Can Communication Techniques Stop People from Leaving Your League? Yes, And…

We are all burnt right now. Everyone’s edges are fried to an absolute crisp (or baked if you don’t like frying things); we are looking around at each other, ready to snap. In a majority of leagues, this time of year is difficult and conflicts arise easily, just like any high-stress time. As you prepare for playoffs/champs/home team season/planning for next year, it’s important that you keep in mind the keys to successful communication to avoid misunderstanding, and to resolve conflict. The reality is that not doing-so will cost you efficiency, community, and possibly some of your strongest players or best minds in your organization.

Understanding, misunderstanding, and conflict

Conflict tends to arise when something doesn’t fit within our understanding of the world. This could be anything from “your ad said this was on sale” to “why do you drive like this”. When we see something that doesn’t fit what we believe should be happening, it causes us unrest and frustration because our expectations have been violated. This is especially true in teams, and the sheer amount of unrest can culminate in a lack of communication that can easily threaten the success of a team’s overall performance.[1]

During my graduate school journey, and even recently, this topic has been brought up, and perhaps one of the greatest resources I have had to date is the book Crucial Conversations: Tools for talking when stakes are high by Kerry Patterson.

According to the author, crucial conversations are those that are considered:

  • High stakes
  • Contain differing/conflicting opinions
  • Emotionally Charged

Think back to your last hard scrimmage. Think to your last practice where big decisions were being made, or where you had to talk to someone about their attitude. What was the outcome? How did it feel? Was this a crucial conversation? When you think about preparation for Playoffs and Champs (or those surrounding hot-button topics for your league), almost every conversation can become crucial in some way, shape, or form. Everyone is attempting to speak their mind, and in doing so, the conversations that might otherwise be helpful become a shouting match of individual ideas. Within competitive play, we also see this as we discuss which strategy to use or who to roster/send out. However, in order to actually engage in problem solving, you have to have dialogue.

Kelly Patterson defines dialogue as the free-flow of meaning between two people. When we are able to engage in this type of communication, we create a shared pool of meaning, which can add to our overall understanding and problem-solving capabilities. When we do things like engage in Silence (e.g., withholding information) or Violence (e.g., trying to control others’ opinions and force meaning into the pool of understanding), we actually disrupt the ability to have a shared pool of understanding and, inevitably stop the process of solving the problem and create misunderstanding between two people.

I actually started writing this today because I’ve felt a lot of misunderstanding lately from a variety of angles. I don’t blame anyone of course, because we color our understanding of another person through how we view the world. If your experience has been that your boss is constantly ragging on you to get your work done, the phrase “how’s your week going” can go from amiable to feelings of micromanagement and frustrations of “being watched” It is these feelings of misunderstanding that can help to force meaning into the pool by further convoluting how we respond, what we say, and pushing us further from the shared goals that we have – whatever they may be.

So, I was curious – what is misunderstanding and how do we deal with it? Beyond the scope of the book mentioned above, I found Cahn’s theory of perceived understanding, which is entirely based on how we feel other people understand us. While some studies focused on the increased importance of perceived understanding over time[2], the main tenant of the theory focused on how being misunderstood impacts us as people. A definition by Cahn noted that the perception of being understood/misunderstood is defined as “the communicator’s assessment of his success or failure when attempting to communicate with another person”.

Misunderstanding is Dangerous for your Organization

In a study[3]completed in 2010, researchers used the Parse research method to better understand the effects of misunderstanding on humans, and the conclusions speak louder to roller derby and our difficulties with attrition than one might want to imagine:

  • Feeling misunderstood is disheartening insignificance surfacing with discordant affiliations, as resignation with resiliency emerges with inventive endeavors
  • Disheartening insignificance is an aspect of the experience of irrelevance
  • Discordant affiliations surface when feeling misunderstood
  • Resignation with resiliency is integral to feeling misunderstood
  • Inventive endeavors are ingenious ways of living with feeling misunderstood

