When I think of practice my mind drifts back to days of boring lineman footwork drills during football 2-a-days or standing in the outfield shagging flyballs during what seemed to be endless baseball practices. Over the last few months I have been thrown back into this world. I volunteered to be an assistant coach for my son’s 8U baseball allstar team. It was an awesome experience for my son but it wasn’t perfect. His biggest complaint after several practices was that he was just standing in right field during an hour of infield practice 3 days a week.

He’s 8.

He wanted to be active – to hit, to run, to throw. I guess the simulation style work helped but only fornthe three or four kids that were actively engaged on any given play. Otherwise most of the kids were like my Benny – bored and counting down the seconds trying to do just enough to not get singled out with some coach’s criticism.

It got my mind thinking about how sports video games encourage practice without bogging the players in boring drills. Naturally, the games themselves would allow for practice. If a player likes to play exhibitions then that would be like practice. Most sports gamers are engaged by season play or even franchises in which experimenting during a game has negative consequences and there are some situations that might come up once or twice in a season. The player might not have the muscle memory they would like. As a thought experiment, how does the current Madden football game encourage practice without actually requiring it?

Madden’s answer lies in “Weeky Training – Game Planning”

In Franchise Mode, the player has a series of tasks that need to be accomplished before they can begin a season game. These tasks range from speaking to the media to adjusting the roster for an injured player to negotiating contracts for players that will be reaching free agency at the end of the season. The player can do this manually or simulate the task. Among these tasks is setting a “gameplan” for the upcoming game.

After a short practice beginning cut scene the game suggests a particular playset based in the upcoming opponent’s weaknesses and gives a 5-10 play practice. For example, the computer coaching assistant suggests the the game player practice plays against a Cover 2 defense. The player could simulate this task but if they manually practice these types of plays then the team’s players get an XP boost and a highly likelihood for success in the upcoming game on thes playsets. The better the player performs the more XP the players earn as the player can achieve a bronze, silver, or gold medal for the practice. I think there are a few important things incentivizing the practice.

  1. It is thematically logical.
  2. It is presented as a side quest/mini-game
  3. There are reward structure.
  4. There is an opt out.
  5. It is active.
  6. It provides immediate feedback.

Of these, I think most important element is #5 – the practice should be active. Then there should be feedback which should be rapid, specific, and mostly positive. I have noticed that the best coaches praise loudly and criticizes quietly. Otherwise players do just enough to not get yelled at. There is no innovation or experimentation.

With these Madden guidelines and general coaching observations we can apply the ideas to classroom practice.

  • Most imprtant – STOP GRADING PRACTICE – zeros are the equivalent of getting yelled at and students will d just enough to not get yelled at. It encourages both cheating and stagnation.
  • Give immediate feedback – dont collect homework and hand it back the next class. You know what, dont give homework. Without a coach at home it is either doesn’t lead to improvement or locks in bad habits.
  • Allow an opt-out or atleast non-grade based reward structure. I like giving out “test allies” which eliminate a single answer choice off a multiple choice test.
  • The opt out can be turned into an opt in by making practice a side quest. I dis this last year we the weekly challenge system and it worked well for many students.
  • Side quests are loaded with theme development options starting with aesthetics and leading to boss fights.

There are so many ways to incorporate better practice practices! Play a few games and really think how the game is constantly forcing you to practice skills that will pop up in the big final battle!