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Can Video Game Secrets Amplify Your Taekwon-Do Coaching?


As a Taekwon-Do coach, your mission is to guide students in their Taekwon-Do journey while keeping them engaged and motivated. In today’s digital age, drawing inspiration from video game design can transform your coaching methods. Video games captivate players with their progressive challenges, instant feedback, clear goals, varied experiences, reward systems, and social interactions. By incorporating these principles into your Taekwon-Do coaching, you can create a dynamic and effective learning environment. Here’s how:


1. Progressive Difficulty: Structuring Learning Phases

In video games, players start with simple tasks and gradually face more complex challenges. This concept of progressive difficulty aligns perfectly with the instructional model known as "scaffolding". The instructional model of scaffolding was developed by psychologist Jerome Bruner. He introduced the concept in the context of education, emphasising the importance of providing structured support to learners as they engage in new tasks or concepts, gradually withdrawing this support as they gain proficiency.


Scaffolding in Taekwon-Do coaching means offering support structures tailored to each student's skill level, gradually fading them as proficiency increases. Beginners receive more guidance, while advanced practitioners are encouraged to self-correct and problem-solve independently. This ensures a smooth learning progression and empowers students to take ownership of their development.



Video Game Comparison: In popular games like "The Legend of Zelda," players begin with basic equipment and skills, gradually acquiring more advanced tools and abilities to tackle tougher enemies and puzzles. Similarly, Taekwon-Do students should start with basic techniques and gradually take on more challenging combinations and forms.


Implementation:

  • Beginner Phase: Focus on basic stances, simple kicks, and fundamental Tuls. Use detailed instructions and demonstrations.

  • Intermediate Phase: Introduce combinations and more advanced tuls, encouraging students to self-correct with minimal intervention.

  • Advanced Phase: Challenge students with complex sparring techniques and intricate Tuls, stimulating independent problem-solving and refinement.


Example: For beginners, start with a simple front kick. As they master it, combine it with punches, and later integrate it into a sparring combination.


2. Immediate Feedback: Enhancing Skill Acquisition


Immediate feedback, akin to real-time game responses, is crucial for skill acquisition. Incorporating principles from "deliberate practice", deliberate practice is a concept pioneered by psychologist Anders Ericsson, focusing on intentional and focused efforts to improve performance in a specific skill or domain.


In the context of skill acquisition, deliberate practice involves engaging in activities that are specifically designed to challenge and stretch a students abilities, pushing beyond their comfort zone. This type of practice is characterised by clear goals, immediate feedback, intense concentration, repetition, and reflection. Through deliberate practice, individuals can systematically improve their skills.


Video Game Comparison: In rhythm games like "Dance Dance Revolution," players receive immediate feedback on their performance through visual and auditory cues, allowing them to adjust and improve instantly. Similarly, providing real-time corrections in Taekwon-Do helps students refine their techniques on the spot.


Implementation:

  • Use video playback to provide visual feedback.

  • Offer verbal corrections right after a technique is performed.

  • Implement wearable technology for real-time data on performance.


Example: Record a student’s form and review the video together, pointing out specific areas for improvement. This mirrors the instant response players receive in a game, helping students adjust their techniques on the spot.


3. Clear Goals and Objectives: Defining Success

Clear, attainable goals are a hallmark of effective coaching and align with the "SMART goals" methodology (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, Time-bound). Setting explicit targets for each training session or belt level provides students with a roadmap and a sense of accomplishment.


Video Game Comparison: In "Minecraft," players set specific goals such as building structures or exploring new areas. These objectives provide direction and a sense of achievement once completed. Taekwon-Do coaches can use similar goal-setting techniques to guide student progress.


In Taekwon-Do, applying SMART goals can help students and instructors set clear objectives for training and progression. Here's how:

  1. Specific: Instead of a vague goal like "improve kicking," a specific goal might be "perfect the Turning kick technique by focusing on pivoting the supporting foot and snapping the kicking leg."

  2. Measurable: Define how progress will be measured. For example, "increase the height of the side kick by 10 centimeters" or "Increase the number of consecutive roundhouse kicks performed without losing balance from 5 to 15 within three months."

  3. Achievable: Ensure goals are realistic and attainable given the student's current level of skill and available resources. For instance, it might be unrealistic for a beginner to aim for a black belt level kick immediately.

  4. Relevant: Goals should be relevant to the student's overall learning objectives and the curriculum of Taekwon-Do. They should contribute to improving technique, fitness, or understanding of Taekwondo principles.