So, what does this all say? When someone feels misunderstood, they feel totally defeated, isolated, irrelevant, and disempowered – which is exactly the opposite of what roller derby should be (in my opinion). In your own organization, you can see this happening by someone suddenly no longer making suggestions who used to be very vocal, you can see this in the way that someone perceives the group or team that they’re on, or at times – someone may transfer or start their own organization. While there is nothing wrong with these courses of action, it shouldn’t be ignored by an organization who desires the ability to chart a clear and confident path towards success moving forward. Instead, organizations should try to keep their people and learn how to better problem solve and ensure that everyone is feeling heard, and that the goal of the organization is supported by the pool of understanding instead of the hard-headed plans of someone who desires their way more than the success of the total organization.

Yeah, Hedonic. Me Too! I don’t want this to happen anymore, but what can I do to help?

I’m so very glad that you asked!

Suggested Strategies

  • Start with heart
    • This one is ripped directly from Crucial Conversations.When you start with heart, you come to a conversation level headed, and free from agenda, while still having possible ideas or solutions to contribute. To start with heart, you ask “what do I really want for ______” these things include:
      • For Myself
      • For Others
      • For the Relationship
      • And what would I do if I really wanted these results?

When we start with heart, we focus not on only ourselves, but on the greater good and how we can achieve that greater good. You’ll notice that the path to the goal is also the very last thing on that list and has nothing to do with how to get to your own personal goal or the goal of the organization, but how you manage yourself during conversation.

  • Return to mutual purpose and mutual respect
    • In the event that you begin to notice that someone is engaging in silence or violence, it’s best to return to mutual purpose and mutual respect. When you do this, you remind both parties (yes, yourself included because you could be the one engaging in silence/violence) that what is important here is why you are doing this, and that you respect each other in this problem solving. The trick with this one is to truly mean that you care about the other person instead of just saying “I care about you”.
  • STATE your path (again, from Crucial Conversations)
    • Share – start with the facts. When you start with facts, it’s not colored by your interpretation, which may inflate certain aspects of what happened.
    • Tell your story – Do some homework first to make sure that your facts are true before you tell your story again. Think of it this way: if you said that a committee head didn’t email you anything and that’s why you didn’t finish the program for the bout in time, make sure you didn’t receive an email or communication in some way to the contrary. Also keep in mind that you can use this while having the conversation to retell a story incorporating more understanding based upon what you have heard from the other person.
    • Ask for others paths – ask for others’ paths/understanding of the situation so that they not only feel heard, but it can inform the pool of understanding.
    • Talk – speak using terms that are all opinion based. When we tell a story as a story, it is less likely to incite more conflict because stories are moldable based on perception and interpretation, while facts are simply right or wrong.
    • Encourage testing – let others know that you are ok with what they have to say, even if it’s controversial. By doing this, you reduce the likelihood that someone will withhold information from the pool of understanding and allow for communication to build future success instead of hinder it.

Let’s take a look at how this might sound for a crucial conversation for derby!

Take 1
Rostering – in which the skater and coach have a crucial conversation without using this strategy

Skater: Hey coach, I’m really upset about the roster, I wasn’t rostered for this game, and I’m 10 times the skater that skater Z is. What gives?

Coach: To be honest, I don’t see why you’re even asking. This seems pretty clear cut to me of course, but if you want me to be honest with you – you haven’t made as much growth as skater Z has this season, so that’s why they were rostered and you weren’t

Take 2
Rostering – in which the skater and coach have a crucial conversation using this strategy

Night before: skater writes down all of their concerns, and starts with the heart. They check their facts, including previous rosters, emails/expectations that have been laid out by the coaches, previous data from games, and any feedback they’ve received to date for the season

Next day:

Skater: Hey coach, I wanted to talk to you briefly about the roster. I’ve been looking at my season so far, and I feel like my stats are strong, I’ve been working on the feedback you gave me, and I’ve been rostered for a couple of games so-far this year. I’d really like to know why I didn’t make it because my goal is to support the team and to continue to improve as a player in general.

