Applied Research - Overview

Beginning in the 1970's, education research began to confirm John Dewey's long-held hypothesis that the best way to improve teaching and student achievement was to collect, store and share the knowledge and skill of master teachers with other teachers.  In the 1990's, business research (e.g., Built to Last (1994) and The Living Company (1997)) revealed that the most successful and enduring companies (e.g., Johnson & Johnson, Walt Disney etc.) view ongoing learning and problem-solving as the primary work performed by all employees.  Think of it this way, the best literature on improving education and business emphasizes continuous learning in the same way superior athletes compete - identify and apply principles and practices that produce consistent results and constantly look for new principles and practices that lead to even better results.

The time has arrived for supporting similar research on teaching in youth sports.  Since at least the time of the Greeks, teaching has been seen as a shared practice that a teacher together with a group of learners creates, enacts and experiences.  Sadly, despite an explosion in coaching science, our understanding of teaching practices in youth sports is mired in a world of opinion, gut feeling and anecdotal evidence.  Not only is there no consensus on what constitutes quality teaching through sport, the wisdom accumulated by the many thousands of noble program directors, coaches and parents that invest countless hours teaching children is lost the moment these adults leave the world of youth sports. 

The importance of preserving and sharing "what works" is illustrated by the efforts of the Save the Children organization to solve chronic malnutrition in Vietnam.  Profiled in Switch:  How to Change Things When Change is Hard (2010), Save the Children did not start from scratch by underwriting new and untested programs.  Instead, the group located children from well-nourished families, learned what the parents were doing and then helped parents of undernourished children learn to employ the same principles and techniques. 

Similarly, the evolution of youth sport depends in part our ability to learn how to increase the educational effectiveness of youth sport settings.  That, in turn, rests on documenting the work of program directors, coaches and parents who view coaching as teaching and believe that s/he can learn to teach better (not by mindless copying) by watching, analyzing, applying and improving the teaching principles and practices of others.  Capturing this quality teaching through scientifically rigorous research offers the opportunity for transformative change as others become aware of what works in specific settings and circumstances.