Thursday, February 27, 2020

Saturday, January 11, 2020

Questioning Assumptions or Why I Read a Motor Learning Textbook

In volleyball coaching circles, there may be nothing as polarizing as talking about Gold Medal Squared and their philosophies. Many coaches swear by their methods, many coaches just swear when the group is mentioned. It is difficult to know what principles the group espouses without going to a clinic and yet most coaches are happy to give a summary of what GMS is all about even while lacking that direct knowledge. I think that this behavior appears regularly in many facets of our lives and we usually commit varying degrees of the straw man fallacy in those moments. I am not writing to take a stand for or against GMS. I'm more interested in our behavior around discussions like those between pro- and anti-GMS folks.

"The science" is a commonly-used term in presentations from GMS staff that I have attended. That term tends to represent two ideas, motor learning and scientific research. I have learned a fair bit about scientific research through my academic career but I haven't had the same kind of exposure to the field of motor learning. My memories of motor learning were all of hearing coaching clinicians talk about motor learning in much the same way as I have mentioned, as "the science". And what was the clinician's level of expertise in motor learning? I have no idea now and I likely didn't know at the time either. It likely was not made explicit since it was not the main focus of what the clinic or presentation was about. This is the point: non-experts taking the words of possible non-experts and giving them the same weight as the actual "science". I don't know how well the speakers actually know "the science" but the words sound good to me and, therefore, carry more weight in my mind. It doesn't matter if I am agreeing or disagreeing with what the speaker has said, what I have overlooked is their role as an interpreter. They are sharing either a portion of the body of research or, more accurately, their perception of that portion. I, like most people, will unintentionally conflate the speaker's words with the words of the original idea that the speaker describes.

This conflation becomes very obvious if we use an opinion instead of a fact. I will tell you that, based on my experience, the Grand Canyon is grander than the Great Wall is great. As you evaluate my statement you are likely to understand that it is an opinion. If I tell you instead that the Grand Canyon is longer than the Great Wall, it is much more likely that you will evaluate the statement as a fact (true or not) rather than an opinion. If you have no previous experience with either of these wonders, you may not be able to evaluate the truth of my statement, which leaves you in a precarious place. If we are friends and you trust me because I happen to be really good at trivia games, you may readily accept what I say. If we are friends and I am really good at trivia games and I like to pull the occasional prank, you may not trust me. But what if I am a speaker at a conference and I make the same conjecture? What if that conjecture is embedded in the presentation I give and it is part of a chain of evidence that I use to reach an important conclusion? If you're not a connoisseur of wonders of the world, you may not even notice because both of us are paying more attention to conclusion that I reach. You trust me not to lead you astray as I build my argument and I do my best to earn that trust.

To be clear, I am not saying that conference speakers are trying to lead us astray nor am I saying that we need to check the credentials of every speaker we listen to. I prefer to work from the assumption that presenters are earnestly doing their best to give us a concise and coherent story without getting bogged down in nuance any more than is necessary. So what does that have to do with motor learning?

When I hear people (from either side of the GMS fence) tell me what GMS believes or what "the science" says, I want to know more. I want to investigate the claims, not out of mistrust but out of fascination with learning. I want to root intellectual laziness out of me and that means reading "the science". That means asking questions. Often. That means digging deeper instead of just digging in my heels. I don't want my initial response to be "they don't know what they're talking about". I want it to be "I don't know what I am listening to". That curiosity can help me see what I need to wrap my head around. In the case of GMS, it meant learning more about motor learning.

I read Motor Control and Learning: A Behavioral Emphasis by Richard A. Schmidt and Timothy D. Lee this winter break with the intent of learning what everybody meant by "the science". I found it to be boring at moments and exhilarating at others. Above all, I found it thought-provoking. I highlighted stuff, I downloaded research papers to read. I talked with friends that know more about this topic than I do. I talked with friends that rely on motor learning but in different contexts. I dug deeper. I learned. I came away with as many questions as answers. I'd tell you what I learned but that would defeat the whole point of this exercise.

"Do not seek to follow in the footsteps of the wise; seek what they sought." - Matsuo Bashō

As for the Great-Grand comparison, go look it up. Or, even better if you're able, go look for yourself.