Coach: Absolutely. And, to be honest, you’ve made great progress from the beginning of the season in comparison to where you started. Right now, I can see that you are working on yourself and you’re improving a lot. What the team needs right now is the following skills that you’re continuing to try and master, which are critical for our success in this game __________

The Power of In-the-Moment-Communication (using Yes, And…)

  • Yes, And…

This is something that we did in my prep week for school this year when we were working on conflict resolution and communication in the work place. It’s actually a strategy to not halt a scene during improv. Try something with a friend. Yes, call a friend and ask them to do this (or 2-3).

  • Begin with separating out into 1, 2, and 3 order. Then, pick a topic. I like gear, so let’s talk about gear!
  • Each person talks about their ideal setup for skates. And be as elaborate as you want to about what the color will be, the brand, the wheels, the plates, the cushions – any and everything.
  • Once the first person is done, have the other two say why they can’t have that setup. The person can respond, but the other two always have to say “no” in some way
  • The second person then goes, and the others respond with statements that begin with “Yes, but….”, and the second person can respond
  • The third person then goes and the others respond with statements that begin with “Yes, and…”, and the third person can respond
  • Now reflect. How did that feel? What was the difference between your experiences?

If you’re anything like me, being the person who had “no” or even “yes, but” was frustrating and might have made you feel uncomfortable. The reason why is because “no” and “but” are indicators that we don’t agree or cues to the person who is explaining that we might not understand their point of view. When this occurs, conflict can escalate. We are using this more at work now – and I can tell that it’s already made an impact. Funny how two words can make you feel totally different, right?

Let’s look at this one in action:

Take 1
Line A comes back from a rough jam

Skater 1: So, I don’t think that strategy worked

Skater 2: No, I think it worked just fine

Skater 1: Well, no. I mean, the jammer got out right away and we were supposed to hold as long as possible, remember?

Skater 2: Yeah, but skater 3 went to play offense, which was the entire point of our setup in the first place

Skater 3: Honestly, I’m just thinking about tacos right now

Skater 4: I thought it was fine

Take 2
Line A comes back from a rough jam

Skater 1: So, I don’t think that strategy worked

Skater 2: Yes, and I feel like the breakdown might have been communication

Skater 1: Yes…. And part of that was me for sure. I was so focused on holding the jammer so that Skater 3 could play O that I wasn’t thinking about communicating where their offense was, which could have helped a bit more

Skater 2: It was me too, but we can sort it out next time – it’s just one jam. Perhaps we can focus more on communication than a set strategy

Skater 1: Sounds like a plan

Skater 3: I just really want some tacos

Skater 2: Yes, and a shower beer… but maybe not at the same time

Conclusions

Don’t let bad communication happen to good people. Don’t let your strong personalities with good ideas leave your league because they feel misunderstood. You, your organization, your team, your leadership, your everybody can make this work by remembering to start with heart, STATE your path, return to mutual purpose and mutual respect, and to use “yes, and” when problem solving in the moment.

[1]Team Building: Proven Strategies for Improving Team Performance, By William G. Dyer, W. Gibb Dyer, Jr., and Jeffery H Dyer

[2]The Relative Importance of Perceived Understanding in Initial Interaction and Development of Interpersonal Relationships, by Dudley D. Cahn, 1983

[3]The Lived Experience of Feeling Misunderstood, Barbara Backer Condon, RN; PhD

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Don’t Train Players, Train 👏 Decision 👏 Makers 👏

The brain is a beast. It’s complex and – quite honestly- too difficult to really tackle in a small blog post. That being said, I have come across a fascinating article by Seth Allen[1] that faces the subject of brain strategies within sports development head-on. I’ll be summarizing the contents of this article below, as well as providing suggestions for practical application as a trainer, league, or individual skater.

Two Domains

Janelle and Hillman[2] provided a framework for interpretation of developing high-level athletes as having two main domains: tactical skills and decision-making abilities.

