Monday, August 15, 2011

Phases of Learning

Had to repost this from Dusty's blog.

This has driven me nuts my entire club ultimate career.  Dusty's link to the above article on coaching reminded me of something i wrote back in the day and made me dig up an old end of season feedback email i wrote.  Pike sent out an end of season survey, which i thought was a great idea.  Here's an excerpt from one of my responses.  This was small part of a very, very long email that included positive and negative feedback. 

What i have gone on and on about in the past is that the method we use most of the time when we teach involves explanation and then applying it.  What i have long complained about is that this method skips the middle (and possibly most important) phase of the learning process, the associative phase.  We should explain, then drill the technique in isolation without a ton of other stimuli and skills involved, and then drill it in a game situation.  That middle phase is where the muscle memory occurs, technique is perfected and made instinctual/automatic.  We finally started doing this when we started teaching clam and the monkey zone, but we still do not maximize our teaching time by not focusing more attention on the associative phase of learning and jumping too quickly into live play.  I blame our poor offensive motion, our consistently getting beat by upline cuts, our poor individual defensive positioning, our drifting toward the disc, etc... all on poor teaching and poor learning.  Guys who've played with Pike for 4 or 5 years still run blindly in the cup or only watch the disc when they're on offense.  It's embarassing.  This is not all the teachers' fault, but obviously it starts with the leadership.

When Jim was injured all the time in 2004, he would watch our practices and constantly complain about how the d-team's offensive motion was terrible, and then he'd draw it out on the white board how it's supposed to work.  And it never did any good.  We cannot expect to just explain something and for people to do it.  We must drill muscle memory in simplified scenarios before we do it in a scrimmage.  The Katzenbach drill is a good start for that type of thing, but only a start.

Depending on what theory of education you're reading, there are 3 to 6 phases of learning.  For the sake of learning a skill, e.g. throwing, you can talk about 3 phases:

Cognitive:  how to hold the disc, how to step, arm motion, when to use the throw, where to aim, etc.

Associative:  Repetition/practice in controlled environment.  Typically the longest phase.  We throw thousands of times and monitor our technique.

Autonomous:  Natural, reflexive movement.  Less attention required, freeing up the player to focus on other things (i.e. is a cutter open, is there a poacher, etc).

We drill throwing, but teams tend not to drill team level strategies nearly as much, short-changing the associative phase.  We draw up our offense on a white board and then do a few walk throughs and then scrimmage.  Maybe since we have little time together as a team, we feel we need to scrimmage.  Or maybe we just don't know how to drill tactics.

The article that Dusty links to talks about progressing from 1v1 to 2v2 to 3v3 etc.  When i coached volleyball, we broke down drills into 1 skill drills, 2 skill drills, 3 skill drills, etc.  Breaking down the game into smaller pieces allows us to better focus on the details.

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