Saturday, November 13, 2010

Self Assessment - Developing an Athlete's "Inner Eye"

By Theresa McKeon

The customary way to put a nail through a board is to pound it with a hammer. It’s fast, forceful and hammering can be a physical outlet for frustration. But what if there was a superior nail that with a little guidance would pull itself through the board and hold longer and stronger? Could you put down the hammer?

The following techniques are designed to help athletes build a repertoire of problem solving skills and a path towards self reliance in place of coach reliance.

Reinforce the Process

Step 1

Although feedback from the coach is imperative, an athlete who can self-assess will ultimately decrease his dependency on an instructor and increase his desire to look inward for answers. The process of handing over some of the reins may take a bit of time. At first athletes may be stymied by the prospect of being part of their own coaching staff. They have been programmed to take corrections directly from their coach, not to look inward. Coaches may initially fear wasting practice time while athletes find their ‘coach within’, but the results are very motivating.

Success is motivational so athlete and coach need to find immediate reinforcement opportunities. The techniques used in the TAGteach methodology are very helpful in providing organized opportunities for reinforcement in combination with self assessment. This can be valuable in the transition from passively being coached to participating actively in the process. With TAGteach, (Teaching with Acoustical Guidance) feedback from the coach is transmitted audibly with a simple device that produces a sharp click sound. This sound, called a 'tag', marks a single response, action or position called a tag point. The tag means "yes, correct". The absence of the tag means “self assess”. This binary feedback eliminates the need for immediate verbal performance feedback from the coach which can be loaded with social and emotional nuances. It allows the athlete to make the judgment "I did it right" or "I need to try something else next time". The athlete focuses on the results of the performance of the specific tag point and not on the tone of voice or other irrelevant information that often accompanies verbal corrections.

To make this work, the coach creates a single issue task that is set up for a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ answer. Take for example a volleyball player who has trouble remembering to bend her knees before she bumps the ball. The coach sets up a single issue task (tag point) that can be judged as correct or not correct. “The tag point is…knees bent.” If the athlete bends her knees before the bump, the coach tags. The athlete, conditioned to identify that sound as, “yes”, captures the mental snapshot of this correct placement and immediately moves on to assess any internal feedback of the position.

If the athlete does not hear the tag he uses this information to self assess:
“No tag? What was the tag point?

It was…knees bent.

My knees must not have been bent.

I will focus on the bend next turn.”
The athlete self assesses before the coach provides additional feedback. This fosters accountability and may decrease the athlete's dependence on commentary from the coach.

To stave off frustration, the guidelines of TAGteach recommend that if the learner hears ‘no tag’ in three successive tries, the coach lowers the criterion for the tag to a level where success is more certain. The coach then increases the difficulty gradually with ever more challenging tag points. This creates a climate of success for the learner and keeps frustration to a minimum.

Step 2

Now that the act of self assessing has been made reinforcing for the athlete (the sound of the tag is associated with success) and the coach (less corrections, more athlete accountability and faster skill acquisition), the next step is to develop the athlete’s problem solving skills.

First the athlete must be given problems to solve. The tagging technique gently introduces problem solving. The final answer can always be found in the clearly stated tag point.
“I didn’t receive a tag…why?” “The tag point was...toes touching in the handstand” “If I’m not getting tagged it must be because my toes are apart.” “I’ll put my toes together” (athlete hears the tag) “yep, that’s what it was!”
Step 3

Say an athlete attempts a tag point three times and does not succeed. Instead of automatically giving an easier tag point the coach may ask the athlete, “this is what we are trying to accomplish, what you think the new tag point should be?” Depending on the athlete’s age and skill level, the coach can quickly shepherd the athlete to a new tag point or allow a more extended dialogue. For example,

Coach: "The tag point was swing the tennis racket parallel to the ground. You didn’t receive a tag on the last three swings. Do you know why?"

Athlete: "No! I understand the tag point but I really felt like I was swinging the racket parallel."

Coach: "OK, what should we do?"

Athlete: "First we should find out if we mean the same thing by ‘parallel’."

Coach: "Great idea. Show me what parallel feels like to you?"

Athlete: (Athlete demonstrates)

Coach: "Aha! There is the problem. The racket head needs to be tilted farther forward." (Coach tilts the athlete’s racket to the correct spot and marks it with a tag)

Athlete: "OK, that’s different from what I thought the tag point was. Can we tag this position a few more times without the swing so I can get used to it?"

Coach: (Tags the corrected racket placement and the athlete feels more successful and confident)

Athlete: "OK, I am ready to put it back into the full swing.”
This scenario illustrates how useful athlete input can be and that with a little guidance the athlete can solve problems and ultimately shorten learning time. If the coach had simply kept repeating, “Parallel…the racket needs to be parallel…why are you ignoring the correction?” both parties could have become frustrated resulting in stalled progress. By creating a concentrated formula for delivering information (the audible tag), the TAGteach methodology reduces the time spent on external feedback, allowing for increased attention to internal feedback. Now it is possible for athletes to be part of the process and to take a cognitive role in their journey to accomplishment.

The nail, with a little guidance, can pull itself through the board.


  1. Reading this article on arising made my day! It is beautifully written both from the literary viewpoint and the educational content viewpoint.

    I am a retired university professor (physical education) and hope that teacher education soon catches on to TAGteaching. This technology is a powerful tool and i congratulate you on the development of it. I was always seeking to improve my techniques of introduction guidance and performance feedback and would have grabbed at TAGteaching.

    Also, TAGteaching develops self assessment in the student when no tag is heard. Learning to self assess is the beginning of learning how to do deep practice (The Learning Code by D. Coyle; The Genius in All of Us, by D. Shenk and it is the beginning of getting the growth mindset in facing life of a fixed mindset (Mindset, Carol S. Dweck.) Students tagging each other and a student tagging her/himself further extends the learning of deep practice and the growth mind set. So, there is a lot of potential for educators to work on with TAGteaching. Recent quality research gives big time support of deep practice and growth mindset for human development in all the domains of education. So, push on with your work!

    To my thinking, the creation of the name TAG is a brilliant stroke and good too is the careful use of associated words, eg. "developmental sequence vs shaping", which reflect that the human learner is special among all the other kinds of creatures that change behavior in a changing environment.

    Also the introduction of the tagulator is super. I hope it has the great future it deserves. Non-metalic, non-silicon but super user friendly. I recent gave taggers and tagulators to several forward thinking teachers and they were as interested in putting the tagulator into use as the tagger! But, privately, I think they will grow to see the great power of the tagger as soon as they they give it some trials.

    I am looking forward to exploring this blog which I only recently discovered. I am using a tagulator for completing a sessions at the piano when I have practiced with deep practice. Going to give myself something nice when i have pulled 50 beads. Each practice session is about 40 hardworking minutes in which I focus intently on previously selected tag points. Tag points are found by my mistakes in performance. I work on music with a difficulty just beyond what I can do easily so the mistakes occur with great frequency but they are not monumental.

    Had fun writing this. Didn't worry that it is long because readers can opt out if they get bored. Hope for sure that you get the message I admire your work!

    My address is

    Can't get your profile system to work.

    Darrell Williams

    Darrell Williams, Austin Texas

  2. Addendum to above comment by TAGteach:

    Darell Williams was an Associate Professor in the Department of Health and Kinesiology an the University of Texas in Austin for 40 years

  3. Is there any information on using this procedure in a classroom learning support? IE< how would you modify this for a whole class?

  4. Please join our Yahoo group - link is listed on the right of this blog. There has been lots of discussion of TAGteach in the classroom