Wednesday, April 14, 2010

'Teachable Moments'

This is a question/thought that has been brewing since before I got permission to post. I'm pretty sure it's been addressed before, but I think giving a specific scenario will clarify things. At present, I'm working with a team whose talent distribution is clustered at the top and the bottom tails. We've had a TON of development, so this question is unlikely to come up much as the series draws nearer. Still, it's worth discussing.

Earlier in the season, we brought a raw set of rookies to their first spring tournament. As to be expected, when they got out there, they looked like puppies in roller-skates on a linoleum floor. Between games, one of our rawest rookies was throwing with an older teammate, and the vet was really loading him up with tips. Everything from how to dictate on defense to cutting break on the endzone line to where to put his knee in order to throw an IO break.

For me, it was too much. I asked the vet to lay off him, expressing that I'd given the rookie 2 things to work on all tournament and we'd get to other stuff in the future. We had an argument about how to teach rookies, and I played the "I'm the coach do it" trump card, game over.

The questions here are:

What is the best way to go about teaching a rookie who has little to no experience playing Ultimate the whole of the game over the course of a season? What times are best to offer advice?

The veteran in my story seemed to be employing a sort of inundation method for teaching the kid. Tell him everything he might ever need to know all at once and then hope that the stuff that doesn't stick immediately remains tucked away, set to emerge once the player finds him/herself in the appropriate situation. This kind of teaching might also involve telling a player ten things he or she did wrong after any given point. I guess doing this also means a coach/mentor rarely has to worry about forgetting what s/he wanted to tell the player at any given moment.

For me, early tournaments are an opportunity to for young players to play the game without necessarily having someone hold their hand. This year, I tried to give rookies two or three things to think about over the course of the tournament (lanes to cut into, look upfield then dump at 6, etc) and then remind them about those things, point to point. I think a lot of what new players need to learn are (relatively) intuitive, they'll learn them as they watch good players do them or as their fellow new players do them wrong. Additionally, overthinking every little aspect of the game and then being nagged about what you've done wrong makes the game less fun, jeopardizing player retention.

At practice, however, the training wheels are on. I'll comment on pretty much everything I see them doing wrong and I'll make a point of reminding them about it if I see it again or praising them for changing their habits. Still, I try not to ever give more than one criticism at a time as I feel like a player acknowledging one fault and applying themselves to changing it is preferable to them forgetting two.

Additional paths to player improvement?


wood said...

I think it is fine to talk about Ultimate. New players should be encouraged to ask questions and discuss strategy and skills with more experienced players.

This is separate from coaching though. You are right in picking a 1 or 2 specific things for new players (or veteran players for that matter) to work on.

Maybe it comes down to how the vet was presenting the information. If the vet is saying 'You need to work on this next point', that's going to interfere with the work you're doing. If, however, the vet is just talking about what he's learned in Ultimate and trying to pass some of that on, I think it is fine. The timing may not be ideal, but as long as you're able to keep the rookies focused on the specific items you want them to work on, I don't see a big problem.

To answer your specific questions:
I think you as a coach need to focus on fundamentals for rookies. Have them focus on one or two things until they become proficient and then move on. Encourage them to ask questions about the game and talk with teammates outside of games/practices. This will get them thinking about the game and will make them more aware of what is going on so they get that 'intuitive' learning going faster.

The best time to offer advice is as close to the situation in question as possible. Probably immediately after the point. Newer players are going to have a harder time remembering what happened more than a couple of plays prior. Also, for those items that the player (or team) is supposed to be focusing on, remind them often. I'll frequently remind players on the line.

Also, thanks Kevin and Kyle for keeping this blog going.

heacox said...

Why does ultimatetalk list "Muffin" as the author of both of the last two posts?

J. Becker said...

I agree with wood. As a coach, I do what you describe: try not to give too many corrections at a time, or within too close a time period. But it's important to note that there is a certain kind of newbie that can take as much as you can handle. After the first week or two, you already know who this kid is. He's the one coming early and staying late to work out the kinks in his forehand. He's the one who asks questions ad nauseum during practice. This kid, you can correct all day and he'll just nod, put his head down, and try harder.

What I'm saying is, know your players and differentiate instruction. Those you can push to improve faster, there's no reason to stand on ceremony. An additional benefit might be had. His work ethic, on display for all to see when you coach him up constantly, will help set the tone in practices. Those who haven't yet contracted chronic ultimate-fever, sticking to the occasional note might be a better idea.

Of course, it also depends on the level you're coaching, I'd imagine. I'm speaking as a HS coach.

Mark said...

Not specific to Ultimate, but I highly recommend the Positive Coaching Alliance approach.

Kyle Weisbrod said...

This is funny because I was just talking about this in work, however, not in the context of Ultimate. We're rolling out a new workflow platform and I'm responsible for planning the training.

I'm mostly just going to agree with Wood and Becker here. As a coach, it's your responsibility to prioritize the most important information that players need to learn. Try to teach everything and your are leaving it up to the player (or chance) to prioritize what is/is not critical.

Focus on a limited number (1-3) critical path skills at a time. Provide 3-5 "cues" to focus on within those skills. As they gain those, you can offer additional cues to refine those skills and as the become proficient at those skills, introduce the next level skills.

Becker is certainly right that there are some players who can handle more information and you should tailor your coaching to those players in individual coaching settings.

Lastly, certainly don't discourage players on the team from teaching whatever they want, but make sure that you are setting the tone on what to focus on and that as a coach, players understand that what you are teaching should be their priority. Include the leaders in your season plan so that they know that certain skills/tactics/strategy will be taught (and to make sure that you aren't missing anything that is critical).

I do think this is one area where the UPA's coaching clinics is really great at covering.

AJ said...


I posted about PCA... a while back...

Scramble said...

What's up guys. Long-time listener, first-time caller.

Coaching the Georgia women this year, a huge part of my approach emphasizes individual player development. This decision was made because of circumstance: I've never played women's Ultimate, I have some incredible vets that have great minds for the game and deserve the lead in our on-field strategy, and we have a ton of rookies--several of whom literally never even played a pick-up game of frisbee before the Fall.

One tool we implement is "prescriptions." Every few weeks, we set up a short-term goal for each player, which is their prescription. (I really, REALLY hate that name for it, by the way.) Common examples are "pivot more with the disc," "run through the disc when receiving," and--for players coming off injuries or periods of high stress--even "have fun."

The result has been mostly open player-coach communication (which I read can rapidly deteriorate from both sides--especially in male-coached women's teams). It's hopefully established clearer expectations for players. It's also forced me to constantly reevaluate my players' progress.

On-the-fly advice and instruction remains both vital and imperfect. Prescriptions don't address the hypothetical situation you highlighted, KT. Also, mastery of the prescription after just 3ish weeks is obviously rare. However, the improvement is often undeniable, and the increased player- and coach-based focus on individual improvement has been, on balance, really valuable.


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