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What we can learn from John Wooden XII

One of the most interesting chapters for me in Gallimore and Nater's You Haven't Taught Until They Have Learned is the third chapter, "It's What You Learn After You Know It All That Counts the Most."
 
Given Wooden's great skill and knowledge, it was fascinating to read that right after taking the UCLA job in 1948, he embarked on a systematic program to increase his knowledge during the off-season. From Nater and Gallimore:
At the conclusion of each basketball season, during the off-season his self-improvement research began. He chose only one topic for each off-season study (e.g. defensive rebounding, free-throw shooting, etc.). The goal was to uncover all he could learn about a specific subject, draw conclusions, and apply it to his teaching.
 
Coach Wooden's premise was the assumption that all the essential truths about each topic existed "somewhere," but scattered across many sources. Some of these truths were in books, some in the thoughts of successful coaches and athletes, and others were, perhaps, in places he never considered. Some ideas were his own (e.g. many of his ideas on free-throw shooting--as a player he once made more than 130 in succession), but needed testing, refinement, and elaboration, just as any researcher tests the theories that guide investigations. Thus, Coach's approach was essentially similar to empirical investigations in all fields of inquiry.
They then follow Wooden's process through one research topic, that of free-throw shooting. The process went as follows:
  • Define a research question - quoting Wooden: "There are many possible questions and topics to consider, but it's important to choose the right one. When making my choice, I kept the following things in mind. Was it a team weakness last season? Will I need it next year? Is it too broad of a subject? . . . I also believe in pre-determining what you're looking for. For example, when studying free-throw shooting, one of the things I wanted to find out was the percentage of practice time successful coaches provided for the practice of it. I also was interested in finding out if there was a better way to make free-throw shooting more practice-like."
  • He'd review everything he could find that was written: books, articles in magazines and journals
  • To select a sample of successful coaches he'd check statistics: which coaches had a great free-throw shooting record?
  • He'd then design a written survey instrument based on his research, asking open-ended questions. Example, quoting an actual example of a survey question: "What particular routine do you teach your players? How much practice time do you set aside for free-throw shooting? To what do you attribute your team's success? Please list, and explain, what you believe to be the fundamentals of free-throw shooting?"
  • He'd then call the selected coaches, explain what he was doing and if they'd be willing to fill out the survey. Most participated, in part because Wooden offered to share the results with them.
  • He then thanked everyone and began to analyze the data. This was a deep and thorough analysis. He compared approaches to see what the coaches had in common. He also looked for outliers. He discovered one coach whose team had an outstanding free-throw record and who spent more time than anyone else on practice . . . but on further examination discovered that team didn't have such a great win-loss record . . . which led him to try to figure out what was the point of diminishing returns on amount of time spent in free-throw practice. This led him to divide up the approaches into those who practiced free-throw shooting separately and those who integrated it into the practice to make it more "game-like."
  • He then drew his conclusions (the book has a table with his actual results, divided into team and individual fundamentals)
There are obvious possibilities for any of us to investigate in this manner--and improve what we and our choirs do. One could research all kinds of topics, from choral sound (what are your choir's weaknesses? whose choirs--of the same type as your choir--make a sound you like?), intonation, rhythm, diction, phrasing, expression, etc. Or you could explore style: performance practices in Bach, renaissance music, etc.
 
Don't be surprised if you get a call from me at the beginning of the summer!