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Guest blog: Clicking for success: gameplay as coach learning

Ben Oakley from The Open University outlines the background behind their new interactive game ‘Medal Quest’ which asks the game players ‘Can you guide a budding athlete from childhood potential to championship success?’

It was a compelling challenge; how do you design an online game that compresses knowledge of developing young athletes aged from 10 to 20 into an engaging, educationally sound experience for coaches, parents and athletes.

Where were we to start? Stories and journeys were the answer: they are memorable and often fascinating in sport. We started to consider what typical dilemmas athletes, parents and coaches face in each of the ten years beyond childhood. ‘Players’ would act as mentors helping an adolescent athlete make difficult choices. The title of ‘Medal Quest’ resonates with the idea of an uncertain journey perhaps towards championship success depending on the decisions made.

Some of the big issues in coaching developing athletes: specialisation, autonomy, mindset, challenge versus support and holistic life skills are all considered. Using 20 scenarios, we consulted parents and coaches in many sports including rugby, football, swimming and leaders at the International Olympic Committee (IOC) and sports coach UK. These developed into 10 scenarios from aged 10 through to aged 19, here is an example of the first scenario:

Aged 10: Kade is already a good ‘gymnast’. They train with a junior club and love it. But sometimes they'd rather just hang out with his friends. Is that OK?

Clearly it partly depends what sport you are talking about so we opted on players guiding either: a gymnast (Kade), a swimmer (Ivy), a footballer (Zoe) and a Paralympic runner (Andrew). This provided team, individual and other sporting characteristics.

The use of ‘Gamification’ to aid learning is part of an increasing blend in online education that help keep people engaged through interaction and decision making.

We borrowed an idea from sports coach UK's talent workshops; a representation of a graphic equaliser, showing the impact of each decision on ‘Early success’ (i.e. U18), ‘Chance of injury’, ‘Long-term prospects’ and ‘Motivation’. When certain threshold numbers in the background are reached a player either reaches a championship final aged 17-20 yrs. or has to retire early from the sport, with a few different outcomes in between.

Try the game here and compare your results with other coaches, share with your athletes and their parents.  This would be a great discussion point for a ‘Coaching Conversation’. There is lots of research to suggest that one feature of successful development environments are when those involved are ‘aligned’ with similar beliefs and attitudes.

Ben Oakley, Senior Lecturer, The Open University