Tennis star Serena Williams does it. Olympic legend Michael Phelps did it during the 2012 London Games. Baseball player Carlos Delgado was profiled in a 2006 New York Times story for doing it.
So did the soccer teams Richard Kent coached around 30 years ago when he was teaching high school students in the western Maine town of Rumford.
Now an associate professor in the University of Maine’s College of Education and Human Development and the director of the UMaine-based Maine Writing Project, Kent has developed the concept of team notebooks in which athletes spend time in the course of a sports season writing evaluations of their preseason goals, feelings about games they have played and watched, and postseason outcomes.
He relates the notebooks concept to differentiated learning, which acknowledges that the variety of ways in which students learn in a classroom (or on a field, court or wherever athletes do their work) requires a teacher (or coach, trainer or adviser) to present a variety of learning techniques.
For athletes — from Olympians to high school players — Kent’s research shows that keeping a journal is a way to decompress, unpack mentally and think critically about the outcome of a game, match or other sporting event. Some use journaling in preseason to clarify their goals for the upcoming competition, or in the postseason to set themselves up for off-season training. Others write while an event is in progress. Delgado, for example, was known to keep notes in the dugout when he wasn’t playing.
“The team notebook is a way for athletes to communicate more directly with a coach, but even more than that, for them to think about learning in different ways,” Kent says. “What we know about learning these days is that we all learn differently, and in fact it’s differentiated instruction for coaches. This really mirrors what we know in the College of Education and Human Development of the effective classroom, which is that we address learners where they come from.
“In other words, we all have different ways to learn. Some of us do well by writing about it, some of us need to talk about it, some need to think about it, and some need a little bit of everything. That’s the bottom line with this research, that an effective coaching practice has lots of different ways for athletes to consider their performances and their training, and writing is one of them.”
Although athletes have been journaling on their own for years, Kent’s notebooks are among the first of their kind to standardize the process with specific writing prompts and consistent questions. Several institutions have starting using Kent’s model notebooks and tailoring them to their own needs, which Kent encourages. Coaches at Southern Virginia University, Gonzaga University, University of Missouri and Temple University have adapted the notebooks and implemented them in their programs.