Confessions of an Equestrian Instructor in the Pursuit of Excellence

By Jane Jackson, Level 3 TAGteacher

In my pursuit of excellence (for myself and my students) I discovered TAGteach. This teaching approach has added many effective new tools to my tool box and has provided me with ways of becoming a better instructor. The first three (of many) things which pop into my head when I think about how TAGteach has helped me are: 

  1. observation
  2. breaking things down and; 
  3. reinforcing successes.  

I tend to prefer the term instructor over the term trainer when talking about teaching people to ride. For the purpose of this article, I’ll use “instructor” when talking about teaching people, and “trainer” when talking about teaching horses. 

Observation Skills are Critical

We all have favorite exercises we use when we teach, but a canned approach only takes you so far. We also have to watch the student and see what needs help: position, confidence, comprehension, something different? We may start with an exercise such as riding a square by halting in each corner and doing a partial turn on the forehand to line up with the next side of the square. Observation comes in if the horse and rider pair do not execute the exercise correctly. Why not? Is the rider’s leg in the correct position? Is she using her seat correctly? Does she understand how to use her aids to ask for the turn? Does the horse understand the leg aid? Maybe all of those things are in need of help! 

Breaking it Down

That brings us to breaking it down. As trainers, we know that the aids must be correct in order for the horse to understand what we are asking. We naturally want to make all of it correct so the tendency is to say, “next time slide your leg back and don’t lean over and make sure you maintain the bend but don’t pull on the inside rein….”. As instructors, we’ve also been in the saddle when someone else was barking orders at us (and boy do we have stories to tell about how rough WE had it when we were learning). So in order to make it easier on our students and to help them be successful- which of course helps us look good-, we can use TAGteach. We can break it down and only work on one of those skills at a time. “But!”, you say, “you have to have all those things in order to get it right”. Well, yes, but does anyone do it correctly the first time? Or even the tenth time? Better to break it down and make progress in one aspect of the skill, than to keep repeating yourself while your student gets frustrated trying to remember all the different things at once and still not getting it right. You can even take it out of the context of the turn. Focus on the leg position while she’s riding down the long side and have the student practice putting it in the correct place and back until she feels confident and can easily put her leg where you want it repeatedly. Tag each time she correctly places her leg.  Then you can focus on the seat while leaving the leg out of the picture for a bit. Focusing on each component individually allows to the student to feel and experience each before trying to put them together.

Reinforcing Success

Finally, reinforcing the student’s successes helps nail the skill down. A reinforcer is defined as something which will make the behavior more likely to happen in the future. While training animals, food is a great reinforcer because most animals like food. My young students are reinforced by receiving stickers or little plastic ponies for their efforts (we keep track of each tag and they barter them for prizes afterward). For many riders, simply being able to execute the skill correctly is reinforcement enough. That is, after all, why they are taking lessons- they want to become better riders! Being able to ride away from a lesson and say, “I can ask for and get a turn on the forehand” for the first time is sweet! But we want to help our student get to that point. So little reinforcers along the way, for each step of that process, is what I have learned is invaluable. First, you have to mark that correct performance of the skill. While a clicker is best for the accuracy and non-judgmental tone, you can also use your voice: “there!” when the rider gets the leg in the right place. Repeating the skill so that the affirming marker is heard repeatedly is what will create an easier and easier performance. So whether you have students pull down beads on a tagulator for each successful repetition or they simply get to hear and feel the little successes, keep that “rate of reinforcement” high.

An Example

Here is an example. In the first photo the rider has her heels down properly, but her leg is too far forward. When I ask her to move her foot more to the back, she moves it too far and now her heel has come up into the wrong position (see photo 2). So we have two things to fix: the position of the heel (should be down below the stirrup) and the position of the heel relative to the hip (should be aligned). Deciding to work on only one aspect (the heel/hip alignment), I put a piece of purple tape on the hip and the heel and give the tag point “tape to tape”. The rider will get a tag when she lines up the tape horizontally. Success!

Video Examples from Webinar with Jane

The Bonus?

Observing, breaking things down and reinforcing successes are three critical components of using TAGteach and as such, they are some of the initial skills taught at a TAGteach Seminar or the online course.  The bonus? I feel I have become a better trainer and rider myself through this process of careful examination. 

Webinar with Jane

The recording of this webinar will be available from the same link as the live event

Do you see promise and potential in your students, but wish they would progress faster? This webinar will show you how to boost your student’s performance. You’ll learn how to make simple changes to your teaching approach. You’ll learn how to talk less, say more and motivate your students to do their very best. You’ll learn about a powerful new approach to giving structured, perfectly timed positive reinforcement. This is a practical webinar that will show you exactly how to use TAGteach. TAGteach is teaching method that uses the principles of behavior science for precise, efficient, effective teaching. Elite orthopedic surgeons are trained this way as reported in Scientific American. Your students will be thrilled to know that they are being taught like surgeons!

Raise the bar for your teaching and for your student’s performance.

In this webinar you’ll see creative ideas for removing the horse (and his stress) from the picture and using just a few minutes on the ground before the lesson to minimize unnecessary errors.

