Tchoukball Sports Education Unit

Sports Education Unit in Tchoukball

I thought it would be my masterpiece.  My concerto, my Mr. Holland’s Opus, my Sistine Chapel.  Boy was I wrong.  It wasn’t my anything… was ours and it was awesome!

Back to the beginning.  I learned about sports education units from reading the blogs of @PENathan and @mrrobbo and watching the videos that corresponded with the units.  I knew this was something I wanted to try with our 5th graders as a big project this year.  After consulting with my 3 coaches, we decided the final game would be in our cafeteria (we don’t have an indoor gym), and we would invite our administration and the 4th graders to watch.  We decided on a sport that:

  1. Didn’t need hoops (because of the final game inside)
  2. Could be played in a medium-sized space
  3. We had enough equipment to run 2 games at the same time
  4. No student was an expert on.  This actually was a top priority because we have some superstar soccer, football, hockey, baseball and basketball players.  We knew nobody went home and played tchoukball.  So we chose it!

The goal of the sports ed.unit is to have the students pick jobs that would go into a sporting event. They would take ownership of that job throughout the tournament and up to the final game. Some of the jobs kicked in right away, like scorekeepers, referees and captains, while others took place later as their team was knocked out of the tournament.  We watched a hockey game in our media center (we also checked out a tchoukball game!), and the students came up with these jobs, which we generated into a circle thinking map:

Round Robin Tournament

Starting off, we needed to find a way to create 3 teams per class (about 7-8 players per team).  This meant with 6 full classes, we had 18 teams to play.  I would have liked 6 players per team, but that would have put us at 24 teams! We used the website  If we deemed the teams to be too lopsided, we moved a child or 2 to a different team.  Students then picked a team name and began to practice and discuss the best strategies for the game.  After a week of practicing, playing and observing, the teams picked captains, referees, scorekeepers and time keepers.  They were advised that a good and effective captain is someone who communicates well, who helps the team in following the rules, and who makes sure everyone on the team gets the ball and feels welcome. The Round Robin Tournament lasted for 2 weeks, during which time each team played 4-5 games and also spent a significant amount of time practicing.  We used the app Fixture Maker to set up the games for us.

 The Bracket

This was especially tough, as we didn’t want to knock teams out, but it had to be done to keep the tournament moving towards the ultimate goal, which was the final game.  We used a bracket maker website that placed the top 10 teams, based on win/loss/draw points in the bracket.  We also decided that some teams that didn’t make it based on points did a fantastic job with communication, teamwork and sportsmanship, so we put 2 teams in as “coaches’ exemptions”!

This meant that 12 of the 18 teams made it, while 6 didn’t.  These 6 teams got first picks at the secondary jobs of our tournament (see the circle map above).  They surprised me with how well they did with the jobs!  The reporters were right on top of the action, the cheer squads practiced routines, the video/picture crew captured the game play, and the other jobs were taken seriously by our mature 5th graders.  When not playing or working, another game was set up in our field for them to practice.  Eventually, we got down to a Final Four, which was a really big deal before the final game.  It began with a small group singing the National Anthem, which was amazing!  I was away 2 days in the previous week and was very nervous if we could pull everything together in time.  I told the students later that when I heard them sing for the first time I felt much more calm, because I couldn’t believe how good they were! Everyone in 5th grade watched those games, and it was intense and fantastic!  The level of play was incredible, as the 2 teams played with a big audience and wanted not only to impress their peers, but also to display their skills and make it to the Big Game!

The Final Game

The big day had arrived.  We were down to 2 teams out of the 18 we began with and the anticipation was crazy!  In the days leading up to it, students practiced their jobs, created their final song lists, finished routines, hung posters and banners, and learned new apps for video and picture crew.  The final teams practiced and went over strategy on their own.  Everyone was talking about the big game!  Teachers and administration received VIP tickets to sit at courtside, and 4th graders got their admission tickets as well.  Our coaches took a lot of time setting up the cafeteria that morning to make things look like a professional venue!

We spent the first period of the day going over everything with the 5th graders.  The script was set and my announcer for the game, Jackie was ready!  The DJ’s had their songs cued up!  The spirit squad was ready to cheer on both teams and they were prepared to toss goodies into the crowd!  We were so excited, and all the coaches were nervous!  I knew it wouldn’t be my version of “perfect”, but we wanted to give everyone a good show and demonstrate to the teachers, administrators and 4th graders the hard work the 5th graders put in and the sacrifices they made to get this accomplished.

