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Coaches and Parents: Getting Past Self-Imposed Obstacles

Years ago there was a book titled, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten.” It took the premise that a lot of the world’s problems could be solved if we went back to the basic values most of us were taught as children.

That’s a great idea from a basic, being a good human being standpoint. But it’s not such a good philosophy for helping our players or daughter learn the skills required to play fastpitch softball at a high level.

The key issue there is that our level of knowledge of the optimal way to execute various skills is constantly expanding and evolving. New research, often driven by new technologies such as high speed video (your basic mobile phone or tablet), tools that measure ball spin rates and direction (Rapsodo, Diamond Kinetics), and wearable sensors that measure parameters such as the kinetic sequence and angular velocities of various limbs (4D Motion), help us look deeper under the hood to gain a greater understanding of the biomechanics of movement, i.e., how various body part interact with one another.

In other words, there is a wealth of hard data available that can help us lift the veil of guessing to truly understand which ways of executing skills will produce the best results.

You would think this news would create a Renaissance of enlightenment that would have coaches and parents scurrying to absorb all they can as quickly as they can and incorporate it into the way they coach their players/daughters. But you would be wrong.

You see, the human mind is a funny thing. It doesn’t like to be “wrong,” so it sets up defense mechanisms to protect itself against that possibility.

Of course, overcoming these self-imposed limitations first requires recognizing that they exist. Today’s post discusses a few of the most common.

Understand that these issues are often not mutually exclusive. In fact, many of them feed into each other to help create an even stronger barrier to keep new information out. But with a little self-examination you can figure out whether you are falling victim to them so you can put in the work to get past them and open your mind to all the great information that’s out there.

Oh, and this doesn’t apply only to softball by the way. It can be applied to other areas of your life as well since we all find it easy to fall into these traps.

Commitment Bias

This is probably one of the most common issues coaches and parents encounter when faced with information, or even hard evidence, that contradicts what they currently believe to be true.

The basic idea of commitment bias is that you’ve spent a considerable amount of time and effort, and probably invested a significant amount of money, in acquiring the knowledge you have now. (In financial terms it’s called a “sunk cost.”)

To make a change, you would not only have to throw away all or at least some of what you’ve spent your time and treasure acquiring, you would have to <gasp!> admit that you were “wrong” about it.

Never!

Or at least that’s how our minds think.

We see this a lot when coaches fall back on the “I’ve been teaching it this way for 20 years and been successful…” argument.

There is an element of truth in that. They have been teaching it that way for 20 years, and they have had players who have been successful during that time.

But there’s a pretty good chance that those players were successful in spite of what they were taught rather than because of it. The world is full of pitchers who were taught “hello elbow” mechanics but, if you watch high-speed video of them actually pitching, don’t pitch that way at all.

Parents can get caught in this trap as well. They spent good money for their daughter to go to a skills clinic, or a private coach, or they bought a bunch of books and videos so they could teach their daughter themselves.

Now they’re confronted with evidence-based information that contradicts those investments. Can they really bring themselves to set all that aside and have their daughters start over? That can be a tough call for some people, especially those who like to believe they’re always right.

But it’s a necessary step. As pitching guru Rick Pauly said on a recent “Transcending Sports” podcast with hitting expert Rob Crews, “If you’re not willing to learn new things you should probably get out of coaching.”

That doesn’t mean believe every new thing you see or hear, especially on the Internet. But be open to it, and if it makes sense be willing to change.

Confirmation Bias

This one is often the next step after commitment bias kicks in.

You heard something that contradicts your world view so you go out seeking more information about the topic. But rather than performing objective research, you instead go out seeking points of view that will back up (confirm) your current position.

This is kind of like a person being told they have a horrible disease and deciding to get a second opinion. But they keep on seeing doctors until they find one that tells them what they want to hear.

Doesn’t matter if it’s 100-1 in favor of the original diagnosis. They’re going with the one.

The Internet makes this issue particularly dangerous, because whatever is posted there is posted forever. Or as they say in The Social Network, “the Internet is written in ink.” Gotta love Aaron Sorkin.

Head coach reacts to assistant looking up information that contradicts his teachings.

The problem with that is even those sincerely trying to perform unbiased research can end up watching a grainy video from 1998 that doesn’t take into account the progress that’s been made in understanding how to optimize softball skills over the last 20+ years. Instead, since it reinforces their beliefs they stop right there and never check out newer, better information.