Monday, August 12, 2019

What I Did on My Summer (and Spring) "Vacation"

I noticed recently that I had not posted much in the past few months. There is a part of me that feels bad about that but I also realize that I have to keep seeking out new knowledge and experiences if I want to keep having things to think and write about. I have a couple of commonplace books in which I record ideas and I definitely filled plenty of pages this Spring and Summer. With that in mind, here's what I have been up to lately.

First, I was fortunate to appear on The Decoding Excellence Show podcast for a second time. You can listen to it here.

I am nearing the midway point of my Master's program and the class I took this Spring, Adolescent Psychology and Development for Teachers, was very engaging. It moved me to add some important ideas to my personal coaching and teaching framework and philosophy.

My Spring class allowed me to dive deeply into some education research and literature. I spent hours with my nose buried in journals and books without a hint of resentment at the amount of time required. I was able to revisit Carol Dweck's Mindset as well as read her latest paper (Mindsets: A View from Two Eras with David Yeager, another leader in mindset research). She just published a new paper that is expected to open new horizons in the field based on what has been learned since she first introduced the concept. I was exposed to the works of Robert Kegan, Robert Pianta, and Nel Noddings and I am working to incorporate ideas of theirs into how I interact with learners and how I structure learning environments. Most pivotal was reading Parker J. Palmer's The Courage to Teach, which I reviewed here. I have noticed a shift in how I talk to coaches and teachers about what I think is most important and how I think those concepts should be communicated to learners.

I reread Annie Duke's Thinking in Bets because I thought that I should refresh my understanding of her ideas.I think that putting her ideas into daily practice is challenging and I want to give myself the best chance possible to keep them in my conscious mind. I read Charles Wheelan's Naked Statistics, which was a good reminder of how to think about the numbers that I am gathering and thinking about in the course of my job.

I read Tony Wagner, et al.'s Change Leadership, which was a challenging book in terms of the thought and dedication required to read it. It's not that the language was dense or challenging from the standpoint of comprehension. It's that the book is a "practical guide" so it asks that we think deeply about the systems we are part of and how they impact learning and learners. There are exercises to complete and they are worth doing to get the full effect of the book's message. I hope to write a post soon that contains some of the things that I learned about myself and how I view teaching and coaching.

Coding and Statistics
I attended several seminars and completed several courses on coding in R as well as finished R for Dummies and all of these were very helpful in deepening my understanding of the language. I think it will be another year before I am coding anything fun and useful but I at least feel like I can code. I feel that I have much to learn about statistics to start answering the questions I have about aspects of volleyball that are interesting to me and it is likely that I will be able to tie together some of that with my Master's program. It strikes me that we seem to be rather cavalier with the data we collect in volleyball and I want to build on more rigorous foundations.

Volleyball Thoughts
I spent some time this spring exploring an idea I see in baseball, the longer a pitcher remains in the game, the less effective he tends to become. I wanted to see if serving effectiveness decreased as a match went on. After discussing this idea with a friend, I also looked at reception effectiveness as a match went on. While there is still room to refine the way I looked at the data (I looked at entire sets rather than each consecutive reception), I didn't see any clear trends that indicate that either servers or passers change in any significant way as matches go on. This seems to go against the idea that we can "wear down" a player by serving them as frequently as possible. Maybe serving them every ball has an effect on their attack efficiency (I didn't study that) but it doesn't have a meaningful effect on their passing. (With that said, there may be evidence to support the idea that teams become very risk averse in terms on serving in fifth sets.)

Each Spring I take all the data I have accumulated from the previous season and add them to the pile of numbers from earlier seasons and make adjustments to expected side out, expected hitter efficiency, and expected block efficiency. I first learned these calculations from the legendary Joe Trinsey, who originally calculated these based on top-level international play. I think I now have a decent data set to have a better idea of how top-level collegiate play differs so I have adjusted Joe's coefficients accordingly. From the data I have, it appears that, in general, hitters are more efficient internationally (shocking, right?). But that doesn't hold true in all cases. Top college attackers are more efficient in certain situations. NCAA attackers tend to do better than international attackers when sets are wide/high and when sets are tight. This might say more about the skill level and aggressiveness of NCAA blockers than it does about the attackers, but still. It is interesting to note that the largest difference in expected efficiency relative to set location is between perfect sets and low/flat sets. While missing wide, off, or tight definitely have negative impacts on attack efficiency, missing low and/or flat in a tempo offense is likely the largest factor that impacts a team's ability to get a kill mainly because that situation happens far more frequently than the other misses.

