Thursday, February 29, 2024

Coaching: How Chaos leads to change

Tony Griffin pictured on court while coaching in Barcelona

Forget endless reps, trust your feelings and sensations that occur when you do things right
By TONY GRIFFIN – Squash Mad Coaching Correspondent

My Gevolution learning process started after writing my book “The G Spot, A Book about Squash”. I was given the book Deporte and Complejidad (Complex Sports Systems) written by Natalia Balague and Carlota Torrents (Barcelona Sports University I.N.E.F.).

It is full of sports science information, most of which went way over the head of this old squash coach. I read it three times in the hope that some of the ideas might become clearer.

Two of the concepts that stood out for me were Constraints and Chaos. Constraints I will talk about in a future article.

Chaos caught my attention probably because it is a word that describes many squash situations and moments that I was very familiar with, both as a player and teaching. I see it as a sensation more than an adjective.

Once I became aware of the concept, I started seeing there are different types of Chaos, both positive and negative or limiting. The word itself has negative connotations, although when something is Chaotic, it is often seen as moving at high speed along that fine line between success and disaster. This describes many moments in squash …

On the other hand, according to sports scientists, Chaos (noise) is necessary for change and, in scientific language, it is very complex and detailed. Here I will share some ideas based on real experience with different players (men and women of different ages). Note that they are observations of occurrences that repeat in the majority of players as they evolve.

Chaos in a tactical sense is also another chapter and food for thought. How do we create Chaos in our opponents without losing our own composure?

With the objective of improving the retention rate of new skills, I started with the negative connotation of Chaos so my first focus was to see what happened if we avoided it or at least kept it to a minimum in training. Note that in this phase my understanding of Chaos was limited to seeing those moments when we “lose it”.

For example, not hitting the ball cleanly, not having the right space between you and the ball, getting to the ball with a position that doesn’t work with the shot you want to play, or generally feeling uncomfortable and without rhythm.

My reasoning was that when you are in this state, it must be difficult to create an improved movement or habit and at most, if you do achieve change in this kind situation it is a random occurrence. I have also seen that in this type of chaos the player is more likely to return to the precise habits they wanted to transform and could even be reinforcing the unwanted movements.

This is even more so if we take into account the traditional idea that the more repetitions we do the better we get. With this mentality, the normal reaction is to insist even more in the hope that things will get better….

By removing this Chaos and focusing on the primary movements in situations where the player has the time to be conscious of their movements (body awareness) I saw that the players were constantly able to transform their existing habits to more natural and efficient ones.

On seeing this transformation constantly, the question is this:  Is this focus on primary movements in a situation without insecurity or chaos (the above mentioned type) allowing us to connect our eyes to the action, thus creating a similar “noise” to that of differential learning?. 

I am definitely not qualified to make such an affirmation but what I can confirm is that the changes are real and constant. 

On seeing these improvements I wrongly had the mentality of: ”I’m going to insist on this until they change, even if it kills me” (this was my ego taking over). Often the player had a similar reaction in that when they recognised the improved movement they also wanted to insist with the same exercise in the hope that that would bring and cement the transformation quicker.

We observe that by taking away the negative type of Chaos, and focusing on the primary movements, we have facilitated the change and retention of the new skills. Have we allowed the player to create something similar to the “noise” of sports science which is Chaos, something positive and necessary for change?

Therefore we have the first type of Chaos, which appears to have a negative effect on our learning. This is when we are not hitting the ball cleanly, not having the right space between you and the ball, getting to the ball with a position that doesn’t work with the shot you want to play, or generally feeling uncomfortable and without rhythm. This may also be seen a lack of concentration or not being in the present.

The second type of chaos (noise) appears in Differential Learning with the regular changes of exercise or perhaps the focus on the primary movements both of which oblige the player to work in the present.

I am also observing another chaos moment related to working with the primary movements. When they do hit the ball in that improved way (different shots or body positions) they immediately feel the difference, recognise the sensation and have a clear idea as to how they have achieved it.

This is the first step to transforming a habit. They know where good sensation came from so can then start to look to reproduce it. Here is where a chaos appears. Almost invariably they cannot reproduce the same improved movement after they had just achieved it for the first time and return to their “normal” hitting.

At the beginning this is frustrating for the player (and coach) and the normal reaction is to insist in the hope of reproducing that good hitting feeling. It may appear again but it is random.

I have seen that if the player is allowed a slight pause or if we apply differential learning and have a brief change of activity (in squash we can just change by going from forehand to backhand for example) there is more chance of the good sensation reappearing. It is important to note that rarely is the player able to do it twice in a row in the first session.

In the next session (a week later) they can sometimes reproduce the action twice in a row but they then lose it again. This again is the moment for a pause or brief change of exercise. We see with the passage of time and more sessions that this transformation is constant and gradual when working with the Gevolution process and normally there are clear changes after six to eight weeks and the new movement becomes a habit.

My question: Is this inability to reproduce the new skill repeatedly a type of chaos or is it simply a return to the existing habit.

The relationship between the speed in which the changes occur and the time space between Gevolution sessions is something we hope to understand better as we work with more people.

The changes are clear with sessions weekly or even every two weeks. We have seen changes when the sessions are more frequent but this is an area we need to research more before sharing our observations.

Work in Progress….

Pictures courtesy of Tony Griffin 


Read more

Latest News