Thursday, July 14, 2011

Fix It! With the Focus Funnel

By Theresa McKeon

A late night comedy show recently aired a skit with a character so frustrated by unresolved economic problems that he was reduced to repeating a single phrase. “Fix it…just fix it…fix it, fix it, fix it!”

In the gym, coaches experience this frustration when athletes, despite repeated directions and feedback, fail to correct particular parts of a skill. This frustration can turn into nagging and then escalate into yelling and punishment. So the question is, if a learner is physically and mentally capable of recognizing the directions to fix a task, what is keeping them from doing so?

One possibility is an insufficient connection to the information delivered by the coach. The coach says “When you are doing a handstand, push up tall all the way through your arms and legs and keep your feet pointed”. The athlete performs the handstand but distractions keep her from remembering to point her feet. What are these distractions? For the most part, it doesn’t matter. There will always be distractions. The solution is to strengthen the line of focus between the coach’s directions and the athlete’s performance of them.

Strengthen that Connection with a Focus Funnel

Research is debunking the "multitasking" myth and data suggest that there is reduced efficiency associated with trying to learn more than one thing at at time. Although multiple tasks can be combined once learned, it is merely an exercise in frustration for coach and athlete to expect an athlete to learn more than one thing at a time. To avoid multitasking in your coaching, start with the academic portion of the lesson and put it through a funnel to provide crystal clear directions and a single point of focus. To use the funnel approach, start with the broad explanation of the lesson, reduce this to a clear instruction and reduce it further to a single point of focus for the athlete’s particular turn. A point of focus declares “fix this one particular thing”. We can further encourage a connection by providing a distinct call to attention for the athlete, a phrase that shouts, “Listen up, the really, really important information is coming now!”

For Example

Lesson Description: “To get a powerful tumbling pass, you need a powerful hurdle. Having clean lines in the hurdle helps you keep the power of your run directed forward. One way to keep a clean powerful hurdle is to reach into the hurdle with your shoulders and arms touching your ears. This will keep your head in line and your back straight which helps to maintain your power.”

Directions: “Go to the floor and do four round-offs with good alignment”

The tag point is… Shoulders touching ears

The athlete now has a single criterion for success, “shoulders touching ears”. If the shoulders are touching the ears in the hurdle, there is absolute success for that tag point. Any additional refinements can be addressed with future tag points.

Lesson Description: “Your feet need to stay together in the handstand, even when you are doing a pirouette on bars. If your feet come apart, they can pull you out of alignment and cause the handstand to tilt or even collapse. Besides, the judges will take a deduction for feet apart.

Directions: Do one handstand half pirouette on the floor bar and 5 handstand pirouettes on the low bar and 5 handstand half pirouettes on the pit bar.

The tag point is…Big toes glued together

Fixing it is Fun

Although studies show that success is in itself reinforcing, the measurable successes marked by audible tags can be used in a token economy. As an athlete ‘collects the tags’ she may turn them in to “buy” stickers, trinkets, come in late for a Saturday practice, choose the next skill or even the next tag point. Groups of athletes can combine their earned tags and turn them in for open gym time or the chance to compete in skill contests.

When the name of the game is perfection, we all have to “fix it” endlessly. The challenge lies in developing the concentration and motivation needed to fix everything. One solution is a direct line of focus between the coach’s directions and the athlete's performance of them. The Focus Funnel provides this direct line by reducing confusion while introducing positive reinforcement and encouraging commitment to the performance.

Read a scientific article by Cora M. Dzubak, PhD about multitask learning that concludes: "there is unequivocal evidence that depending on the task, degree of thinking and the need for future application, we might want to do some things one step at a time, free of interruption, and do them well"

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