Tactical Skills

Of course, skills are skills but encompassed within tactical skills is also strategic knowledge, or the plays that you would use within your league. Research suggests that development of these specific skills and strategies play a very important role in sports expertise[3] – which seems pretty accurate given our observations of top-level derby play. These should be the things that are on autopilot – your main strategies and skills that you use on the daily. Within game play, certain factors (e.g., space, time, what the other team is doing) will limit the number of reasonable options for a given situation. So, you can have the biggest and best toolbox, but what you do with it will be limited by what happens in your game.

Decision-Making Abilities

When we think of a great roller derby team, or a great player for that matter, we think of flexibility and adaptability; there is truly nothing worse than when you’ve been figured out on the track. Decision making requires an enormous amount of brain-power because it forces you to quickly sort through what’s happening in front of you and choose an answer. That means that you need to be able to focus on the most impactful things on the track, isolate, and problem solve what to do next.

Information Processing and Decision Making

In a previous post about skater development (and to a certain extent in the content above), we have established that we need to know how to do something, as well as what to do, and why/when to do it in order to be experts within our sport. The main stumbling block within this is that we as humans have a limited capacity for processing information in the moment. This is why, in the heat of a crazy jam, you may feel like you can’t keep up or like the world is falling apart. Your movements become sloppy or you make poor decisions. If we were able to process everything happening on the track all at once, we would all be VRDL without trying.

Although there isn’t extensive research on information processing, there is a ton of research within a decision-making framework. Tenenbaum (2003) suggests that success in sports is actually the ability to problem solve what is in front of you. Within competitive play, success depends upon taking-in and actively using environmental cues to pull out structured strategies that leave wiggle room to account for change. Because let’s face it – how many times have you looked at your teammates and said “powerjam – let’s ________” and suddenly you realize that the other team is going to thwart your marvelous expectations? (Many. Many times) Without the ability to focus on what is important and react in the moment to what is happening, we run the risk of using ineffective strategies when we need adaptability the most.

Metacognitive Strategies

Metacognition is an academic way of saying “thinking about thinking” – within these strategies, you are thinking about your thought-process/physical process (technique), which allows you to change it. Research from Cornoldi[4] indicates that a person’s metacognition on their own thoughts and actions (including reflection, metacognitive knowledge, conceptualization, attitude, and specific knowledge) can greatly impact an individual’s progress. That means – your potential tends to be what you think it is. So not only is it important to examine our thought processes when we play roller derby – it is equally important to remain open to developing new concepts/strategies, and to give ourselves permission to feel successful about things even when we don’t necessarily feel that the overall goal was achieved. People who are open to this have been shown to increase the frequency with which they use metacognitive strategies, creating flexibility and additional answers to serve during a variety of situations.

What we can do to help

1. Use imagery

Imagery has been used to help individuals and teams to envision how a play will happen, or a skill will feel. The reason that this is important is that it gives the ability to better and more informed decision making over the course of time. While we frequently think of how our bodies need to engage in something to remember how to do it (procedural memory/muscle memory), we frequently don’t consider that our brains also need rehearsal – which can be completed with or without your team. This is a huge strategy for individuals that should be utilized regularly, especially because there has been research completed indicating that it can enhance performance with use.[5]

2. Simplify concepts

Honestly, this is a pet peeve of mine. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve come into a practice with a strategy or play that is “new and inventive” when in reality, I find out a week later that it was essentially a tweak to a main strategy that we had been using for the better part of a season. The reason that this is huge and an opportunity for growth, is that we can speed the process of long term retrieval and storage by attaching new memories to large concepts that we have formulated in the past. Incorporating a new idea or tweak to an established set of long-term memories or a major framework is much easier than assimilating a new concept and working with it actively.

Wow Hedonic, that sounds a lot like your post about developing skills that build upon themselves to create a more cohesive pipeline over the course of a full derby career. Yes. Yes it does. It makes the most sense cognitively because it’s how we have been finding that the brain works according to modern neuroscience and neuropsychology.

