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What does CLASS have to do with Sports Science? Ask Professor Alfred Richartz!

27 Jul 2017 by Sarah Hadden

We are always interested to learn about novel uses of the CLASS. When we learned of the work of Alfred Richartz (left), Professor of Movement and Sports Pedagogy at the University of Hamburg in Hamburg, Germany, we knew we had to share. Alfred is a longtime CLASS user, having traveled to the U.S. in 2010 to be trained on K-3 CLASS. Since that time, he has returned five times to expand his CLASS repertoire. A certified observer on Toddler, K-3, Upper Elementary, and Secondary, Alfred is also an Affiliate Trainer on K-3. 

Here are the questions we posed to him:

How did you first learn about the CLASS and what motivated you to include it in your work?

I first learned about the CLASS in 2008 when I was looking for an observation instrument for a research project concerned with teaching quality in athletic training for gifted gymnasts. We have special training centers for them from age 5 on and I wanted to evaluate pedagogics practiced there. I had done a lot of research concerning children and youths in high level sports and came up with some strange sounding results (children in high level sports reported lower chronic stress level than children without a hobby, children and youths held high opinions about most of their coaches and close relations to at least a lot of them etc.). I thought: “Maybe they just tell us so” (in interviews and questionnaires). It was time to look up what children were really encountering in high level training. When I received this grant in summer 2009 – I asked a colleague at Texas A&M University to buy me these new K-3- and Pre-K-manuals which I had found on the web. When I finally got them I thought: “That’s exactly what we need!”

You are a sports scientist. How does the CLASS translate into your field?

Two of the class domains fit perfectly into the field of physical education and athletic training: Emotional Support and Classroom Organization. The quality of relationships between coaches and young athletes has a significant impact on how the athletes cope with the training demands. It’s important that coaches be a secure base to support the athletes’ motivation and encourage their sense of autonomy. Even if coaches don’t have classrooms, they need to be good at Classroom Organization – including Instructional Learning Formats. In our current studies, we observe athletic training as any CLASS observer would - without changing anything. And while we do not observe for Concept Development or Language Modeling, we do look at Quality of Feedback. Feedback loops in motor learning look different because the answer of a student can be a change of posture, muscle activation, or guiding a movement – but you can still see these loops occurring, or sad to say: missing most of the time. And feedback loops have the same significance as in cognitive learning. We have scaffolding in motor learning – you may know that the notion of scaffolding was invented in researching a motor learning task. And of course encouragement and affirmation work perfectly in motor learning.

 You are currently using the CLASS in a unique study applying CLASS concepts to coaching athletes. What are you learning so far? How receptive are the coaches to incorporating CLASS concepts into their work?

In the above mentioned evaluation project we met some coaches who earned very impressive CLASS scores. I was so excited that I immediately asked them to be videotaped in a following project which allowed us to develop video exemplars for gymnastics, judo, and handball. We presented our “German-sport-science version of the CLASS to some 400 coaches and learned that 95% of them found the information highly relevant for their daily practice, and highly interesting as well. We even had some requests from other sports like fencing, skiing, water polo, riding – in all cases audiences were very interested. 

What’s next for you? Do you plan to pursue additional certifications? Do you have another project you would like to do?

We are excited to implement a “coaching of coaches” project based on CLASS-concepts and our German video library. My research team and I look forward to learning how we can support processes of change through CLASS-based coaching. We have ongoing research on the impact of the CLASS on teachers’ and coaches’ ability to notice important classroom processes. We use the CLASS Upper Elementary in our projects and are starting a Toddler project which focusses on movement, exploration and language development.

Most of all I like the feeling that things I do in several educational fields and my own teaching practice at the university are evidence based, due to all the scientific work that has been and continues to be invested in the CLASS. I am delighted to be part of it. It gives me trust, what I’m doing is always to be reflected and checked, but is standing on solid ground.

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