Random Thoughts
Here are a couple of elegantly simple ideas that come from soccer that I want to apply to my thinking about offense in volleyball:
"It's not the ball that moves, you want to move the opponent." - John Wall
"The ball is the present, the space is the future." - Kevin Grimes
How do we attempt to create, manipulate, and exploit space in our offense? How does thinking in terms of space differ from thinking in terms of match ups? How might we benefit from thinking about space instead of match ups?

Saturday, June 8, 2019

We Teach Who We Are - a Review of Parker J. Palmer's The Courage to Teach

"We teach who we are" - Parker J. Palmer opens the introduction with these words and then reminds us that we typically only ask what and how we teach. Sometimes we dig deeper and ask why we teach but Palmer points out that we almost never ask who is the self that teaches? He then gives us his reasoning for asking who: "this book is built on a simple premise: good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher." The teachers and coaches whose memories we cherish most are those that taught us from the core of who they were. Who they were and what they taught were indivisible to us. It is the courage to know and express ourselves through teaching that lights the fire that we share.

Palmer introduces a phrase that beautifully sums up a phenomenon I have seen everywhere I turn in coaching and teaching, "technique is what teachers use until the real teacher arrives." It is cliché that clinicians are most commonly asked by coaches "what drill/game should I use to get better at X?" Earlier in my coaching career, I was intent on getting the technique of coaching right. If I used the right drills in the right order and I taught the right footwork then I could be a great coach. With one pithy sentence, Palmer crystallized for me what it took years of stumbling and fumbling to learn, "as we learn more about who we are, we can learn techniques that reveal rather than conceal the personhood from which good teaching comes." Being good at teaching is about knowing who I am and what I believe about those would learn from me.

In chapter two, Palmer discusses the role of fear in education. As educators we deal with many fears within ourselves, from the fear of silence in response to our questions to the fear of loss of control of the learning environment. We must also take into account the fears that our learners face every day as well. They fear looking ignorant or foolish, the power that they imagine we hold over them, as well as fearing failure. Palmer warns us that "when my students' fears mix with mine, fear multiplies geometrically - and education is paralyzed." Our fears lead to a separation of teaching from learning. "Result: teachers who talk but do not listen and students who listen but do not talk." When we think of moments when our lessons broke down, we start looking for "fixes" of technique and "practical solutions" and Palmer warns us against such methods. "Eventually, the how-to question is worth asking. But understanding my identity is the first and crucial step in finding new ways to teach: nothing I do differently as a teacher will make any difference to anyone if it is not rooted in my nature."

What, then, should actual teaching look like if it is not a series of formulaic moves and techniques? Palmer tells us that "to teach is to create a space in which the community of truth is practiced". The most important aspects of this for me are creating space and the structure of the community. As educators we tend to fill space rather than create it. We believe ourselves to be experts that are needed for our learners to make sense of our discipline. We say, in Palmer's words, "but my field is full of factual information that students must possess before they can continue". In the case of sport, this factual information is the way our sport is played, both technically and tactically. We must find a way to honor "both the stuff that must be learned and the space that learning requires." We must refuse to "merely send 'bites' down the intellectual food chain" and help our learners "understand where the information comes from and what it means. We honor both the discipline and our students by teaching them how to think like historians or biologists or literary critics rather than merely how to lip-sync the conclusions others have reached." In sport, we do this by creating settings where athletes are able to make and reflect on decisions and actions within the game. Palmer goes on to remind us that creating space requires more skill and more authority than filling space up and that we will sometimes fail in the effort but such failures should not prevent us from doing the work of being "more engaging than engorging".

Teaching should be less of this:
Teaching should be more of this:
How does this book change the way I teach and relate to my learners?
I want to honor who I am by recognizing what I believe about myself and about my learners. Using those beliefs as guides, I will find methods and techniques to use that reflect those beliefs. I want to honor the subject or sport that I teach by giving it, rather than me, the central role in our learning community. I want to honor the space required for learning and exploration because, by doing so, I honor the learners, their needs, and their efforts. When I know myself, I can see my place in relationships with my discipline and with my learners.