3. Consider using a structured strategy to increase tactics for skaters who struggle with their skills or specific strategies[6] an example of such a progression was listed as follows:

  • Visual strategies and attention allocation (where to look and where to focus attention)
  • Selection process (what is and is not relevant)
  • Anticipation (what will happen next)
  • Processing for making decisions (long-term fluid problem solving)
  • Decision-making elaboration (which action to choose)
  • Action initiation (how and when to execute the action)
  • Action alteration (keeping alternatives in alert
  • Action evaluation (feedback)

4. Consider using sports psychology to alter the negative voice in your head

This is also for individuals, but we have used it as a team with success as well. How many times have you left the track and said “wow, that was awful”? Probably more than once. The problem with that – as has been touched upon above – is that you interpret things with a negative guise, which will influence your likelihood to use those strategies that were tried moving forward. When we say “that didn’t work”, we lump all of the strategy or the entire jam together into one concept. The issue with that is that we can’t isolate what did and did not work, so we can’t put our attention on what needs to actually change. What I love using for this is “good, better, best”. This is a strategy from The Champions Mind, which I suggest that literally everyone reads or listens to on audiobook. This strategy forces you to look at the following in order:

  • Good – What went well during that jam/game?
  • Better – What are 1-2 things (focus on 1 if possible) that could be better?
  • Best – What can you change to be your best going into the next jam/game/situation?

Try it – I can almost guarantee that by the 4th or 5th jam you do this, you’ll be hooked!

Thoughts and Takeaways

What this article suggests is that we need to train our players to be decision makers in addition to some main strategies that can be adapted within play. We can do this by sticking to some flexible main strategies (think about the standards from my last post) that can be altered in the moment to adapt to what’s in front of us. Not only that, but thinking an analyzing our thought processes and performance in a constructive way can actually help us to improve more quickly and with better results.

If you have any comments, thoughts, or questions – please feel free to contact me! Also, feel free to share this with anyone else you think might be interested. I love talking about training, so you’re sure to have a steady stream of information from me moving forward.

[1] Expertise in Sport: A Cognitive-Developmental Approach, First published 1/1/2007 in the Journal of Education

[2] Expert performance in sport: Current perspectives and critical issues. In J.L. Starkes and K.A. Ericsson (Eds.), Expert Performance in Sports: Advances in Research on Sport Expertise (pp.19-49). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

[3] McPherson, S. L., and Kernodle M.W. (2003). Tactics, the neglected attribute of expertise: Problem representations and performance skills in tennis. In J.L. Starkes and K.A. Ericsson (Eds.), Expert performance in sports: Advances in research on sport expertise (pp. 137-167). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

[4] The impact of meatcognitive reflection on cognitive control. In G. Mazzoni and T.O. Nelson (Eds.), Metacognition and cognitive neuropsychology (pp. 139-159). Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Inc.

[5] Gouious, G. (1992). On the reduction of reaction time with mental practice. Journal of Sport Behavior, 15(2), 141-157.

[6] Tenenbaum, G. (2003). Expert athletes: An integrated approach to decision making. In J.L. Starkes and Ka.A. Ericson (Eds.), Expert performance in sports: Advances in research on sport expertise (pp.191-218). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

Your Training Wardrobe: Or what education can teach us about long term development in roller derby

From early childhood, everything is a race. We race each other on the playground, we race to get to the end of school, we even race to get our drivers licenses. Why should roller derby be any different? The last post that I made was about zones of proximal development for a skater, and the development of a skater’s career over the course of time. Today, I’m focused on something totally different: how the league views its skaters’ development and supports (or fail to support) that development.

It Starts with Goals

In the world of education, we use goals to measure progress over the course of a year. These are referred to as standards – whether state standards or the now ubiquitous Common Core – these goals are set up in such a way that we can see a clear, linear progression from a very young age to much later in life. They call even bigger ideas “strands” because you can follow it from beginning to end, and the entire strand is connected by a common theme. For instance, if I look at College and Career Readiness Anchor Standards for Reading – the entire strand is comprised of smaller skills or concepts that add up to someone being ready for college/university by the time that they graduate from high school. Some of these things include: Key Ideas and Details, Craft and Structure, Integration of Knowledge and Ideas, and Range of Reading/Level of Text Complexity. Each area is loose enough to allow for flexibility. After all, I don’t typically see 7-year-old humans reading War and Peace – so naturally there’s room for progression from beginning to end. There are so many more things that go into standards and common core than just “it’s a progression”, but for the purpose of this post, I’ll let you go check everything out for yourself if you feel so inclined.

