Have you ever noticed that you can hear something a hundred times, but never bother to actually think about what it means? The head coach of my jump rope team, Mr. Berry, used to always start out our shows with a quick speech explaining what the crowd would see. One of the lines that he would say is that jump rope is a cooperative education model. As a kid I never even thought twice about it, some form of PE Teacher gobbledy-gook that I didn’t understand or care to ask about. I was talking with him the other day as I was looking for feedback while preparing to film my upcoming curriculum on jump rope in PE and he said the same thing. So what on earth does that phrase actually mean.
Most sports are structured in the coach to athlete paradigm. The coach lays out drills, activities, etc that all the players go out and do. They get critiqued and then go again. Jump rope can be styled in the same manner, but many coaches (and Mr. Berry was very much like this) decide to go a different route. He would structure the practice so that it wasn’t chaos, but left a lot of freedom for the jumpers to work within. We might all do speed drills together, but then we had “qualification time”. Our team was structured on what was called a card basis. There were different cards on the board that listed all the skills we needed to complete to move up to the next level. Each level that we completed earned points and privileges (If you want to learn more about how this worked, I will be covering this information in detail for our Platinum Members in our Team information section). The skills that we had to complete varied in what you were required to do. Some were individual, some were partner routines/events and some were team skills. This freedom to do whatever you wanted was great. I could focus on the speed or freestyle requirements whenever I felt like doing them. However, once I had that marked off, I had to start working with other jumpers on the team. Here’s where the cooperative education side came in. My preferred jumping partner might not be available at practice today, what do I do?!?!
We weren’t allowed to just sit around complaining. Maybe everyone else in practice is busy working on something for their card, but I need a partner to do a 2-Wheel routine. My partner would inevitably be whoever I could find that was wandering around aimlessly. Based on each of our skill levels we may be compatible or on totally different ends of the spectrum. This didn’t matter on our team. We would work together to develop a routine. There were certain requirements that had to be met for the routine to qualify and if my partner can’t do them, I would have to teach them how (or vice versa). This was the beauty of the model, Mr. Berry didn’t have to jump. In fact, he really couldn’t jump rope at all. Older jumpers would teach the younger ones. Better jumpers would purposefully be teamed up with inexperienced ones. When we had a show to do, Mr. Berry would throw 2 or 3 kids together randomly and tell us to create a specific type of routine. There was a lot of complaining about “She’s not very good at this!”. His response was usually along the lines of “then teach her”. I had no idea of the brilliance of this model, but it shaped one of the best jump rope teams.
As I was thinking about this the other day, it struck me how unlikely some of our jumpers were to be athletes. You know the type, you look at them and all you can think is “definitely a math child”. We had kids on the team that weren’t physically built to be jumpers, but in spite of all the odds, they excelled. Why? Because we believed in each other. I might get stuck in a routine with one of those kids and we weren’t about to put out an easy routine in the show. No way. We practiced. We taught. We encouraged and we yelled at each other. We had nights where we would go home thinking this is never going to work. But we didn’t quit and eventually we got the routine. I have to say, it is quite amazing what was accomplished.
If you can find a way to have older, more experienced athletes in the lead, you will be amazed at what can be done. The key is to develop a culture that is based on the idea of kids teaching kids. A few years ago I did a show in New Zealand and one of the schools had this idea embedded in their identity. It was a small rural school with grades K-5 (or possibly 6). Each older student was paired with a younger one in the manner of a 2nd grader with a Kindergartener, a 4th grader with a 1st grader, etc. They had lunch together, they had recess together, they were buddies. I’ve been to thousands of schools and this one stood out head and shoulders because the culture was so different. They had a rack of unicycles in all sizes and the older kids would be there helping the younger ones learn how to ride. We brought out some jump ropes and the older kids were there helping the younger ones learn how to turn. It was genuinely amazing. The big difference? Cooperative education. I like to think of it in this manner, if you’re the coach, try to be as obsolete as possible. Are you important, absolutely! Do you have to do all the teaching? No way.