Both figures are taken from The Courage to Teach

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Annie Duke's Thinking In Bets - A Short Review

To say that the best of this book comes at the end is to imply that the rest isn't nearly as good. That would be wildly off base. I started highlighting in the introduction and didn't let up until the last page. From "resulting" (page 7) to "backcasting" and "premortem" (page 221), this book is full of ideas that Duke implements to get us thinking about how we view the world. For me, the ideas kept building on one another until reaching a crescendo in the last chapter. I went from thinking "I'd like to work on this" at the beginning to "How can I not act on this?" Over the course of six chapters, Duke carefully layers concepts so that we reach the end of the book feeling like we are equipped with the tools we need to meet an uncertain world. Don't want to read the details? Just looking for a TL;DR? Skip to here.

Chapter one lays the foundation, that the world is not certain and we are ill-equipped to see how this fact affects us. Duke was just short of defending her doctoral dissertation in psychology when she went on hiatus and started playing poker professionally. This background leads to her observation that life is not a game of chess, but rather a game of poker. The difference lies in what we know about the game we're playing. Chess is a game of perfect information, meaning that all observers have access to all information. Poker, however, is a game of incomplete information, meaning that no observer has access to all information. It is theoretically possible to work out the best way to play any scenario in a game of chess but that can't be done in a game of poker. That idea is easy enough to absorb but the consequences of it are much more complicated and far-reaching. Life is messy and hard to comprehend. Unlike in chess, the quality of the decisions we make in life are not strongly correlated to the quality of the outcomes. Once an outcome is known, we forget the work that went into making the decision. We deal with that by extrapolating back from what we can observe, results. Poker players call this "resulting", evaluating a decision based solely on its outcome. Duke stresses that we shouldn't feel bad about outcomes that didn't go our way nor should we feel good about the outcomes that favored us. The main point that I took away from this chapter was that we should avoid thinking of alternatives as right or wrong but as varying degrees on a spectrum of possibilities.

Chapter two expands on this idea by framing decisions as bets about an uncertain future. We are usually betting that a potential future is one in which we are happier or better off in some way because of the decision we are about to make. Unfortunately, we have many things that cloud our judgement of these potential futures, things like biases and motivated reasoning. Duke espouses "truthseeking" as a way of mitigating those obstacles. Rather than seek "right" or "wrong" for a given situation, we should seek to describe the situation as accurately as possible. This leads us to then assess decisions in terms of the likelihood of different outcomes rather than things going right or wrong. There's a great deal of similarity in the main points of the first two chapters and I think that this says something about Duke's diligence in creating a sound framework to build on for the remainder of the book.

Chapter three is an introduction to probabilistic decision making. If we view decision alternatives in terms of how likely they are to happen then we position ourselves to recognize that outcomes are not as surprising as we might have once thought. This sets us up to treat outcomes as learning opportunities, places where we can tweak the accuracy of how we view that decision space. "Updating our priors", as it is referred to in Bayesian-speak, is how we strive to make ourselves better decision-makers, one decision at a time. Duke recommends re-framing the rewards we give ourselves to accentuate "being a good credit-giver, a good mistake-admitter, a good finder-of-mistakes-in-good-outcomes, a good learner, and (as a result) a good decision-maker." As we improve at these skills, we also improve at assessing the risk of a situation, which allows us to make better bets. Confidence in our decisions becomes less of an expression of ego and more of an expression of our internal calculus.

Chapters four and five remind us of the importance of having help in our truthseeking journey. Knowing that we are susceptible to blind spots, biases, and prejudices, Duke recommends that we find like-minded people to accompany us on the journey. Duke also warns us of "Lettermanning", which is attempting to engage in truthseeking with someone that doesn't join us on the journey. We have to look for company for our journey and that means recognizing when others aren't interested in that journey. When we do find others to join us we need establish ground rules that will allow the group to avoid emotion and engage in deliberative discussions. Together we are asking questions that set us up to make smarter bets/decisions. When the goal is to win a bet, we are more likely to speak truthfully than when we are intent on making good impressions on others in the group. Again, Duke is impressing on us the importance of seeking truth above feeling good.