Linear Progression

Why are standards important? Well, to be quite honest, it’s darn near impossible to make a bunch of progress in a really short amount of time. There will be another post in the future about how memory works, but for now – trust the school psych when I say that a year is not enough time to drag someone from reading picture books to reading complex text about your country’s history. The brain simply doesn’t work like that. The reason we use standards is to allow us to see what steps we need to make in order to meet our end goal that was stated for that strand. For this example, it’s being ready for college/university or work at the end of their primary/secondary education. If we break this down yearly, we can chart a clear course for progress over each round of teaching (which we refer to as a school year).

But why does this matter for derby?

I know that you’re about a page in so far (per MS Word) and you haven’t really read a darn thing about roller derby – frustrating, right? Here’s the big takeaway: the most advanced derby skills, strategies, and concepts are complex chains of very basic things. All too often, we see a league that is disjointed. Your top team plays by themselves. Your B team can kind of handle what your A team is doing, but not quite, so you just set your hopes lower. Besides, they’re probably still feeling out some of the basic strategies anyway. Your bottom team couldn’t possibly do what your top team is doing because it’s too advanced, so you teach them strategy that is 2, 3, or sometimes even 4 years outdated.
Full stop.

What happens when a league does this is that those people build a concept over time of how to play roller derby, and suddenly *poof!* it’s a brand new game. That means that every time someone moves up to the next level, they start from square 1 of learning a given style/strategy/skill/how to play and it delays their progress, as well as the overall progress of their new team. That being said, this will also disrupt a pipeline that you have for your skaters.

Conceptualizing Standards for Roller Derby

I know that part of you is saying “but wait – how do I know that we won’t need to change our strategy moving forward; roller derby is a constantly changing game”. Yes. This is true. But what I’m suggesting is not that you totally focus on a specific strategy and run with it for all-of-time. What I’m suggesting is that your training should be like a wardrobe.

Staples/Standards

Your staples in your wardrobe are things that rarely go out of style. They’re things you can depend upon regardless of what the newest hot fad might be. These might be things like jeans, shorts, or button-down shirts. The overarching idea is a constant, dependable, and always functions as the base of what you do. There are times that you might have to move away from a staple. Like maybe your outgrow that piece or it becomes too worn to function. This is also true for strategy and skills within roller derby. Take a look at Bay Area’s recent move away from the 4-flat structure. They utilized the 4-flat and still maintained a very positive rank for a long time after a majority of leagues had moved away from that 4-flat setup. However, when it was time to move to a new staple within their training wardrobe, they made the ultimate decision to change. So is a staple forever? No. Is a staple relatively stable and rarely needs to change? Yes.

Accent Pieces/Strategies/Fads

Outside of your typical staple strategy, everything else is an accent used to highlight, refresh, and increase the personality and effectiveness of the base of your training. New offensive strategy? Great! It’s an accent! New technique when jamming? Awesome accent to what you as a league typically do within competitive play. The reality is that you want to train to what’s going on at the time – of course – but a framework through which the game is viewed/played/conceptualized should not fluctuate with the newest and best thing. Great example: having all of your players get on the track at the last second. This is a fun strategy and can throw the other team off, but it is an accent at best if you decide to use it at all.

When trying out new things, you should always play with them like you’re trying something new in your wardrobe. Try it. Does it feel good? Does it not feel good? Is it effective for you? Does it fit your style at all, or is it something that might just work better for other leagues? Don’t make your final decision to do away with your staple strategy in deference to this new fun thing until that new/fun thing has demonstrated great effectiveness within competitive play for a sustained period of time.

Charting the Course

Cool – so you found your staples and you’re ready to chart a course towards success. How do you do that? Work Backwards.

