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Posted in: High Performance Coaching

Whole or part?

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  • Ralph

    What’s you’re preferred starting point for focus, where and what you look at in your team or individual?


    Do you look at the whole?


    Are you a detail first coach?

    More instinctive and holistic?

    More reverse engineer, Reductionist?


    In other words, how do you know what you know?

    Clearly you have a method, even if you’re not aware of it, why do you chose that particular method as your starting point?


    Is it ridiculous to look at an individual in a team game?

    Isn’t it an individuals responsibility to step up, in a team game?


    According to the conventional wisdom, the way to study complex systems is by breaking them down into their parts.

    In Coaching, as in any science, we must distinguish between the "method" and the "philosophy" of reductionism, that they teach on our Gov. body courses.

    Perhaps the greatest concern in the issue of coaching reductionism vs holism is the transition between the hierarchical levels? We know that we cannot make a lentil out of lentil soup, nor even lentil puree; thus in the analytical approach there must be some point, "the moment between the bud and the rose," at which reductionism fails?

    There’s an infamous sports psych quote that goes; “you can take a horse to water but you can’t stuff its head in it.”

    This analytical approach may be termed "hierarchical reductionism". But it is still an open question as to how far this "downward causation" can succeed in any individual case; the fact that it appears to succeed in particular cases constitutes a circular argument, in that the strategy is regarded as successful only after it has been shown that it works! Probably the most common coaching style???

    An example: an ex-world snooker champion commentated on a match where he said; “With this next shot, because it’s so difficult, you have to keep your head very still!” Anyway, Alex (Hurricane) Higgins hits the ball as though he has just punched someone. Of course, the ball goes straight in. So the commentator has to say; “Well, only Alex can do that!”

    Only Alex? After many days and hours of trying to sort out Andy Roddick’s serve, the player wisely, ignored his coach and said, “let me just try something.” So he dumped all that he had been coached, cleared his mind and just let rip, and therefore added 20MPH onto his serve in one go, turned to his coach and said; “shall we stick with that one?” For those of you that don’t know, he has one of the fastest record serves in the game since then.

    If we watch a film of snooker/billiard balls colliding, we cannot tell whether the film is running forwards or backwards. By contrast, if we observe a film of a bull in a china shop, we may be fairly confident that the film is running in one (the "forward") direction; bulls do not normally reassemble broken crockery and emerge smiling from retail stores. As Humpty Dumpty found, there are many ways of breaking things, but only one way of putting them together correctly.

    Are you sure, you’re happy deconstructing your athlete and putting it back together?

  • anfy

    As a great supporter of the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" school (very wise words when thinking about computers!), I am not in favour of deconstruction unless something is actually broken. In other words, we(you) are possibly looking at two seperate things : (1) Performance improvement and (2) fault correction. These are not mutually exclusive, but the latter is more quantifiable as far as the athlete is concerned. They know they have a problem and have already "bought into" possible solutions.

    The degree to which I would analyse the problem then depends very much on the fault. Some faults are almost superficial and, as such, require minimal alteration. With a fundamental problem, a decision has to be made : eat the whole elephant or try smaller bites? Again, this depends very much on the actual problem and its solution(s). Some faults do not lend themselves to a staged approach and deconstruction may be the only (painful) way forward.

    I consider my job as a coach is to decide which approach is required on an individual basis, and ensure that I provide the necessary support and feedback whilst the athlete relearns a skill - something made faster by use of the Old Way/New Way technique.

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