The Virtue of Breaking Rules: How Do You Teach It?

As a young high jumper in the early 1960s, Dick Fosbury had trouble mastering the standard technique, called the straddle. Instead he began doing the high jump by approaching the bar with his back to it, doing a modified scissor-kick and going over the bar backwards and horizontal to the ground. As goofy as it looked, it worked. Dubbed the “Fosbury Flop” by a Medford, Oregon reporter, Fosbury caused a sensation when he won the gold medal in the 1968 Olympics, jumping a height of 2.24 meters. The Fosbury Flop has since become a standard technique for high jumpers.


I mean let’s face it most of us are really trying to get our students to conform and do what we say so that they learn, but I can remember watching Dick Fosbury jump in the LA Coliseum in the 1960s and being completely amazed. “How did he do that?” we all thought. My students have a great deal of fun in my classes and on my teams, but I am also very strict with them so that they don’t get into avoidance patterns and sloppiness. I teach a lot of technique, but sometimes I just feel like I really want break some rules. Something inside of me seems to be like the fosbury factor. I think I say to myself, “This is not working!!!!! Do something else.” But what is not working is the established pattern that everyone else is doing which seems to work on some levels. At first I try to copy it, but then when the copying doesn’t take me far enough or like Mr. Fosbury doesn’t work at all, I start feeling like I need to break a rule.

So I think that, at some point, when things are not working and you have exhausted the traditional methodology, that it is time to break a rule. Dick Fosbury broke the rule of how to high jump successfully and then became the world’s best and changed the way people do the sport. I have the feeling that because we all are not very encouraged to break rules that we only rely on the same patterns and methods that others do. The answer for someone having difficulties is usually to do more of the same, i.e., conformity and repetition of established patterns.


Breaking rules is not about creating chaos. It is about finding another way to achieve the same goal. The other day I was watching a teacher break one of my rules in a very successful way. My rule is to first have my students work on skills and then save the fun game stuff to the end. This teacher just did the opposite. The students played a really exciting game where they all participated and ran like crazy all over the field giving them a great fitness workout. After that he started working on skills. Everyone worked hard on the skills. My cultural inner rule is work first, play later, but he did the opposite and it worked.

I think maybe the rule that he was breaking was the rule that says that people really don’t like working hard; that you have to keep them motivated by putting the play at the end. He broke the cultural norm.  He believes that people love to work hard so he put  the play first. The next class I started putting more play earlier, but I am still a little reluctant to break the rule.

So now I am thinking that when I have a track team or swim team that the racing should come in a lot earlier and then the athletes will practice and train more. I just broke a rule !!!


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