Chapter six contains what I think are the most interesting assertions in the entire book. Duke spent the first five chapters of the book preparing us by getting us to believe in the value of truth and giving us tactics to work around biases to better reveal truth. Now Duke pushes us in a direction that we can only see once we have left behind the security of ego; she invites us to step into a time machine. We are now in a position to accept than we aren't reliable, so we are asked to accept that we are not reliable in the present because of how emotional and reactive we can be. If we can move ourselves into the future, we give ourselves a better chance to recognize how far is too far or how much is too much in our decisions. When we take the time to imagine possible futures through our new truthseeking lens, we can make decisions while the stakes, pressure, and stress are low and our self control is high. When we know that we have to answer to our truthseeking friends if we go back on those pre-made decisions, we are more likely to stick to those decisions when the high stakes moment comes. The better we get at time travel, the further into the future we can reliably plan. Now that we are in the future, it's time to look back on our present situation.

Duke recommends two tools for looking back from the future, "backcasting" and "premortems". The two terms are complementary, one looking back from a positive future, the other from a negative one. The goals of both are the same, to do our best to reconstruct how we got from now to then. We are forced to ask ourselves which decisions we made, which obstacles we overcame, or which obstacles tripped us up. The "past" spreads out behind us, full of so many options and opportunities. Once the hypothetical past becomes an actual past, we are likely to quickly forget all of the options and opportunities that were once so clear to us. This leads us right back into the trap of resulting from chapter one. I look at backcasting and premortems as tools that I should add to my decision-making toolbox as quickly as possible.

In order to be a better decision-maker, I need to first learn to separate my decisions from my ego and all its dangers. Next, I need learn to look at decisions in terms of probabilities instead of dichotomies. Then I need to learn to seek truth and seek others to join me in that search. Once I have begun this search, I can start using my time machine to continue to expand my decision-making skills by looking back from my hypothetical futures. Annie Duke has laid out a thorough and achievable plan for getting better at making decisions and I can't wait to get started.

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Brown, Roediger, and McDaniel's Make It Stick - A Short Review

I started listening to the audiobook version of Make It Stick this summer and finished by reading the last couple of chapters in the physical book over winter break. I started with the audiobook since I was on a road trip and had plenty of time to listen but I chose to finish with the print version so that I could review the extensive end notes and recommendations as well as look back over the earlier chapters that I had only listened to. The content of this book definitely makes it worthwhile to own the print version.

The first chapter lays out why this book is necessary right in the title, "Learning is Misunderstood". There is much that we do in education, in coaching, and in self-improvement that is contrary to what scientific research has shown us is best for learning. The authors make it clear that one of the biggest obstacles we face to getting better at learning is what we already think we know, both about a subject as well as about learning itself. They sum this up with the phrase "the illusion of knowledge". It is important that we recognize that illusion as best we can as often as we can and the rest of the book is full information for doing exactly that.