  5. Time-bound: Set a deadline for achieving the goal to create a sense of urgency and motivation. For example, "master the new Tul within three months" or "enter a competition by the end of the year."



Implementation:

  • Define specific objectives for each class (e.g., perfecting a particular kick or form).

  • Use progress charts to track achievements and areas needing improvement.

  • Set time-bound goals to keep students motivated and focused.


Example: Outline the skills required for each belt level and break them down into weekly objectives. Celebrate when students meet these goals, reinforcing their progress. For instance, a student aiming for their next belt level might set a SMART goal to perfect their side kick technique within four weeks, with measurable progress tracked weekly and celebrated upon achievement.


In teaching syllabus to young children, particularly in activities like earning syllabus belt tags when they have achieved an specific element of the syllabus. Tags are a fantastic visual representation of achievement, and for instructors they help you keep track of progress between belt gradings. SMART goals play a crucial role in guiding their learning journey effectively.


Let's break down how SMART goals can be applied in this context:

1. Specific: SMART goals help children understand exactly what is expected of them to earn a tag. For example, instead of simply aiming to "learn new skills," a specific goal might be to "perform a basic stance and punch technique with technical correctness."

2. Measurable: By setting measurable goals, children can track their progress towards earning a tag. For instance, they might aim to "perform the basic stance and punch technique correctly five times in a row without any mistakes."

3. Achievable: SMART goals ensure that the objectives set for children are realistic and attainable within their capabilities. For instance, if a child is just starting out, an achievable goal might be to "demonstrate improvement in the basic stance and punch technique during each practice session until you get your tag."

4. Relevant: Goals set for children should be relevant to the skills they need to learn to earn a tag. For example, if the badge requires proficiency in fundamental techniques, the goals should focus on achieving those specific skills rather than unrelated activities.

5. Time-bound: Setting time-bound goals creates a sense of urgency and motivation for children to work towards earning their tag. For example, they might aim to "master the required techniques and demonstrate them to the instructor by the end of the month."


By applying SMART goals in teaching syllabus to young children and earning tags, instructors can provide clear guidance, track progress effectively, and motivate children to achieve their learning objectives in a structured and focused manner. This not only enhances their skill development but also instills a sense of accomplishment and pride as they work towards earning their tags.


4. Variety and Creativity: Maintaining Engagement

Incorporating varied training routines and creative drills prevents monotony and keeps students engaged. Drawing from "experiential learning", which is all about students learning by doing. Instead of just listening to the coach speak or reading the Taekwon-Do Encyclopedia, people learn best when they actually get their hands dirty and experience things firsthand.


This approach was popularised by David A. Kolb, an educational theorist. He came up with a simple yet powerful idea: learning is a cycle that involves four stages:

  1. Doing Something: This is where you jump in and get involved in an activity or experience.

  2. Reflecting on What Happened: After the activity, take a step back and think about what you did and how it felt. What did you learn from the experience?

  3. Understanding the Big Picture: Next, try to connect what you learned to other things you know. This is when you start to see patterns and make sense of your experience.

  4. Trying it Out Again: Finally, take what you've learned and put it into action. Try new things, experiment, and see how it goes. This completes the cycle and starts the process all over again.


Experiential learning is a powerful way to learn because it's hands-on, reflective, and practical. It's like learning to ride a bike: you don't just read about it—you actually have to get on the bike and pedal. That's the essence of experiential learning, and it's why it's such an effective approach in sports coaching.


Video Game Comparison: Games like "Super Mario Odyssey" keep players engaged by offering diverse levels and challenges, preventing boredom and encouraging exploration. Taekwon-Do training can benefit from similar diversity and creativity.



Implementation:

  • Mix traditional drills with creative exercises.

  • Use thematic training sessions inspired by different martial arts, sports or scenarios.

  • Rotate training focuses to cover different aspects of Taekwon-Do (e.g., Tul, sparring, self-defense).


Example: Organise a “Martial Arts Mash-Up” day where students learn techniques from other martial arts or sports, then reflect on how these skills can enhance their Taekwon-Do practice.


5. Reward Systems: Recognising Achievement

Gamification, or the use of game-like elements in non-game contexts, can be applied through reward systems. Drawing from "positive reinforcement" in behavioural psychology, rewards can motivate students and reinforce desirable behaviours.


Positive reinforcement is a powerful tool in learning theory, based on the work of behaviourist B.F. Skinner. It involves rewarding desired behaviours to increase the likelihood of their recurrence. In Taekwon-Do coaching, positive reinforcement can be applied through various reward systems to motivate students and reinforce their progress.



