Lessons & Observations from Patriots Training Camp

Director of Studies Matt Fisk reflects that he often gathers new ideas and perspective when thinking about teaching and learning in other contexts. Over the summer, Mr. Fisk was lucky enough to attend a New England Patriots football practice. He then shared this analogy with our faculty and staff. It seems especially fitting to revisit today, following last night's Super Bowl championship for the Patriots.
 
It was vitally important to be well-planned and well-organized. It was equally as important to communicate the plan to others.
Make sure the students know what the agenda and objective is for a class or class activity.
  • Every minute of the three-hour practice was planned from the moment the players stepped onto the field until the moment they left.
  • Every coach knew exactly where they needed to be and what drill they needed to run. When a horn sounded the coaches and players moved seamlessly to the next drill.
 
During a practice, they switched drills often.
To maximize learning potential, it is important to switch activities during a class block.
  • There was a clock that kept counting down. When it reached “zero” a bull horn would sound and the players and coaches would switch to the next drill. During the three-hour practice, there were no fewer than 20 different drills run – the average drill lasted eight minutes before switching to something else.
  • Switching between drills frequently kept the players engaged while allowing them the opportunity to practice everything they needed to practice.
 
Coaches gave constant feedback and assessment.
Formative Assessment is the most important thing a teacher can do to help students learn.
  • Throughout the practice, coaches provided constant feedback to players. The coaches would watch the players do a drill and then provide immediate feedback so that the player could do it better the next time.
 
Throughout the practice players worked in different groups with varied groupings.
Mixing student groupings allows students the opportunity to learn how to collaborate effectively.
  • Sometimes players would practice with other players who played their position. Sometimes the players were divided by ability. Sometimes all the offensive players, regardless of ability, practiced together. There was constant changing and mixing of groups throughout the practice.
 
Players were consistently disciplined in an individual way.
When disciplining a student, it is important to do so individually while not embarrassing them.
  • At one point, all the offensive players had to run a lap; even Tom Brady. No exceptions were made for the “best” player.
  • Julian Edelman was sent on a lap as discipline. None of the fans watching practice knew why he was running.
 
Attention was paid to the smallest of details.
Call attention to everything a student does that doesn’t meet your expectations; but don’t make a big deal of everything.
  • Sort of like the “broken glass” theory of policing – you always take care of the small stuff so it doesn’t become something bigger.
 
Coaches found opportunities to work with players individually.
Fairness in education means giving every student what they NEED; not giving every student the same thing.
  • Brady’s backup needed more practice running the two-minute offense so he was placed with the group practicing that skill. Brady needed less practice so he worked on passing drills during that period.
 
The best form of assessment was authentic assessment where players took what they practiced in a drill and applied it to a game situation.
Students should be assessed on what they know and what they can do. The best way to carry out that assessment is through authentic assessments where students transfer their knowledge to a new situation.
  • Players practiced in a small group drill (by positions) and then did the same drill in the context of running plays with the whole offense.
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