Why I read it
I’ve read Teach Like a Champion many times, although for whatever reason haven’t written a blog post about its brilliance! Doug Lemov is an astute thinker, has invested thousands of hours into what he researches and writes about, and brings precision and clarity to his work. I was delighted to attend a football match with Doug and Joe Kirby recently, and I can confirm that Doug is as humble, curious, and intelligent as he comes across in interviews and his books. Despite this book focusing on helping sports coaches to understand teaching and learning better, I knew it would be packed full of insights for any profession.
The beauty of a book that teaches coaches about teaching, is that Lemov takes on the mammoth challenge of distilling the hugely complex array of teaching strategies and research into something fairly concise and navigable. He covers all manner of evidence-informed practice, from spaced learning to giving feedback.
The book is packed full of quotes from experts, sporting and teaching analogies, and a lovely prose style that is clean and accessible, especially amidst the technical aspects of the content. I should mention that the layout, colour scheme, and illustrations (by Oliver Caviglioli) are also fantastic.
The Coach’s Guide to Teaching was written primarily for sports coaches to better understand how to teach their players. But, it made me, a teacher, even more enthusiastic about my job, and just a little curious to see how good a coach I’d become!
Every page of this book has a ‘takeaway’, so I’ll summarise a few of my favourite chapters, instead!
- Building culture – I was so pleased to see a chapter dedicated to this topic. Daniel Coyle (author of Culture Code) is quoted at length, and Lemov states that ‘culture is built, sustained and transmitted in a series of small moments’, and in sustaining our focus on what is important. The chapter has many insights about how we build a sense of purpose and culture that empowers everyone to be their best. There are also many anecdotes and examples of dialogue one could employ to turn an interaction into a positive, impactful one that aligns with the organisation’s culture.
- Knowledge, curriculum, and shared vocabulary – one of the key tenets of the book is that coaching isn’t just about motivation and culture – knowledge and curriculum play a huge role in building a successful team. Lemov provides models for how to build curricula for a variety of contexts. But the part I liked the most was the section on shared vocabulary. You’ll know from Teach Like a Champion that Doug is a big believer in naming techniques in order to streamline communication and add clarity to conversations that can become technical and complex. This is a vital part of the book for any coach or teacher.
- Giving feedback – Feedback is a nuanced area of teaching, and Doug does a brilliant job in tailoring it to a sports-coach audience; in turn, I learnt a lot from these sporting analogies. One coach speaks of finding it difficult to improve the players who don’t want to listen or learn, and Lemov discusses how a broader culture of trust and strong relationships are the bedrock of giving everyday feedback to improve performance. The chapter progresses to cover many fine points of feedback, such as positively framing it, critiquing actions not people, and being precise.
Throughout The Coach’s Guide to Teaching, Lemov includes quotations from sports players, coaches, teaching experts, and cognitive scientists. Here are a few of my favourites:
Wayne Smith: ‘a lot of people say how creative the All Blacks are or how much flair there is, but creativity is just practice that’s camouflaged.’
Kirschner, Sweller and Clark: ‘Any methodology that does not increase the efficiency with which relevant information is stored in, or retrieved from long-term memory, is likely to be ineffective.’
Jeremy Denk: ‘While the teacher is trying to discover what isn’t working, the student is in some way trying to elude discovery, disguising weaknesses in order to seem better than they are.’
At the beginning of the book, Lemov cites a moment when, as he was about to present to some of baseball’s most learned and successful coaches, he had doubts. His opening gambit was to show a video of the brilliant maths teacher Denarius, teaching a lesson in his school; he would then ask the coaches what they noticed. But at the last minute, he worried that these elite sports coaches would be dismissive of a classroom teacher in action.
But, Doug rolled the clip, and then posed the question. And then waited.
And then one of the most well-known coaches in the league spoke up. ‘He’s teaching everybody. Everybody.’
And then the room came to life with feedback and discussion.
This story illustrates the universal features of teaching, coaching, interacting, and bringing out the best of those you are leading. And that’s what this book is all about – whether you are a coach, teacher, or something entirely different, the energy and passion combined with the technical expertise will provide many insights.
Read this if…
You are a teacher looking to engage with the key characteristics of effective teaching, learning, and organisational culture.
You are a coach!