In honor of football season, I will begin this post with a lesson from one of NFL’s most memorable coaches. Vince Lombardi was head coach for the Green Bay Packers and the Washington Redskins. During his short career (only about a decade long) he achieved 96 wins to only 34 losses, six division championships, two super bowl victories, and was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Oh yeah, and the super bowl trophy will forever bear his name.
Perhaps more impressively, he was known for turning losing teams into winning teams. In case you’re a numbers person, here are the stats; the season before he coached the Packers they claimed only one win and ten losses. Remarkably, in his first season with the Packers the team had seven wins and only five losses (they went on to win TWO super bowls). He created an equally inspiring result in only one year as coach of the Redskins.
What was his secret to such great success? The basics. And I am talking THE basics. So basic that the first day of each pre-season training session began with these five words, “Gentlemen, this is a football.” He went on to explain the rules of the game, the organization of players on the field, and where boundaries and end zones were located. We’re talking professional football, people! He was coaching players who had spent YEARS playing the game and he begins by showing them what a football is? He did not stop there. From the first day of training and during every single practice thereafter, the majority of time was spent overlearning the basics; blocking, tackling, and handling the ball. To get to the point, this is what Vince Lombardi had to say about excellence:
“Excellence is achieved by the mastery of the fundamentals.”
Do you think these football players were bored with such repetition? Maybe. Would they say it paid off in the long run? Absolutely. With mastery of the fundamentals came the freedom to put their head in the game and think on their feet when it really mattered.
Hopefully, you are making the connection between decoding and comprehension at this point. When students master the basic skills involved in decoding, their brains are free to focus on comprehension. This requires repetition in instruction and practice. Repetition to the point of mastery obviously worked for Vince Lombardi (and for NBA players, as Dr. Brian Ludlow describes in the following video):
However, repetition is a major contributor to the cause of our second misconception about phonics instruction. ...