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Posted in: Coaching Top Tips

How Do You Think? And as coaches, how do you know, what you know?

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  • Ralph

    When I discuss critical thinking with other coaches, the vast majority indicate that they are skeptical and critical thinkers, but only of others, I’ve not found many coaches that can do it effectively to them selves.

    Why would we, we all think we are wonderful in our lunchtime. (recent U.K. RAC national statistic; 80% of drivers think they are above average drivers, mathematically impossible, just as your athlete stating, “they are going to give it 110%”.) The answer is; “Self confidence is the enemy of self awareness.” (For those not into stats, only 49% could possibly be above average).

    Is it significant the TOP TIPs gets 300 veiws and 5 replies and the TOP DIPS gets 100 veiws and 2 replies?

    However, when I ask coaches what process they use for critical thinking, most do not have a clear answer. I suspect a lot of you reading this don’t. I doubt it goes beyond; “well that didn’t work lets try something else” or “it worked for me, so that’s what I’m going to do.” The majority seem to rely on an intuitive process for their thinking rather than find out the facts. Proved in the film Moneyball. I presume as serious coaches, you’ve all watched the film? As pointed out by several authors, passively relying on intuition as a means of thinking is likely to produce very biased, unclear and inaccurate thinking. So to increase the probability of making accurate conclusions I believe it is essential to have a process when thinking.

    A few years ago I came across some videos and writings by a philosopher named Peter Boghossian. In one of his videos he speaks about a three step process for critical thinking which works well for me. The steps are comprised of three questions which can be asked of yourself, or others, to help determine the accuracy of a given conclusion. Here they are with a few of my own clarifications and additions.

    1) How do I (or you) know that?

    • For this question to be helpful one needs to understand how to assess the reliability of a source or method of understanding. For example, “I read it on the internet” vs. “I read an Academic review on the topic”. It still doesn’t guarantee it’s true just gives you a level of confidence to make a decisions. Just as coaches, we know it’s about the journey, not the destination, academics focus on the process not the conclusion. If our best brains use coaches methods, then perhaps we are getting something right.

    2) Can I think of any counter examples which prove my conclusion false

    • Pain science is a great example of how this question can be helpful. The traditional Cartesian model of pain whilst exercising is unable to explain nociception without pain and pain without nociception. So those examples demonstrate that the Cartesian model of pain is incomplete and a new more accurate explanation is needed.

    3) How could my belief be wrong

    • This is where alternative explanations need to be considered. It amazes me how confident a person can be about a conclusion, yet they have not even considered the plausibility of alternative explanations. The brilliant Steve Ovett gave me a perfect example of this, when he was asked why an Olympic would not prepare well and he said, “it’s more complicated than that, in his experience most athletes turn up with a premade excuse, just in case they loose and often believe it.”
    • Sometimes I replace this questions with “what are potential alternative conclusions and why is conclusion “X” more plausible?”

    In order for this process to be successful, the user needs other important skills. For example, a strong critical thinker should be able to identify assumptions and avoid logical fallacies. The Foundation for Critical Thinking identifies several other skills needed for “High Order Thinking.” I recommend their “Guide to Critical Thinking”, “The Thinker’s Guide to Clinical Reasoning” and “The Art of Socratic Questioning.”

    What do you think about this process? What process do you use when thinking?

    Critical thinking = attitude and skill set (which is more important?).

    Attitude (trustful of reason & evidence; and are you willing to reconsider? Is it anomalous or distasteful?).

     Critical thinking core components: Interpretation, analysis, inference, explanation, evaluation, self-regulation.

     Dunning-Kruger effect (too stupid to know you’re stupid).

    Humility the ability to say “I don’t know.”

     Use Counter-examples to disprove or question validity.

    Ask how COULD my belief be wrong? What circumstances would it take for it to be wrong.

  • jturner83

    What are your thoughts on Gilbert and Trudel's (2001) reflective practice model as a method of critically analysing ones practice? Reflection/Reflective practice seems to be embedded in coach education now, but I find many coaches don’t fully understand why they are being asked to write down their experiences, let alone utilise the ‘logbooks’ to develop their coaching ability.


    Gilbert and Trudel (2001) Learning to coach through experience: Reflection in model youth sport coaches.

