Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Do You 'C' What I See?

I know I wanted to take some time off of social media, but I feel this post is important:

"Do You 'C' What I See?"

In terms of the title, the 'C' is in reference to a letter grade (between A and F, with F being the fail, obviously). The topic I would like to discuss is geared toward teaching and coaching, and reciprocally, how to learn and why some things don't make sense to us. Let's look at a simple problem: "Why can't I learn what someone is teaching me?" Well, for one thing, you might not have practiced it enough. Another problem, which I find one of the most severe, is that you might ask yourself, "I know you want to teach me this, but is there a reason why? Is there a better way?" It starts to get quite vague after as it now gets clouded with individual thought. Maybe you don't want to learn it because you don't see the value in it, maybe you don't know why you're learning it, or maybe you do and it's a success. There are so many variables and in a way there is a lot of trust you must place in your teacher or coach. Perhaps you have limited resources and this is the best you can get without having to fly halfway across the world, or drive across the city and take twice the time traveling than actually learning. There are many reasons why you may or may not like working with your coach/teacher/tutor/etc, so we'll leave it at that as I have no need to guess your reasons why.

Let's work with an example, so we don't get too theoretical. For the sake of this being a badminton blog, let's say you play a game of badminton, you lose (or win, doesn't matter), and your coach was coaching you for the duration of the match. We won't get into the stuff that happens during the game, but let's look at the coaching afterwards. As a player, you should probably have your own thoughts about the game, especially your mental game. Sometimes it can show in an athlete, but to the observer, it is only an observation. You only see the end result of emotion, but you don't understand why or how it came to be. For example, it's probably a lot more correct to say that someone "looks nervous" than to say that someone "IS nervous". Maybe the player is sick, stressed out, worried about something else, but regardless, if you act on your own assumption and say, "Don't be nervous", you are using your own interpretation of a situation you can't possibly be very sure of. Statistically, you may be correct, but I just used this expression as an example, because how much do you possibly know about statistics and how much would it be to be statistically significant, and based on what sample size did you make the assumption on, etc, etc, etc... and you can see how much of a personal bias that gets filtered into a bit of judgement.

Anyway, sorry for switching perspectives (you did notice that you went from a player perspective to an observer perspective, right?) and imagine yourself as a player again. You lose your match and your coach tells you what you should have done. Great (sarcasm intended), number one thing there is hindsight bias. Coaches that aren't as good will generally rely on this type of feedback, whereas good coaches will tell you things to look for before they happen. That's my perspective at least. Feedback isn't a bad thing, but I'm sure there are times you hit a bad shot and you ask yourself, "Why did I do that?". Funny, I find it very rare in my sport when people hit bad shots that they never ask you why you hit that shot? Why? How come? Or if you don't want to be that offensive, "What is the reasoning behind that shot, what is the purpose?" The good players probably constantly ask themselves these questions, but they only get their own feedback based on their own 'filters' (i.e. perspectives). It is always nice to get more feedback in terms of why it might have been the wrong shot, or even if it was the right idea, but just improper execution. However, having the discussion itself is the most important thing for the player/coach relationship as it helps the coach understand the player more, and the player to understand him/herself more. It's much easier to be like, "Hit *that shot* instead next time" but it's the same as being given the answer to a calculus problem. If you get asked the same question, you know what the answer is, but if there are any changes to the scenario, it just won't hold up consistently enough.

Again, I'm making the reference to post-match analysis, because when there are time constraints, things change. I am referencing from a developmental standpoint, as there is probably little development possible during a match and strict feedback is probably the best strategy. The next major thing to address is perspectives and filters. So to quickly define these terms, 'perspective' is basically what a person sees, while the 'filter' is what changes that person's perspective to suit his/her own personal preferences. Basically, we can all have the same perspective on something if we threw away our filters. That in itself is impossible, but when we take away our own filters, we may have a chance to see something from someone else's perspective, though it will never be perfectly the same. It's really like the expression that refers to only understanding someone when you "walk a mile in their shoes". If you take the concept of badminton and coaching, I find we usually get the concept really mixed up, especially if the coach was a former player. To clarify, I find that coaching in badminton is like teaching by making the player "walk (or do footwork) a mile in the coach's shoes" and then work with that. There are often times when this approach can actually be a very good strategy, but there are times when the context is not all that correct. With more information and feedback by both sides, perhaps the best approach to a certain technique or tactic can be found that suits the ability of the player and to the satisfaction of the coach. Let's take a look at 2 different sides of the same coin, with the coin being success and one side being from the coach's standpoint and the other being the player's standpoint:

