The adage that coaching is teaching is as old as it is true, and while a ton of coaches are also teachers and use a similar approach with their team as they do in the classroom, there are plenty others whose styles differ on and off-the-field.
With the endless similarities it’s also safe to say that a lot that coaches can learn from teachers, and vice versa.
That brings me to a piece that former Penn State and Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman John Urshcel wrote in the New York Times. While Urschel was a 2-time All-Big Ten selection on the offensive line during his time as a Nittany Lion, he probably equally well-known for his passion for mathematics and he retired with the Ravens in 2017 to further pursue that life passion and is now a Ph.D. candidate at MIT.
Urschel’s piece for the NY Times is how he wishes math teachers were more like football coaches, and is a fascinating look into his mind and why he believes all teachers could benefit from being more like football coaches.
This part of the article is what really stood out to me, and really drives home Urschel’s point:
“…no one expects math teachers to talk with the kind of fire, or to demand the kind of commitment and accountability, that football coaches do. But I wish they did.”
“A growing body of research shows that students are affected by more than just the quality of a lesson plan. They also respond to the passion of their teachers and the engagement of their peers, and they seek a sense of purpose. They benefit from specific instructions, constant feedback and a culture of learning that encourages resilience in the face of failure — not unlike a football practice. There are many ways to be an effective teacher, just as there are many ways to be an effective coach. But all good teachers, like good coaches, communicate that they care about your goals.”
Urschel goes on to share how a professor at Penn State opened his heart and mind more to mathematics by taking an approach similar to what his coaches were doing – presenting a problem, and giving him the tools, direction, and encouragement needed to pursue the answer. What that allowed Urschel to do is to provide him with a sense of wonder and childlike excitement that he hadn’t experienced since he was a young child, a far cry from how we view the methods and results of traditional classroom education.