The main concepts of the book are:
  1. Retrieval - The essence of learning lies in recalling and applying knowledge properly. Research suggests that getting good at that means that we should practice retrieving knowledge frequently. This means regular testing, or "effortful retrieval", of what we have learned to check that we can retrieve necessary knowledge. This testing should be delayed after any initial test to make the retrieval more effortful. For coaches, this means creating structured training and competitive situations that give our athletes opportunities to execute skills that we have been working on, both recently as well as in the past.
  2. Spacing/Interleaving/Varying - If we think that retrieval is all there is to learning, then rote memorization and cramming would be adequate learning methods but we have plenty of evidence to contradict that notion. We make learning better when we space out our learning over time, interleave work on different subjects together, and vary the settings in which we apply the desired knowledge. Spacing out tasks prevents us from making the tasks repetitive, which leads to decreased learning. Interleaving tasks is an efficient way of spacing, since we can fill time between similar tasks with other, unrelated tasks. Varying tasks is another way of preventing the brain from slipping into repetition. For coaches, this means moving away from blocked training ("massed practice") as soon as possible so that athletes are not allowed to become mindless while just racking up repetitions. It means not just moving from one skill drill to another but creating drills and games that require use of multiple interleaved skills. We should embrace the opportunities to regularly create unique practice plans.
  3. Generation - Continuing to separate ourselves from memorization means generating answers rather than recalling them. That means "trusting that trying to solve a puzzle serves us better than being spoon-fed the solution, even if we fall short in our first attempts at an answer." For coaches, this means not just letting our athletes fail but putting them in situations where the outcome isn't certain. It's an invitation to get out over our skis a little. We are more likely to learn the same lessons but to learn them much better.
  4. Metacognition - There is great value in thinking about how we think as well as what we think. Metacognition gives us opportunities to reflect on our mental models and get feedback on our blind spots and our biases. Metacognition helps us move out of Kahneman's system 1 thinking and into system 2 (more about that here), which increases learning. For coaches, this means engaging our athletes by asking them questions. Asking them questions helps them reflect on their thoughts, decisions, actions, and outcomes. When they are given these opportunities, they can learn far better than when answers and instructions are constantly given to them.
  5. Structure-Building -To make ourselves better learners, we must move beyond fixed ideas of learning "styles" and build our own structures that incorporate both what we are comfortable with as well as what makes us uncomfortable. We must search for the rules that underlie the structures we wish to build. We are building ways to solve problems we have yet to see. For coaches, this means creating settings where athletes can explore and get feedback first from the environment, then from themselves, and only then from us. We should see here that structure-building is an activity that is built on the previous concepts. We prepare our athletes for structure-building by helping them learn and utilize the above concepts first.
 The last chapter of the book serves as a summation as well as a suggestion of how to go about "making it stick". While some of the headings there differ from what I have listed above, these were the lessons that I learned most strongly from reading/listening to this book. One of the sections of chapter provides some "tips for teachers" that I think are worthwhile reminders for us. They are:
  • Explain to students how learning works - We owe it to our athletes to help them understand that learning is often ugly, uncomfortable, and nonlinear.
  • Teach students how to study - To help them get the best out of themselves, we must teach athletes not just the game but how to approach learning the game.
  • Create desirable difficulties in the classroom - As I mentioned in #3 above, failure should be built into what we do and the key is to make the level of difficulty manageable.
  • Be transparent - We shouldn't make things hard just because and we should talk to our athletes about why and how we create desirable difficulty in our practices.
There are many important ideas spread throughout this book. I strongly recommend reading this for yourself and keeping the book handy. I expect to find myself referring back to it as I do my own work to "make it stick".

Thursday, December 20, 2018

2018 AVCA Convention Thoughts

I was fortunate enough to present at this year's AVCA convention but I did more than that during my weekend in Minneapolis. I attended several other presentations, watched three high-level volleyball matches, and had some great one-on-one conversations with colleagues and friends. All in all, it was a time for sharing, learning, and inspiration that deserves a recap.

Here are my thoughts on the presentations I attended:
Numbers vs. Feelings - Eduardo Fiallos
More about my presentation here

What the Eye Should Look for When Watching Video - Luka Slabe (USA Volleyball), JJ Van Niel (USC), Giuseppe Vinci (Volley Metrics/Hudl), and Gary White (Wisconsin)
The format of this presentation was different than any other I'd seen. Giuseppe moderated by providing a few different video clips for the other panelists to comment on. The panelists waited outside the auditorium and Giuseppe had them enter one at a time so that each opinion could be independent of the others. The goal was to allow the attendees to learn what these top-level coaches saw when presented with video clips. Much of what they saw was filtered through the lens of their systems, which is to be expected. The challenge of that, which was mentioned, was that the coaches didn't know if what they noticed was what had been trained. I think that recognizing this is important when we evaluate athletes, especially when they do things that we don't understand or care for. We often don't know what reasons they may have for performing as they do so acknowledging that fact can help us ask better questions about what we are observing.

AVCA All-America/Players of the Year Banquet
I attended the banquet to support Colorado's All-American senior, Naghede Abu. She came to our table to chat both prior to and after the award presentations. I was struck by how she thankfully looked back on her career while also looking forward to her life after collegiate athletics. As an excellent student, there was never a question that she would move on to a career as a professional in her field (accounting) and I felt that she was reflecting on her time appreciatively without regret and looking forward with confidence and anticipation. I am hopeful that our student-athletes, no matter the level, are able to show such grace and equanimity as they reach their own crossroads. I am reminded of the coach's response to the question, "what do you think of your team?" which was "I'll let you know in twenty years." I hope that Naghede and others will reap the rewards of their current work in the future.