  • Ralph

    well IF all research is personal opinion, subjective, biased and just plucked out at random, i see it opointless to discuss.

  • Ralph

    Why does the athlete make allegedly “stupid” decisions when the coach has told them otherwise?

     The gap between expert analysis and public opinion seems to be widening by the day or is it, perhaps it seems to be but is not real?

     If this increasingly wide-spread phenomenon is real: then well-informed expert coaches put forward a view on a topic based on the best evidence available and public and athletes opinion jumps the other way. Why does this happen?

     One possible answer is that the general public is just stupid. “You can never underestimate the stupidity of the general public.” Scott Adams

    To put this in more acceptable terms, the public do not have sufficient IQ, enough education or the right information to accurately weigh up the coaches arguments.

    ‘There are none so blind as those who will not see. The most deluded people are those who choose to ignore what they already know’. Thomas Chalkley. What is termed, unconscious incompetence and cognitive dissonance.

     This explanation may appeal to some expert coaches whose opinion are ignored, but is it correct? Most of the public have sufficient raw intelligence to weight up basic arguments. General levels of education have never been higher – and almost any information is readily available to anyone with an internet connection. There is also the Einstein rule; “Any expert can explain their argument to anyone otherwise they don’t truly understand it themselves.”

     A second possible answer is that public trust in experts such as expert sports coaches is declining. A closer look at the evidence suggests this is also not so. The annual Edelman trust barometer shows that academics and industry experts continue to be trusted by 70% of the public. This compares to 43% for CEOs and only 38% for government officials.

     Quick decisions

    To find a reason why people seem to disregard the views of experts about important matters, we need to look at how humans process information. In The Stupidity Paradox, a recent work with Mats Alvesson, it was asked why is it that in a world of increasingly smart people we so frequently end up making incredibly stupid decisions?

     One reason is our inbuilt cognitive biases. We often make quick decisions about complex issues on the basis of our past beliefs or even chance associations.

     A past belief could be a bad thing, if that belief is actually wrong but we don’t know it to be wrong and carry on making decisions based on that false belief to be true (it’s called a false positive in medicine). This is sometimes known as a thought virus, which infects our rationality. You can’t rationalize with an irrational persons thought if they have a thought virus.

     Chance Associations are covered under the Power Law, we perceive associations as significant and act accordingly. You win with a new pair of socks and from then on, they become your lucky socks.

     After we have made these decisions – which often happen in a matter of milliseconds – we start the laborious process of proving ourselves right. We seek information which justifies decisions already made. Many members of the public have already made up their mind about about Donald Trump, leaving Europe or climate change. All they focus on is finding information which confirms their split-second decisions. Information which questions their beliefs is carefully ignored; it could make them uncomfortable and require them to think again. It can force them the unwelcome choice of having admit what they believed and the decisions they made; were wrong! And coaches are in the game of being right?

     And it is true that paying attention to the evidence of experts can be uncomfortable. There are difficult contradictions that require humiliating climb downs. Humans tend to avoid what psychologists call cognitive dissonances at all costs. When the facts don’t fit our beliefs we tend to prefer to change the facts, NOT our beliefs. It was found that senior managers would ignore evidence that expensive change process had failed so they could cling to the idea they had wisely allocated the company’s precious resources. BHS seems to be an example.

     A further reason us coaches might be ignored is that heeding our advice can create social discomfort; it can create awkward discussions with peers. To avoid such discomfort athletes could choose to rely on the judgments of their peers or parents instead. In the short term this can mean social interaction flows along smoothly and can remain an accepted member of the group or family.

     Numbers game

    It’s not just the poor, silly public. The way which experts think about complex issues is just as clouded. They are often unwilling to listen to views outside their own narrow professional circles. One study found that economists almost exclusively draw on other ideas from other economists. This is quite different to other social sciences which are more likely to draw on other disciplines. Furthermore, when there are high levels of agreement among economists, there is often the largest gap in public opinion – in some cases as large as 35%. Is it possible ConnectedCoaches members only look for information inside their own circle of expertise and is that risky?

     Whether we are all stupid or not is a moot point, but we can certainly be decidedly obstinate in the face of the most compelling evidence.

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