Of course, those who hold their beliefs tight to their chests will purposely seek out information that supports their views and ignore whatever does not. At that point the loop is closed and no new information will be admitted. Kind of like the way a dungeon blocks out all the sunlight.

When you hear something new, the better approach is to seek out as much information about it and see if it makes sense. Look at the evidence behind it. See if it lines up with what the best players in the world are doing.

And you can console yourself with the fact that this new information may also be replaced someday by even better data – which you’ll also be able to take advantage of since your mind is open.

By the way, the good news is changing today doesn’t invalidate what you did before. I’ve changed the way I teach a lot as I’ve learned more and gained more experience. But none of my former players have had to give back a single hit or strikeout or great play in the field as a result. It’s all good.

Dunning-Kruger Effect

This trap is essentially a phenomenon where people with limited knowledge or expertise on a subject overestimate their knowledge or competence on that subject versus others in their field.

Take a recently graduated player who is making the transition to coaching. She hasn’t put in a lot of study on the biomechanics of a particular skill, but instead assumes because she played she knows how to teach it. So she goes back and repeats what she was taught without looking to see if that was actually the way she hit, pitched, threw, etc.

If anyone questions her, or points to a different set of information, she immediately falls back on “I was a college pitcher so I know what I’m doing.”

That may or may not be true. I know several excellent pitching coaches who were college pitchers who can tell you today they didn’t know what they were doing, and in fact had no real clue how to teach pitching. Fortunately, each of them put in the work to learn all they could (and still do), and are now some of the biggest evangelists for the need for others to do the same.

The Dunning-Kruger Effect can also be seen in parents who played softball (or baseball) in high school or college and assume that qualifies them to teach various softball skills. Spoiler alert:

Some of what you know may transfer. But if you really want to help your daughter, it’s worth looking into the latest thinking and learning the techniques that are currently being taught rather than passing along ancient knowledge.

Think of it this way: Would you really like to go back to using the same mobile phone you used 10 or 15 or 20 years ago? Doubtful. So why rely on old information when so much progress has been made since then.

Then, like the “I’ve been doing it this way for 20 years” people, there are those who believe that whatever success they’ve achieved on the local level validates that they’re right, and therefore there is no need to look further. They have a false sense of their own expertise.

These folks can learn a lesson from former UCLA head coach and NFCA Hall of Famer Sue Enquist. A few years ago she was doing a presentation on hitting at a coaches clinic.

During her presentation one of the attendees raised his hand and said, “But Coach Enquist, I have your hitting videos and they don’t talk about this at all. In fact, they say the opposite.”

Coach Enquist turned to the man and said, “Throw those videos away. They’re five years old. I’ve learned a lot about hitting since then.”

If a legend like Sue Enquist is humble enough to throw away what she “knew” when she finds new, better, more effective information, shouldn’t the rest of us be as well?

Wrapping Up

It’s easy to fall into these and other traps. It doesn’t make us bad – it just makes us human.

Hopefully by being aware of them, and the issues they can cause, you can avoid them to ensure you’re bringing the best possible information to your players and/or daughters to help them become the players they’re meant to be. And isn’t that what coaching is all about?

Photo by Jan van der Wolf on Pexels.com

4 softball coaching traps to avoid

One of the biggest challenges of coaching softball is keeping up with the game. As you coach, you accumulate a set of knowledge; the longer you coach the more knowlCoaching and learningedge you gather.

That’s a good thing in some ways. But it can also be a limiting factor, especially in these days of high speed video and greater interest in analyzing mechanics. What may have been believed to be “true” 15, 10 or even 5 years ago may not be so anymore. The more study, evidence and analysis that goes in, the higher the likelihood that what is considered the optimum mechanics or strategy today is different than it was then.

We certainly see that with the one of the signature plays of fastpitch softball – the sacrifice bunt. Statistical analysis shows that overall teams will score more runs with a runner on first and no outs than with a runner on second and one out. Not necessarily with this runner, this hitter and this pitcher, but in the long. Which means the idea of automatically bunting a runner to second should come out of the coach’s playbook, replaced by a more specific situational analysis.

But I’m not here to discuss the sac bunt specifically. More the ways of thinking that can get coaches in trouble if they’re not aware. Here are a few of the common traps you’ll want to avoid to ensure you are and remain the best coach you can be.

The Backfire Effect

This is the name given to the phenomenon that says in an argument between two people with opposing views, the more hard evidence one side presents, the more the other side will cling to their beliefs. (The Backfire Effect, by the way, can be easily seen in every political argument on Facebook ever.)

