Think to write, write to think
“The brain is no place for serious thinking. If you’re thinking about something important and complicated, write it down.”
– Jack Altman
The purpose of this blog is to help its contributors and its readers think better and do better. As the quote above demonstrates, it is very difficult to navigate in this world with a cloudy brain. Today, we are drowning in information. Social media, online courses, online degree programs, coaching courses, coaching licenses, books, videos, blogs, and more. It can be overwhelming. And, being overwhelmed severely reduces your ability to act.
That’s the primary purpose of this blog. By taking the millions and billions of bits of information our there regarding sports coaching, in particular football coaching, and forcing ourselves to write clearly about it – we will have no choice but to think clearly about it. To write clearly is to think clearly. To write well is to think well.
Our hope is that by reading our thoughts regarding the key tasks of a football coach you will think more clearly too. Since thinking clearly is a pre-requisite for swift action, we are convinced that this blog will help you do better. Rather than staring at a bookshelf full of books, 117 open tabs on your web browser, and thousands of unfinished articles in your bookmarks trying to decide what you should do with your team tonight, this week, and this month; we recommend reading our blog.
Significance > Precision
“As complexity rises, precise statements lose meaning and meaningful statements lose precision” – Lofti Zadeh
This blog will prioritize significance over precision. Not everything we write will be the objective truth. Not everything we write will be entirely precise. That’s because we aren’t lab coats controlling for every possible external factor aiming to determine the causal relationship between 2 variables. We are coaches.
A lot of scientific research likes to end the paper by saying “more research in this area needs to be done.” Thanks, but I have training tonight.
Coaches don’t need precision, p-values, and coefficients of variation. They need significance. They need practical information – something they can use!
This blog will aim to provide coaches with something that we call priors. Priors, as in Bayesian Priors, are our prior beliefs, mental models, facts, concepts, and experiences that we bring to a coaching situation. This blog will aim to help provide some priors that you can use. However, we don’t know your context – your players, your parents, your opponents, the style of play in your league, the gym equipment you have available, etc. Therefore, you can use our blog to establish a prior for yourself so that you can plan training for tonight, but you will need to use your experience and observation to make updates to these priors.
A lot of the mental models and priors that we use in coaching are developed through drawing clear boundaries between things. For example, a simple prior that we all use is that football consists of 4 phases, or moments: Attacking, Defending, Transition to Attack, and Transition to Defense. In other words, we create categories with the aim of reducing the complexity of a situation to allow us to make decisions – to act.
Think about how useful a to-do list is compared to trying to simultaneously deal with everything at once. By drawing a clear boundary between things it makes action much easier.
However, when we put a boundary between things, we can have a hard time remembering how similar they actually are. For example, attacking isn’t entirely different from transitioning to defense and in fact, some football actions could be thought of as transition actions even if your team is attacking.
An even clearer example is the boundary between school grades. For example, in my high school a 65 was a D, but a 64 was a F. The difference between a 65 and a 64 is the difference between passing and failing even though the actual difference is just 1 point. Our arbitrary categorization is what makes us think they are entirely distinct from one another.
The point is that we can carve up the game in as many or as few of categories as we want. Some people think of the game as consistent of only one category -attacking. Attacking the ball (defense) and attacking with the ball. Others use the 4 moments mentioned earlier. Others break the pitch up into 1/3rds (attacking, midfield, and defending 3rd), channels, quadrants, and zones; the possibilities for categorization are virtually endless.
What does this mean? It means that the purpose of categories are not to objectively determine what exists, or have a perfectly accurate picture of the world around us – no. The purpose of categories are to create a “forum for action”. In other words, we categorize and classify things to help us know what to do. To help us determine how we should act.
“Categories are constructed in relationship to their functional significance.” – Jordan B. Peterson
As the quote from Dr. Jordan B. Peterson implies – a good category makes it easier to know what to do. Unfortunately, too much of coaching education literature is dedicated to presenting you with an “objective” classification of the sporting world. Think of the common physiological classification of aerobic, anaerobic lactic, and anaerobic alactic. The problem with these classifications is that they are very abstract. Just because you know about the classification doesn’t mean you know what to do about it. These models that we are often made to study in coaching are more concerned with classifying the world as a “place of things” rather than a “forum for action”. In our quest for precision, things become less clear.
In plain English, we are increasingly more concerned with precision than significance. But, this is a fatal mistake. Coaching is about doing – not about categorizing. Therefore, the blogs on this website will be concerned with supplying coaches with priors, models, categories, and classifications that make you better at coaching, not at memorizing $10 words.
“Extra $10 words that don’t mean much to the average Joe can’t help us coach anyone better” – Lon Kilgore
Multiple Mental Models
There are too many coaches with one mental model, or preferred categorization. In effect, these coaches slice the game up in one particular way and then push forward like a man in a cornfield wielding his way through with a machete.
“If the only tool you have is a hammer, then everything begins to look like a nail. “- Abraham Maslow
When we think in categories we tend to overemphasize the importance and accuracy of one particular categorization. This leads us to explain all behavior through this particular category, or mental model. In effect, we end up running into every problem by saying, “Oh, THIS is the explanation…”, but this is just our hammer meeting a nail.
Imagine if your only mental model for understanding the world was your astrological sign. You would interpret every life event through that basis. “Oh yeah, that’s because I’m a Leo.” This sounds silly, but coaches do this all the time by looking at their sport through the lens dictated by their preferred classification and mental models. Therefore, this blog will make use of a multiple mental model approach. By having a variety of tools in the toolbox, we will be able to create a larger “forum for action” that will allow us to know how to handle a variety of situations.
We will work to think clearly and formulate some priors that make our jobs as coaches easier and more effective. It is up to you to take these priors and update them on the basis of your experience with them. We will try to provide you with tools and your job is to use the tools in your environment and determine which tool works best for which job.
A hammer is great for hanging a picture, but not so great for chopping down a tree.