More About Jane

For more information about Jane, visit BookendsFarm.com and check out her blog at bookendsfarm.blogspot.com

Read a TAGteacher Spotlight article about Jane

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TAGteacher Tale: How to Use Positive Reinforcement in Basketball Coaching

By BJ Mumford, Basketball Coach, Level 1 TAGteacher

Imagine a 3rd grader dribbling up the basketball court in a live full-court 3on3 game, driving to the basket, reacting to a defender and making an assist to a teammate. Now imagine that this player had never played basketball before 6 weeks ago….

Unthinkable you say? Well, not with TAGteach!

I have spent 14 years coaching basketball in a variety of roles, but have always returned to player development as my favorite way to provide lasting value to kids. I grew up being homeschooled, and have always been an advocate for self-directed learning, free play, and experimentation as the best method for kids to motivate their exploration of the world. The most rewarding thing I can do is to guide an already motivated learner on their path to achieving their goals! I have always been very positive and encouraging of player attempts, but like most coaches I always struggled with the ability to concisely communicate instructions to young players when teaching complex concepts and skills, inevitably leading to their boredom, and my frustration.

I have always been very positive and encouraging of player attempts, but like most coaches I always struggled with the ability to concisely communicate instructions to young players when teaching complex concepts and skills, inevitably leading to their boredom, and my frustration.

I started my own business called Play>Practice Basketball in 2018 to address the need for precise 1on1 coaching for all ages (we have worked with ages 3 to 42 so far) and to specifically focus on the K-5th grade age groups which I found to be most underserved by basketball instruction. The primary issue I discovered for the younger age group is that the average volunteer parent or coach has no way to translate high-level basketball skills and concepts into the most basic parts without contradicting what they would later teach the same players as they progressed (e.g. learning to dribble around cones placed on the floor, later being chastised for not having eyes up).

Being a stickler for consistency, I set out to solve that problem through experimentation….

The TAGteach Adventure Begins

My TAGteach adventure began in May 2018 when I completed my Level 1 TAGteach certification, and I that fall I began an after school enrichment program teaching basketball skills through a games approach, combined with tag points. The philosophy was based on a book by Alan Launder titled Play Practice, detailing a method of teaching all major sports through the games approach. I made it my own and added what I call the “Practice Sandwich”, modeled after the whole-part-whole method, by starting and ending each session with a game and breaking down the skills used in that game during the middle, or “meat” of the practice. This format accomplishes several things, A) it gives players an incentive to arrive on time to get in the first game, B) allows the pent up energy from a day in the classroom to be used constructively, and C) gives the coach a chance to evaluate which skills and concepts have been retained from previous sessions, and what still needs work. The final game of the day is always the favorite, where players are able to apply what they just learned (and whatever else they come up with) during a semi-formal game with the coach acting as referee. We made our Play>Practice logo a bit ambiguous to support the games approach concept by using the “greater than” sign between play and practice and leaving the reader to interpret it as they wish – most commonly “play before practice” or “play is greater than practice”.

The Learning Experience Continues

The last 2 years have been a great learning experience for both myself and my assistant coach as we have experimented with various game structures, tag points, prizes, and progressions of skills. We found that our coaching approach had to drastically change to ensure that all drills, games, tag points, etc were always game-relevant, and would not be contradicted at a more advanced level of play. Working with ages that are easily overwhelmed in a chaotic sport, and may have difficulty performing the basic skills even in a calm environment, we discovered that by starting with the conceptual context of a game (beginning with 1on1), we were able to quickly increase the player’s enjoyment of basketball practice. By presenting skills in a practice setting as solutions to the problems recently encountered during play, players were very motivated to sustain a focused effort practicing skills that would otherwise seem boring. The need for “tagging” an individual skill in a controlled practice setting was eventually overtaken by the positive reinforcement of achieving success in gameplay, allowing a rapid progression across multiple skills within a 6-week program.

What’s Next?

What’s next? We have recently undertaken to codify our work into a curriculum that will be used to standardize our practice pedagogy for K-2nd and 3-5th grade age groups, and we are reaching out to elementary school teachers to begin their training through the TAGteach online course, followed by our own coaches training curriculum and hands-on training during our summer camps to prepare them for the fall school season.

If anyone is interested in basketball or TAGteaching individual or team sport concepts, please get in touch with me at info@play-practice.com I am always happy to discuss anything relate to this topic!

Learn More With Us!

Join us for a live webinar with TAGteach Co-founder Joan Orr and Coach BJ Mumford This will be recorded, so if you miss it you can access it from the same link. The live version will be priced free-$20 and the recording will be $5-$20 (pay what you can in both cases).

Interview with a TAGteacher: TAGteach for Special Needs Tennis

Have you wondered how to apply TAGteach in a group sports setting with special needs kids? Will it be too noisy for the learner to hear the tags? Will the learner be too distracted by everything else going on the room? How do you handle the reinforcers? Can you use TAGteach to manage behavior and social issues? Do coaches really think that kids taught with TAGteach learn better? Listen to this month’s interview with a TAGteacher and watch the accompanying videos to get answers to these and more questions.

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