Before we knew it, the time had come.  Our ticket sale personnel collected tickets at the door, and our security team helped to seat the VIP guests.  The venue was electric!  I somehow silenced the crowd, gave a small introduction speech on the unit, how our 5th graders pulled it off, and the basic rules of tchoukball (I found out later that some guests, including my wife who showed up late with my kids, had no idea what was going on-but they loved it!).  From there, it was showtime!  The teams were introduced and broke through their banners like at a football game as the DJ’s played a loud, bass-driven song.  After a minute or so of noise and clapping, we settled into our National Anthem, which was lead by our music teacher. Our students sounded incredible and truly blew everyone away!

The game itself was a blur to me.  I walked around a lot, made sure everyone was on point, greeted people in our VIP section (yes, especially my wife and kids!), and tried to stay calm.  In hindsight, I wish I watched more of the game, but I enjoyed what I saw, and the gameplay was at a new level!  The students were diving, jumping higher than ever, and running like I’ve never seen the game played!  We had them wear our new heart rate monitors for the first time, and their numbers were extremely elevated!  The spirit squad, DJ’s, and mascots pumped up the crowd and put on a fantastic show!  I was really impressed by Jackie and her poise with the crowd being so loud and excited.  Everything came together for an amazing game, and I couldn’t have been more pleased.

In the end, the Bulldozers beat the Terminators  22-15 in a hard-fought game and were awarded the coqui medals.  Both teams displayed incredible gamesmanship, teamwork, and grace, and every 5th grader should be proud of their accomplishments.  It was an awesome experience, and I can’t wait until next year!


Coqui Cup medals




GRIT: My New Favorite Word

I’m a nerd.  I admit it.  Most people read thrillers, humor, or the new Nicholas Sparks’ novel.  Not me.  After years of Tom Clancy, Robert Ludlum, and Stephen King, I’ve moved on to non-fiction.  Only.  To be more specific, I read books about talent versus hard-work.  The way ordinary people become legends.  The reason why circumstances, perfect practice, and 10,000 hours of laser-like focus equals champions.  Along with blogs and videos from my favorite author/speaker, Robin Sharma, these are the books (so far) I’ve read and devoured about that word…Grit:

Talent is Overrated by Geoff Colvin

The Talent Code by Daniel Coyle

Outliers by Malcolm Gladwell

Bounce by Matthew Syed

So what is Grit?  A simple formula might be: grit= perseverance+ time+focus+absolute dedication, which in turn equals greatness.

All 4 books have a few things in common.  Here they are:

1. No one is born with a “talent’ at anything.

-Tiger Woods and Mozart started really young, but they were “pushed” by their parents to excel.

2. Circumstances play a role in virtually every success story.

-If Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, or John Rockefeller were born even 5 years earlier or later, they might have missed their opportunity (okay, so that was a bit of luck and not grit!).  But also, if you live in Texas, snowboarding won’t be your “thing”.

3. This was drilled into my head in JV baseball (thank you Coach Simon!): Practice doesn’t make perfect, perfect practice makes perfect.

-That is why me hitting thousands of golf balls over 30+ years doesn’t mean I’m making the tour any time soon!  Having a purpose for each swing, musical note, or foot placement is more important than you’d think.

4.  10,000 hours or roughly 10 years is the minimum time it takes to “master” a craft.

-Bobby Fisher is a rare exception at 9 years.  Back to Mozart: he wrote music at an early age but his masterpieces weren’t written until he was almost 20 years old.

5.  Failing is not an option, it’s a must!

-If you want to be the best, you have to go out of your comfort zone and fail to get better.  If you’re not falling and failing enough, you’re not reaching high enough.  A gold medal skater was estimated to have fallen over 20,000 times in her career to greatness.  Derek Jeter “failed” 2 out of 3 times hitting in his career.  That’s where the learning happens: in failing.

Maybe I love this topic because I love inspirational heroes and “masters”.  Or maybe I love it because I know that an average guy like me can be great at something if I work really hard.  That is my goal: to become the best PE teacher I can be.  Why else would I keep upping my game by chatting on Voxer with incredible PE teachers all over the world, checking out Twitter constantly for cutting-edge techniques and info, and reading books and blogs with a determination to learn all that I can?

Robin Sharma said that “to reap the benefits that only 5% have you must do the things that only 5% do (paraphrase)”  So while most people are checking out what’s going on with the Kardashins, I’m perfecting my craft.

The big question: how do we instill this in our students?  It’s not easy, given that when I was their age (K-5th graders), I know I thought other kids were either talented at sports and math or they weren’t.  So I discuss this with them as much as I can.  We interview 4th and 5th graders on what it takes to be great at their area of interest.  We have cup-stackers, horseback riders, soccer players, hockey players, swimmers, and a lot of students who work hard at a lot of different things.  Maybe if they see that we have swimmers at our school that get up at 5:30 in the summer to someday possibly compete in the Olympics, it might inspire them!

It’s all about grit.  Even for a nerd like me.


Tim Notke