Blocked to Random: Creating the Appropriate Challenge Point for Your Athletes in Practice - Chris McGown (Gold Medal Squared)
Gold Medal Squared is well known for their views on how to coach and play volleyball, with many of their tenets being derived from motor learning research. I walked into this presentation expecting Chris to take the position that "the game teaches the game" should be strictly interpreted, meaning that practices should be as random as possible as much as possible. I expected him to paint blocked training in a stereotypical way that would allow for a straw man argument to be used to support the use of random training. Chris proved me to be mostly incorrect in my assumptions. While the video clips he showed of blocked training showed some stereotypical "bad" drill structure, he didn't use them to make a case against all blocked training. While he did cite research showing that random training is better for retention, he showed that there is a model in which coaches can progress from blocked to random. He made a case for taking advantage of the early benefits of blocked training before gradually transitioning to more random settings to encourage the long-term learning benefits of those settings. I greatly appreciated that Chris thought in non-dualistic ways, showing that there is value in well-crafted learning environments all along the blocked-to-random spectrum. If we think deeply about how to get the most out of our training as well as our athletes, we would do well to consider a variety of settings.

How to Overcome Fear and Spend More Time in the Jungle - Trevor Ragan (Train Ugly)
Having seen some of Trevor's material in the past, I was anticipating this seminar for some time. Trevor is a masterful presenter and he did not disappoint the large crowd that attended. Trevor skillfully wove science and storytelling to help us see how fear helps and hurts us every day. He gave us ways to recognize fear and learn to work with that fear. I find Trevor's style to be engaging and motivating. I highly recommend checking out his web site to see for yourself.

Serve Receive by the Numbers: Is Passer Rating a Valuable Measurement? - Dan Matthews and Tomás Goldsmith (Cardinal Stritch University)
This seminar brought out the nerd in me. Matthews and Goldsmith, through their study of the correlation of passing averages to sideout efficiency and winning, gave me a lot to think about in terms of both evaluating serve receive as well as statistical analysis in general. The pair pointed out that the scale on which we traditionally evaluate serve receive is arbitrary and I, like many others, wonder how we could measure it more objectively. The difficulty comes about because reception is a non-terminal skill except when it isn't. There isn't a clean way to tie it to winning because the goal of the skill isn't to end the rally, only to facilitate that end at a future point. We really want there to be a simple answer but there isn't. So we go searching for connections that can't be as powerful as we want them to be. Given that there isn't a simple answer, then I feel that we must go digging into the more complex. The seminar helped me think about applying concepts of statistical significance to the information that we gather so that we can make decisions knowing what small differences in performance metrics are really telling us. Though the answer may be that those differences don't actually matter, even knowing that is good because it better defines what we don't know. I become a better decision-maker as I strip away my misplaced confidence.

This Isn’t Identity Politics: How Identity Affects Athletes - Jen Fry (Duke)
As with Trevor Ragan above, I never miss a chance to attend Jen's seminars, round tables, panels, etc. I enjoyed that she asked audience members to interact with each other to share experiences and I certainly gained much from Jen as well as from my conversations with others in attendance.The most important point to me was that all we think and do is a product of the lenses and frames through which we see the world. As a result, everything we say and do is a result of that identity. If I am to be a responsible human being then I should evaluate that identity and how it interplays with the identities of others. Part of that is owning the impact of my words and actions. I think that it is crucial that we avoid making our intentions more important than the impacts they have. The first book that Jen listed on her recommendations is White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo. I just finished listening to the audiobook version and I hear many threads from Jen's presentation. Both Jen and the book are impactful and I look forward to more opportunities to hear Jen speak. Please visit Jen's web site and follow her on social media.

Taking a Stand: Building the Other Half of Your Coaching Philosophy

If you were unable to watch my recent AVCA webinar, here it is! And here's a link to the video on Vimeo (thanks for posting it, AVC...