Let’s take a very basic strategy that can be manipulated at the higher levels to find greater success: the tripod. This is a very basic version of what you can do to break down a skill, but it gives a solid idea of what something like this can look like based on the structure of standards that was discussed before.

SKill Progression

Here you have a conceptual breakdown of a skill that is used frequently in high-level derby, and a very basic breakdown of some skills required to make that skill progress. I only chose two skills at the pre-min level because honestly – there’s so much that you can put into these and so much that you can do that I’d rather let you run wild with it if you’re interested in this idea.

Translating to Practice (literally and figuratively)

What you can see from each of these levels is that there is a clear goal – usually by the end of the season, or at very least by the end of that level. If there’s one thing that I’ve learned from working in education – special education specifically – it’s that your goals drive your plan. Take a look at what comes out of these types of discussions and see how it can help you in planning for your season. On that note, if you have no goal, then do you really have a plan?

Parting Thoughts

Look at your training program. If you set your league up to progress in a logical way, then you will be able make the changes you need at the top levels when you need to make them because you will have created great derby players who are able to work with staples of the game and add-on new strategy without thinking about it. If you have questions or thoughts, please feel free to leave them below, share this post – message me, what have you.

Skater Development and the Role of the Trainer

Ok, so is a very interesting thing because how often do we really talk about development over the course of a career? Most new skaters look at seasoned skaters and think “you were born with skates on your feet, right?”

False

Seasoned skaters face-planted, scraped by in practice, and even regretted their performance (and sometimes still do). Many have suffered from imposter syndrome or been stuck on a plateau and been unable to break through. It’s natural. This post will examine development over a career as well as the role of the trainer within this whole mess.

Fitts and Posner

Possibly the most popular of theories for sports (that I’ve come across in my research) has been a stage theory from Fitts and Posner (1967). This theory basically states that there are three main stages of development when it comes to sports: Cognitive, Associative, and Autonomous

Cognitive

The cognitive stage is where a lot of our pre-minimum skills training comes into play. When we are in the cognitive stage, it’s basically “what to do”. Skaters are looking at basic actions and trying to mimic them to the best of their ability. You can tell a cognitive stage skater by their largely unstable movements, and inconsistent performance. A majority of the action at this stage is gathering information through what we hear/see and translating it to what we do.

Associative

The associative stage is when we see our B/C and bubble skaters emerge. At this stage, we are working toward becoming more fluid, focusing on practice and “how to do it” as opposed to what to do. We are translating derby life-skills to the track and attempting to apply them in a meaningful way. You can tell an associative stage skater by their technically functional-to-proficient performance, but difficulty with consistency and significant conscious effort to get the same level of performance as someone at the autonomous level. It’s important to note that the associative stage can last for a very, very long time (even years) while others may move more quickly through this stage.

Autonomous

The autonomous stage is our A level or chartered skaters. These skaters are technically proficient and command a level of play without seemingly thinking about it. Given that these skaters can operate within game-play on auto-pilot, their problem solving ability is free to deal with true-to-game track situations and problem solve around them. Within this stage, a skater should be able to easily chain together movements to create complex strategies and have little difficulty doing so. You can tell an Autonomous skater by their consistent achievement of desired outcomes on the track, and ability to move with technical proficiency during a majority of scenarios. Because truly, are we proficient and effective if we don’t have the basics down?

Stages Comparison

Stage Typical Level Description
Cognitive Pre-minimum skills/ Sub Pool · Movements aren’t consistent

· Learning “what to do”

· Typically requires a lot of brain power because the skater is acquiring a new skill

Associative

B/C Level Skaters · Movements are more consistent than the cognitive stage – can be executed, but inconsistent across multiple attempts

· Learning through practice and “how to do” or track application

· Basic movements are automatic but sometimes unrefined/exact; in contrast a lot of cognitive power is used to string together complex movements

Autonomous

A Level/Chartered Skaters · Movements are consistent and technically correct

· Can perform skills and basic strategies across a variety of situations

· Able to problem solve and string together complex movements/strategies to achieve an end goal

Development in Education/Learning Theory

Lev Vygotsky

Vygotsky was a psychologist known in the Education field for his theory of Zones of Proximal Development. I won’t go super deep into his history, but his theory deserves a fair amount of space. Vygotsky’s theory of learning/development basically says that we learn through social interaction. That means that we can learn from our peers or from a teacher/trainer, however we will never fully progress outside of our current ability without someone helping to pull us through. One way to do this is through direct training, and another way is to mix groups or have peers training. We will stick with what trainers can do for now and address group learning/leveling of groups in another post.

