all of your athletes rotating through each of the drills. Which method would be most effective at teaching all of the kids how to run the play?

Organization and beauty is also a factor in learning. Have you ever heard the old adage “look good to play good?” There is actually some evidence to prove this statement. When the playing environment is free of clutter and aesthetically pleasing, athletes learn better. A reasonably groomed field, well- marked lines, clean bench areas, etc...all show not only that you’re proud of where you play, but also remove distractions. We joke about that one kid on the team who is turned around saying “ooh, look a dandelion!” while you’re teaching the fundamentals of a team offense. Again, the athlete’s brain is the culprit. That athletes’ brain receives a new stimuli and for that moment in time, it is more important than your lesson. While we can’t necessarily control the dandelions and butterflies in our environment, we can control being more interesting to the athletes. Infusing humor, frequent opportunity for participation, and consistently adding new stimulus to the activity can over power the brain’s desire to seek out new stimuli.