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
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?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.
It was…knees bent.
My knees must not have been bent.
I will focus on the bend next turn.”
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.
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,
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.
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.”
The nail, with a little guidance, can pull itself through the board.