Video Game Comparison: In "Pokémon," players receive badges and rewards for defeating gym leaders and completing challenges. These rewards motivate players to continue progressing. Implementing a similar reward system in Taekwon-Do can encourage continuous improvement.


Implementation:

  • Develop a tag or point system for achieving specific interim milestones.

  • Awarding certificates or belts for skill mastery and improvement.

  • Celebrate accomplishments publicly to build confidence and motivation.


Example: Create a digital or physical leaderboard where students earn points for medals won at competitions. Recognise top performers in your school to motivate others. Success breeds success when you celebrate strong role models and achievers in your group.


6. Social Interaction: Building Community

The social aspect of gaming—whether cooperative or competitive—enhances engagement and learning. Incorporating "social learning theory", developed by psychologist Albert Bandura, students learn not only through their own experiences but also by observing others and modelling their behaviour. In a Taekwon-Do context, this means that students can learn from watching their peers perform techniques correctly, receiving feedback from each other, and collaborating in group activities.


Video Game Comparison: In "World of Warcraft," players join guilds to complete quests and raids together, developing teamwork and a sense of community. Similarly, Taekwon-Do training can emphasise social interaction to enhance learning and camaraderie.


Implementation:

  • Encourage partner drills and team-based exercises.

  • Organise friendly competitions and sparring tournaments during sessions.

  • Create mentorship programmes where advanced students assist beginners.


Example: Pair up students of different skill levels for partner drills, allowing them to learn from each other's strengths and weaknesses. Create opportunities for students to lead warm-up exercises or demonstrate techniques to their peers, fostering a sense of responsibility and leadership within the group.


7. Role-Playing Games: Immersive Learning Experiences

Role-playing games (RPGs) immerse players in fictional worlds where they take on the roles of characters and embark on epic quests. This approach aligns with "constructivism", a learning theory that suggests learners actively construct their understanding and knowledge of the world through experiences and reflection. By assuming different roles and engaging in scenario-based activities, incorporating elements of RPGs into Taekwon-Do coaching can create immersive learning experiences. Assigning roles such as "Defender" and "Attacker" during sparring sessions can encourage strategic thinking and enhance students' understanding of combat dynamics. Through these role-playing scenarios, students construct meaning and develop a deeper understanding of Taekwon-Do techniques and principles.


Video Game Comparison: In games like "Final Fantasy," players assume the roles of diverse characters with unique abilities, working together to overcome challenges. Similarly, students can take on different roles during training, fostering teamwork and strategic thinking.


Implementation:

  • Design scenario-based training sessions where students must use Taekwon-Do techniques to overcome challenges.

  • Encourage students to embody different roles during self-defence drills, fostering empathy and adaptability.

  • Introduce storytelling elements to connect techniques to real-life situations, making learning more relatable and memorable.


Example: Create a small group scenario where students must protect a "VIP" from an "attacker" using strategy and footwork. This not only reinforces sparring skills but also encourages teamwork and decision-making under pressure.



Conclusion

By incorporating video game design principles into Taekwon-Do coaching, instructors can make training sessions more engaging and productive. By carefully planning each session with elements like challenging tasks, immediate feedback, specific goals, varied activities, and opportunities for teamwork, coaches ensure that students remain motivated and focused. This approach not only enhances students' Taekwon-Do skills but also instills a lasting enthusiasm for the martial art. By utilising these innovative methods, coaches can create an environment where students thrive and develop a deep appreciation for Taekwon-Do.


About the Author

Sally Gleaves, V Dan, ITF Taekwon-Do

Director of Worcestershire Martial Arts—a multifaceted martial artist with 27 years of experience, multiple national and world medals, and a dedication to coach development.


A 5th Dan Black Belt, she's represented England in Taekwon-Do and Kickboxing, earning accolades in patterns, sparring, and destruction. Sally's journey started as a response to bullying, evolving into a passion that led her to a 5th Dan in 2018.

Beyond her martial arts achievements, Sally is a qualified teacher, personal trainer, and sports coach. As an advocate for women in Taekwon-Do, she contributes to the AETF Women's Committee, promoting equality and safety.

As the Coach Development lead for ITF England, Sally leverages her extensive experience in the adult education sector. She offers Level 2 coaching sport qualifications and conducts various coach education workshops, contributing to the development of the next generation of instructors in collaboration with 1st4Sport and the ITF Coaches Committee. Sally is recognised as a leader in safeguarding, delivering keynotes and educational training sessions focused on raising awareness about sexual grooming.

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