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How Sports Make People Smarter

February 28, 2012 | Comments: 0 | Views: 196

I was excited when I saw the title of this TEDtalk, How Games Make Kids Smarter by Gabe Zichermann, because I'd like to believe that (contrary to popular opinion) it takes quite a bit of brain power to excel at sports. Imagine my surprise when I realized that the speaker was talking about gaming, not games. In the midst of extolling the virtues of video games as educational tools, one concept stood out to me.

Fluid intelligence.

What is that? Apparently there are different classifications of intelligence and fluid intelligence is what we use when we're problem solving.

Problem solving is what our athletes are constantly doing in competition, so you can understand why I (and many coaches) would be interested in learning how to increase this particular facet of intelligence. In setting up this argument, Zichermann used the example of folks learning how to juggle. After twelve weeks of juggling, the participants in this study increased their brain matter. Of course it wasn't the juggling that increased their brain matter...but the very act of learning.

What if we, as coaches, could increase the rate at which our athletes learned...which would then increase their fluid intelligence...which would make them really good at solving problems at crunch time? I think we can!

5 ways our players can increase their fluid intelligence

Seek novelty. Still using the same practice plans from ten years ago? Always going with the tried and true drills? Maybe we should all look at what we're doing and find different ways to accomplish the same goal. We can ask a coaching friend to let us come to their practices for a week or so, just to see what they're doing and how they're doing it differently. Challenge them. Remember, fluid intelligence is what we use when we're problem solving, so they're going to have to practice those skills in order to get comfortable using them in game situations. If we want our quarterback, center mid, or setter feeling comfortable making crunch-time decisions, we've got to put them in stressful situations in practice...for many reasons. So they feel comfortable problem solving, so their teammates respect their problem solving, and so we (as their coach) aren't holding our breath hoping they make the right decision. Think creatively. When I first started coaching, I scripted out plays for each rotation and didn't give my setter much leeway to come up with her own plays without running them past me first. Now, because my assistant is in charge of the offense, I see the value of providing a framework (a canvas, so to speak) for letting my setter be creative in coming up with a good offensive plan. Do young setters struggle while they're learning? Yes...and it's painful to watch. Are my veteran setters heads and shoulders ahead of where they'd be if I were the puppeteer behind the offense? Without a doubt...and it's a thing of beauty! Do things the hard way. It seems to me that "think creatively" and "do things the hard way" go very well together. Coming up with practice plans that give our athletes the leeway to be creative and learn is hard work! It's hard to come up with a plan that addresses our short term goals (we need to win the game tomorrow) as well as our long term goals (we need to increase our team's sports I.Q.) that means we've got to be a creative coach. I think it's also hard for us coaches not to solve the problem. If we're to increase our team's fluid intelligence, though, we've got to let them struggle to find the answers on their own. Network. In the gaming world, creating community is a bit more manufactured than on our teams...we've got a ready-made network. Other people automatically add complexity to problem solving. I haven't been on too many teams where everyone agreed on the correct way to solve a problem. It's the networking that ties all of these things together. Of course, working in groups in harder than working solo, but the creativity generated in groups can be amazing!

Amazingly enough, our teams can be like those jugglers I mentioned before, struggling to learn...and increasing their brain matter along the way!

Dawn Redd is the Head Volleyball Coach at Beloit College. Come visit Coach Dawn's community of coaching nerds and team leaders over at her blog,, where she teaches how to become an excellent coach, motivate individuals, and build successful teams.

Her book, Coach Dawn's Guide To Motivating Female Athletes, is available for purchase on her website.

Source: EzineArticles
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