You would think that once hard evidence was presented, the other person would change their mind. But the opposite is true. People hate to be proven wrong, and thus will do all they can to avoid that feeling.

For a coach it goes double, I think. You’ve been teaching something one way for years and having success. To all of a sudden find out it’s wrong is hard. Believe me, I know, because I’ve definitely been guilty of it.

Yet as a coach, your goal should be to impart the best information and training to your players that you possibly can. To cling to your beliefs because you don’t want to admit there is a better way than you’ve been teaching is doing your players a disservice.

Best to take a cue from former UCLA head coach Sue Enquist here. She was presenting at a clinic one time and saying things that contradicted statements she’d made in her previous skills videos. When someone in the audience challenged her on it, she shrugged and said “I know more now than I did then.”

As long as you didn’t go out of your way to present bad information there is nothing to be ashamed of. You did the best you could with what you knew. Now you know more. Everyone should consider that a good thing – and an indication that you always have their best interests at heart.

Confirmation bias

This one is often a cousin to The Backfire Effect. Having Confirmation Bias basically means you will look and look for any evidence that supports your current beliefs, and if you find it will value that evidence above all else.

For example, let’s say you’re still teaching “squish the bug” for hitting. You go online and look at dozens of video clips until you find one example that appears to be a player squishing the bug. In other words, you ignore all dozens of others until you find the one that supports your beliefs and take it as gospel.

When you’re looking at the evidence on your own, don’t just look at what agrees with you. Look at everything, and see where the patterns are. Doesn’t necessarily mean the majority is right – most innovations start out with a very small sampling. But if you add in old teaching versus new, you’ll probably start to get a better idea of whether the evidence actually supports you or you’re just discounting the majority that doesn’t.

Fallacies in logic

There are many different types of fallacies in logic. When it comes to coaching, here are a few of the most common.

Post hoc ergo proper hoc. Doesn’t everything sound more important in Latin? Basically, this means B followed A so A must have caused B. This is probably the basis for most of the softball superstitions we love so much.

Let’s take an easy example. I stepped on the chalk line before the game and we lost, so stepping on the line caused the loss. (In this case, everyone chooses to ignore the four critical errors, two baserunning mistakes at home and total lack of hitting.)

Sounds silly, doesn’t it? But it happens all the time, especially when analyzing video clips. The key to so-and-so’s power in hitting is this one move she makes that no one else does. It might be. Or it might not. The two may not be related at all.

Or with pitching, you could say this pitcher bends extra low when she starts, and she’s super fast, so her speed must come from the bend. It makes no biomechanical sense, but because the two things happen in close proximity it’s assumed one causes the other.

Don’t make that assumption. If there is a cause/effect relationship it will become obvious with further testing. If not, that will become obvious too.

Ad hominem. This involves discounting someone’s information because you don’t like or respect them personally.

This is an easy but dangerous trap to fall into. We’d all much rather work with/take advice from people we like and/or respect. But the validity of what they’re saying is independent of their personalities.

Speaking from personal experience, I have learned plenty from people I didn’t particularly care for. Don’t let that fact determine whether you’ll listen. As the saying goes, even a broken clock is right twice a day – assuming you’re working with an analog clock.

There are plenty of others, but you get the gist. You want to be sure any arguments you use, for or against, are based on real information rather than flawed logic.

Seeing what you want to see

Have you ever listened to or read an online argument where two people were looking at the same piece of video and drawing completely different conclusions? If you’re a coach who is always looking for information no doubt you have.

That’s the risk with something like video. I see X, you see Y. We both have our interpretations based on our own experience and beliefs. It’s sort of like confirmation bias, only this time you didn’t have to weed through a lot of videos to find the one that agreed with you. In this case, it appears they all do.

We all tend to filter things through our own lenses. That’s good most of the time, but it can also lead us to conclusions that may not be true.

The best thing you can do is keep an open mind and continually challenge your own beliefs. If someone says something different than you see or believe, try looking at it from their point of view. Make an assumption they’re right, and then see if you can support it. If you can, it’s worth re-examining your own opinions. If you honestly cannot say you see where they’re coming from, after making a real attempt, you just may be right.

Continue to learn

It’s easy to get stuck in your ways, and it’s hard to admit you may not have known as much as you thought you did. But if you can avoid these traps you’ll come out the other end a better coach.

Have you ever been in that uncomfortable position of having to change what you teach/believe? How did you handle it? Was it an easy transition or was it like rubbing a lemon on an open wound? Most importantly, are you glad you did it? Leave your answers in the comments below.

 

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