As a coach of girls from age 14-15 I have become very accustomed to spending lots of my time coaching my team how to learn instead of how to win. There are of course varying levels of ability in my team but one thing I noticed after my first 3/4 training sessions with them was that although their motivation to work hard was exceptional, the girls lacked a very important skill from their previous years of hockey: They had not learnt how to learn.
While saying that someone needs to “learn to learn” sounds strange at first it actually comes with quite a lot of weight when it comes to improving. When I took the time to learn what motivates the girls during training it became very apparent to me in the first month that 9 out of 10 times during an exercise the girls were relying on result focused motivation.
Result focused is a term used to describe an individual or organisation that focuses on outcome rather than the process.
Putting this into context lots of my players based their success or failure during training on whether they have or have not completed a task. For example during a shooting exercise scoring or not scoring was the main driver for motivation. The ball crossing the line was seen as the perfect outcome and all other outcomes where the ball did cross the line were useless.
After the first month the girls started to learn that it is not the ball crossing the line which is important but instead how to make the ball cross the goal line with the lowest chance of the opponent stopping it. What started to happen during training is the players would ask me really honest questions such as: “Why is it better to hit with the backhand here?” or “How should I pass to my teammate when the ball is in this position?”. The fact that the girls were asking these questions showed to be a lot more valuable than the answers them selves. They began to seek answers to situations they were seeing before their eyes and instead of asking what they began to ask why and how.
This brings me on to the huge change I have seen these girls in the past 6 months of training them. They have realized (for the most part) that being result focused inhibited their ability to learn new skills. By breaking down their learning process and the way they see things the girls have found that no situation is the same even though the outcome may be. The ball will almost never cross the line at exactly the same speed/height/spin but what repeatable is the process in which the ball is used in order to score. An example of this is something that my girls have trained a lot and have also been successful in, simply translated we call this “Triangle Scoring”. This is where the player with the ball will run along the baseline and draw the keeper towards them then at the very last moment pass the ball to someone who is standing near by, who then scores or passes again to another player, this creates a triangle around the goal keeper and makes it impossible for them to save the ball. Breaking down this situation step by step you can see what the girls have already learnt (1=basic 5=advanced):
- I need to pass around the keeper in order to score.
- I need to draw the keeper then pass as it makes it harder for the keeper to stop the shot from my team mate.
- I need to always make sure I standing near the penalty spot when my team mate is running along the base line.
- I need to read the situation while my team mate is running along the base line to make sure I am in the right place when they pass the ball (what shape triangle is best for this situation).
- I need to analyse where my team mate will run before they get there so I can make sure I make the right shape of triangle and I am also arriving on time so I will always score.
Of course this is a very complicated explanation of a simple part of my team’s tactics but the difference between what the girls were thinking at the start of the season (1) compared to now (5) is huge!
This is a great example of how the girls have learnt to focus on how and why something works instead of just what to do: Process Focused. By adapting this ideal during all training sessions and matches, I have seen a huge impact on their results of the players. Instead of thinking about the ball crossing the goal line and instead of thinking how and why things should be done to make it harder for the opponent, ironically the ball crosses the goal line more often.
The girls are not really working on their ability to see situations and react to them during open play and this is something that I will continue to teach the girls for the foreseeable months to come. Learning to learn is very important for all players but the younger the player the more valuable it becomes in the future, if someone is able to study, analyse and ask questions about situations they will learn a lot faster than someone who focuses only on the outcome.
Focus on the process and the results will come automatically.