Thursday, March 22, 2012

Repetition, Technique, Barcelona and Differential Learning

Repetition is important, right?  How else do athletes develop that perfect stroke that works in all environments?  How does Michael Jordan  have that perfect form even when off balance?  How does Messi chip the goalie moving at all speeds both left and right?   But, according to  an exciting new and revolutionary learning theory called DIFFERENTIAL LEARNING, these athletes did not develop through repitition but through the cultivation of superior  body listening skills (or cognitive perception) and because of it have developed a higher level of movement adaptability (cognitive flexibilty).  The best sport movements are not grooved through repetition-- just the opposite...

Differential Learning is a new teaching that focuses on creating "Cognitive Flexibility," by challenging the player to decipher complex messages through the introduction of  kinestetic "noise."  It's counter-intuitive and yet, it makes sense, and when you take a second look at why and how it works it's easy to see why the most successful and influential youth clubs have adopted it to great results.

“The idea is that there is no repetition of drills, no correction and players are encouraged not to think about what has gone wrong if they have made a mistake,” explained Professor Wolfgang Schoellhorn of Mainz University, an expert in kinesiology and a pioneer of Differential Learning."

This, of course, runs counter to the instincts of every coach. If you are not correcting or fixing mistakes, what is a coach to do? This coaching may not be appropriate at all age groups, as younger players definitely need to master the proper technique to improve as players. However, for beginners and as technique improves, allowing mistakes and constantly challenging players with new drills furthers the players’ learning more than doing the same drills over and over.

“Players have to take responsibility,” Schoellhorn added. “They have to be creative and take responsibility and have to find the optimal solution. It’s a whole philosophy.

When coaches answer all the questions, they take the responsibility and limit players creativity. Coaches who create novel learning environments, encourage mistakes and give players  responsibility for their learning develop better decision-makers through their more creative or novel approaches and better cognitive-perceptual skills.

1) There is no perfect technique because the technique is always different and changing.  For instance, Chistiano Ronaldo would be a good model in copying perfect shooting technique, the problem is CR does not shoot exactly the same way twice.  Ball movement, wind, grass, shoes, everything basically, forces him to slightly change the shot each time, he never shoots the same way twice. Since there is no perfect technique it is useless to pursue.  Instead the theory instead focuses on building the  "Listening Skills," around the objective movements.

2) Adaptability is more important that perfect.

"All techniques are Darwinian. Meaning, every skill is like an ecosystem filled with competing techniques. Weak techniques disappear; strong techniques thrive; refinement never ends."  --Daniel Coyle "The Talent Code"

Because Technique is changing the ability to adapt and try out new methods becomes more important. A good example is CR's new the new knuckle ball technique. The modern high level soccer ball that is lighter and allows CR to create dip and swerve.  But try this technique with a 1978 leather "Tango" Ball and the shot flies 12 meters over the goal.  Talk to anyone who was brought up learning ground strokes with a wooden tennis racket--those long and fluid, eastern grip stokes focused more on flat drives. Yet today the composite rackets with larger heads allow strokes that can provide violent spins, with extreme western grips and open body stance. If a player focuses only one the stroke, he is stuck in the 1960's, if the player was messing around, mastering lots of movements with the racket, spins, a large variety of of tennis "noise" is created from which you must extract the useful.  This extraction at the appropriate time, the ability to chose and then execute the appropriate movement seems to be the key skill and the secret to Differential Learning Technique.

1) Cognitive perception: what is my body doing andf what is the outcome?
2)Cognitive flexibility: how can I change the movement to create the desired outcome?
Studies in shooting a soccer ball using differential Technique have shown to be more effective then tradition  techniques.    (download the PDF)

Coaches provide lots of different variation around the objectives.  A coach focusing on free trow shooting for example, would get better results by NEVER having kids shoot free throws, but instead shooting from all other areas, using odd objects, like tennis balls, medicine balls, different level hoops, sitting down, backward etc.

All this sounds like messing around, appears like play doesn't it?  (Perhaps this is another key--but that's another blog).

Three top academies are using Professor  Schoellhorn ideas: Michael Bruniniykx of Standard Liege, F.C. Barcelona, and Joy of the People :)

If the best and most entertaining football team in the world is using Differential Learning, shouldn't you?  As you watch them play you see their ability to read the play, make decisions and play creatively. Do you see the same in the players that you coach or train? If not, how can you change your approach to stimulate better learning and more cognitive flexibility on the field?

No mistakes, only learning, listen to your body. Adapt. Invent. Enjoy!

Give it a try.

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