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Coaches Berenato and Dixon respond to faculty questions.
“Your classroom is your basketball court. Students need to see that you have a passion for what you do,” Women’s Basketball Coach Agnus Berenato told faculty attending a recent discussion on motivating students, coordinated by CIDDE.
The interactive session with Berenato and Men’s Basketball Coach Jamie Dixon began with an introduction by Christian Schunn, Psychology Department faculty and motivation research scientist at the Learning Research and Development Center. Schunn noted that motivation, “a big topic with a lot of pieces,” has fascinated teachers and researchers for hundreds of years. “We often say students aren’t motivated. A lot of things could happen to produce that effect, and what teachers do in response is complicated.” Schunn summarized recent motivation research in three key recommendations:
- Maintain expectations for success that depend on effort, rather than IQ.
- Emphasize reasons for students to care (intrinsic value).
- Lower (perceived) incremental costs of learning, by breaking complex assignments into small tasks and helping students avoid common errors.
While Schunn presented findings on motivation based upon research “in the classroom” and “in the lab,” Dixon and Berenato drew from their practical experience “on the court.” Providing analogies between coaching and classroom teaching, both coaches emphasized the importance of receptivity to student needs. “Whether in athletics or in the classroom, students appreciate knowing that a teacher or coach cares about them as people,” said Dixon. He advocated an approach of being “consistent, fair and building trust.”
Berenato advised faculty to maintain flexibility. “In the first few seconds [of a practice], I can tell how it’s going,” she noted. If a drill isn’t going well, I have to make a conscious choice as an educator to change the plan.” Beranato went on to say that if, in the first ten minutes of class, an instructor notices inattentive students, he or she has “an obligation” to find a way to engage them.
Dixon remarked that his team members appreciate one-on-one teaching in “pre-practice” sessions, which allow for constructive criticism without deflating players. “If a player is having a problem, we try to teach him and pick him up individually, not in front of everyone else.” Cautioning against rushing to conclusions or judgment, Dixon recommended, “Show that you care. [Students] do want attention, and we need to be alert for the different times, ways and attitudes to provide it.”
Berenato acknowledged that the success of particular motivational techniques can vary based on gender. “My (female) players are really into feelings,” she said. Berenato regularly invites them to engage in informal conversations and asks thought-provoking, personal questions, such as, “If you were going to die tonight, what would you want to eat?” Berenato even drew chuckles from participants by drawing an unexpected distinction between the women’s and men’s teams: While she and her players often stop for ice cream breaks, “I can’t see Jamie’s guys doing that,” she said.
To highlight the importance of his male student athletes’ choices, Dixon shares news reports about negative consequences of irresponsible behavior with them and frequently inspires players with references to their NBA aspirations.
Berenato also tries to maintain positivity when dealing with her players. “A woman is likely to remember every time you tell her what she needs to do to improve, while she will forget the other ten positive things you have said to her. When someone finds she has to struggle to be competitive, I advise her to just keep practicing.’’
How do the coaches motivate their student athletes—whether male or female—to go beyond their perceived limits? Students need to be challenged, but they also need opportunities to pause, relax and enjoy themselves. Players on both teams, for example, benefit from practice drills they especially enjoy, such as “three-on-two” drills (three players versus two players).
Both Dixon and Berenato stressed the importance of helping students master time management techniques. “Structure is key to mastering the demands of time. We need to give them a schedule and direction,” Dixon said. Berenato agreed, “The demands on students’ time are incredibly difficult to handle, and we actually help them to plot out their schedules. I draw parallels to life and always talk about multitasking.”On a closing note, Berenato commented that she tries to communicate the philosophy that, when it comes to education, whether in the classroom or on the court, “It’s about who we are, not what we do. We are people first.”
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The Teaching Times newsletter is devoted to the support of teaching and learning at the University of Pittsburgh. The Teaching Times shares faculty teaching experiences, strategies and techniques that can be applied in classrooms across the University. The Teaching Times welcomes letters and articles from faculty about any topic affecting University teaching and learning.
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