The biggest thing that we have to realize about ZPD theory is that someone will not develop outside of their current ability level without someone else helping to pull them through.

ZPD

The visual above is an example of zone of proximal development (ZPD). The inner circle is where the skater is currently performing. This is what that individual can do without assistance from a trainer. The zone of proximal development is the blue region. This is only accessible through what we call scaffolding (assistance to move to the next level). The grey area is what the skater cannot do even with assistance. While I’d love to say that I can help someone who just passed minimum skills to be an A Level blocker, I cannot no matter how hard I try (sorry friends). What the does not mean is that all hope is lost. In essence, we create new experiences and understanding of the world by bringing in more information from what we are learning and applying it to what we have learned already.

Let’s take a closer look at the zone of proximal development and the role of the trainer

Training and Scaffolding

As a trainer at any level, it’s important to help our skaters to reach further into their proximal zones of development – without that, we are not creating progress towards truly becoming better skaters. The way we do that is different at every stage, but the process is the same across all stages. We call this “scaffolding” essentially, it’s providing the skater just enough instruction or the right environment to ensure that their stage of learning can flourish. To bring this all together: this is important because, as we continue to pull the skater towards a higher level within their zone of proximal development, the new zone for that skater to achieve increases, bringing them closer to the next stage of development. So, while skater M may not be an A level blocker right now, enough rounds of working on similar skills at an appropriate level and in an appropriate way will help that person to progress as needed to reach that ultimate level of achievement.

All-in-all, being a trainer is not presenting a drill or just making a practice plan. It is looking at the skill level of your skaters and providing a method of training that is effective for their current level to help them reach the zone of proximal development, which looks different at every level.

Concrete vs Abstract

When we begin to talk about the way that we train the levels, it’s important to talk about concrete and abstract methods. Concrete methods are basically a direct way to teach. Operating mostly through association (Hebbian Learning: cells that fire together, wire together) where there is a clear “yes” and “no” to the question/skill/problem. This is best used with those skaters who are in the concrete stage of their career. It’s important to remember that there are multiple ways of teaching a single skill, so the “yes” and “no” may look different for each person/body type/way of learning/skating style – but the overall outcome should be the same. As we progress through the stages of a given career, we free up more-and-more space to think, which allows us to problem solve what’s in front of us. This means that we can become more abstract – presenting a problem and allowing skaters to use what they know to come to a better answer. It’s clear that this is effective for those who are in the autonomous stage, but what do we do with those who are still in the associative stage?

F_and_P

The Associative Beast

The associative stage is a beast because so many of us can get stuck there without even thinking about it. However, what most don’t consider is that those within the associative stage (and any bubble skaters) can take on a variety of training techniques to make progress. So, our associative skaters do not have to sit in reps-land forever. In fact, many may benefit from using a problem-solving approach within a practice setting as a means of scaffolding to the next level within their derby careers. The same could be said about cognitive skaters – giving them little questions or letting them problem solve may help them to make better connections in the long run.

Great! What Now?

So, how do we use this in a meaningful way? Honestly: this is what the entire blog is about, so I cannot (without MAAAAAANY pages of information) give you everything at once. Use these questions to help you get started.

  • What stage is your group currently in?
  • Is what you’ve written appropriate for that skater/stage of skaters?
  • What is your ultimate goal for the drill and is it within the skaters’ zone of proximal development?
  • If not – what can you change about what you’ve written to make your practice more beneficial for the skaters you’re training?

If you like this post, then feel free to leave a thought, comment, question or share with anyone who might be interested as well!

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