Coach's Standpoint: Let's get this clear, I'm not doing a post on coach bashing, I'm only trying to enlighten everyone about a simple thing and making it more complicated. If you think that's a bad thing, then that's a part of your personal filter and I recommend you stop reading... 4 paragraphs ago. If you think it's a good thing, then I won't waste any more of your time. Listening to the coach is important because younger players may not see the reason why things are done, based on an obvious lack of experience. There is much value to listen to what the coach says because having the fundamental skills and tactics down is necessary. It becomes hard to explain the fundamentals other than the fact that it's... fundamental! There's a difference between "Why should I learn addition and subtraction?" vs. "Why do I need to learn algebra?". It could be analogous to "Why do I need footwork?" vs. "Why do I need to make my shots more deceptive?". Often times, the coach will be correct, especially in the developing years. I suppose that the problem I proposed is more for higher level stuff, when you start working on the little things that will hopefully make a big difference if they are addressed. Let's say the coach is 75% correct overall, so each of these little things will be 1-2% differences, but after say, making 5 changes, you can be 5-10% better, which is statistically significant (based on my memory of statistics... stupid p values, I'll get back to you next term).

Player's Standpoint: As a player myself, I happen to be a very skeptical person. I don't know, that's just me. Sometimes I have a game plan and it's a matter of sticking to it until your opponent breaks, or adapting it because it doesn't work. The coach can always give feedback, but I'm a curious person and I'd like to know why the coach feels that way. If there is a good explanation, then that's a pretty convincing argument to me. If there is no explanation, then where does this feedback truly come from? Experience? The problem is exacerbated when you and your coach have conflicting strategies. They tell you to do a certain thing because they feel you it is your weakness, but maybe you don't think it's a bad idea because you don't feel that it is a weakness, or if it's actually a part of your strategy. For example, one strategy I tried once a long time ago was hitting almost everything that went to the back, despite that some were out. The reason I did that was that near the end of the game, when things got a little tight, everything went out the back after because I conditioned the opponent to thinking that some of his shots were okay. They might have been, but they were quite close. It has also happened against me, where my opponents hit everything to the back and it went out in the beginning, but near the middle/end of the match, everything was in fact 'in' and I let a lot of stuff drop within the backcourt. The main idea is this: I have my filter on as a particular strategy, while the coach has his/her own idea. They can both be right, they can both be wrong, so what happens when you come to this dilemma?

Success: Well, like any relationship, you learn to compromise. Sometimes you will be right, sometimes you will be wrong, but trying is usually the least you can do. As a coach, it is ultimately your player's game, so I would suggest providing the options and letting your player choose. That way it gives the player the autonomy that they need sometimes and it becomes a good learning experience. Should the player want more feedback, you can give it and advise accordingly. Good players know the importance to this feedback, so don't feel that you are unimportant as a coach because you're not making a firm stance on what the player should do. If the player doesn't know, then I'm sure they will ask your opinion. It's sport, there are rarely facts until the game is over... just a lot of opinions. As for the players, you need to give the coach as much information as possible. Whether your arm hurts, or you're getting tired, or if you're stressed out, etc. The coach doesn't have all the information unless you give it to him/her, and then they can act accordingly. There's no point for the coach to tell you to attack more if your shoulder is in some kind of pain, or running your opponent around if you have a leg cramp. It may be the best strategy IF you were in a different condition, but to find the best strategy adapted to the situation at hand, it will definitely change.

I believe that the player/coach combination that is the most adaptable is often the most successful. Though I don't get to see as many cases of it as I would like to, I hope I have addressed a valid point for players and coaches. This is probably transferable to other discussions as well, from teaching, tutoring, etc. When both coach and player work together, I think it's the best scenario because it's Win/Win. At the very least, this is what I hope to do as both a player and a coach, because a significant problem I see in badminton is when coaches push their players to train when they are injured, or will make the group do exercises that may be beneficial to the group, but may be harmful to a specific player. For example, if anyone has a shoulder injury, I would not recommend continuous smashing or clearing. If someone has a knee or foot injury, I would not do exercises that involve a lot of movement. What does it take to adapt training for individual players? I know there is that "everyone is doing it, so why can't you?" but again, to lead us back to my original point: "Does everyone have the same perspective?" For the coach, can't you make an adaptation for the sake of your player? For the player, can't you make a request for an adaption or even offer a suggestion to modify your training? There is a reason why we don't all play the same, so if we don't all exactly train the same way, is that really a big problem? Maybe the environment is the same for everyone, but today, I learned there can be up to a 20% genetic variability. Significant, no?

Thanks for visiting, and please feel free to leave any questions or comments!

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