Tuesday, May 24, 2005


I'm reading a book titled "Sources of Power: How People Make Decisions." The author states that his research has shown him that experts usually make decisions using something called "singular evaluation" rather than "comparative evaluation." Instead of making a list of options, detailing pluses and minuses of each approach before choosing the best, they simply consider the first good thing that comes to their minds and decide yes or no, moving on to the next thing if they reject the first idea.

This is apparently groundbreaking. The author spent years interviewing firefighters, soldiers, chess masters, to come up with this idea. In the first three pages, I said, "This is just sports." He could have interviewed a point guard, or an ultimate player, or a quarterback. These players are faced with rapidly changing situations with imperfect knowledge, as part of a team.

So, the way this might be helpful to ultimate players is that you aren't going to be able to tell someone to look at the field and consider three options and take the best one. The way that experts do it is to look at the "right" spot and decide whether to throw it or not, then move to the next best probable option. They know from experience what will work and what won't. So, maybe the best way to teach it is to tell them to just go ahead and make the first throw they think of, then make a conscious effort after the fact to evaluate the decision. You can't do it in real time, but this feedback is necessary to develop the sense of right and wrong.

Is it possible to fast-track someone? If you forced a player to sit down after each game and evaluate his decisions, would he be able to figure it out sooner?
Huck 1: Got the disc on the forehand side on a swing. Looked up and saw X already about 20 yards away and cutting deep. Made a great throw that barely got there. Should have been looking for it right away, and since I wasn't, should have held onto the disc before he was too far away.


Barrett said...

re: Is it possible to fast-track someone? If you forced a player to sit down after each game and evaluate his decisions, would he be able to figure it out sooner?

I think it probably is possible - I sometimes do this w/ myself after practices, typically early in the year, and have found it useful, mainly in reminding me about bad/unsound tendencies I have that I try to unlearn every year (E.g., turn toward the field early when trapped with the disc). Of course, doing the exercise with or led by someone else would direct things more clearly.

One of the best coaches I ever knew personally was a high school bb coach who had the team all retreat to a meeting room immediately post-practice and reiterate the days' points of emphasis and individual errors and corrections, all written down by the players in their team-issued day-timers through the drips of sweat. While I'm not sure all levels of players would buy in to an approach this managed, this led to a team being very smart and on the same page. As with anything, success helped the buy-in.

aj said...

So, the way this might be helpful to ultimate players is that you aren't going to be able to tell someone to look at the field and consider three options and take the
best one. The way that experts do it is to look at the "right" spot and decide whether to throw it or not, then move to the next best probable option. They know from
experience what will work and what won't.

I think Idris' "What is strategy" post gives an interesting take on this. My own incoherent ramblings are here.

I assume that most experienced players have this kind of thought process, but I wonder is this something that teams actually sit down and talk about. Do they say, "our team strategy is first we look to spot A,
then to spot B, if that's not there we dump it and start over."

In terms of teaching it does seem like discussing the correct hierarchy of choices would be a way to fast track someone. If nothing else, it's a way to avoid falling into bad habits early. It really would be nice to have a huge collection of
high quality game film, where you could say, "this worked for this reason and this didn't work this reason"

parinella said...

I'm not sure that even high quality game film would work, because it wouldn't be from the perspective of the thrower, and the student would not be able to internalize the lessons.

For hucks, the rule is "huck it if he's open and you can get it there reasonably safely." The components of this are:
1. Your throws
a. Speed/touch
b. Range
c. Variation
2. What is "open"
a. Receiver speed
b. How far away is he to start with?
c. How close to the line?
d. Poachers
e. Matchup

For the most part, no one has a problem on decision-making when he makes a perfect throw, and we all make perfect throws some of the time. (I had to make an adjustment in my critique of Ron K when he played with us because he made more perfect throws than the rest of us did, so this meant that he was making a good choice while we would have been making a bad choice given the exact same situation.) But what about those other throws? That's where the other factors come in.

So, let's try to construct a log that a player would keep, and identify the key things to note.

First try:
Length and type of throw:
Receiver distance from sideline: x yds/irrelevant
Mark: with/against/no mark
Margin of error (pick one): Lots/some/little/stupid
Quality of throw: perfect/good/acceptable/unacceptable
Outcome: caught/unluckily not caught/luckily caught/not caught
Was this the right choice? Why or why not?

Anonymous said...

You could also include:

What were the factors that led to making this decision?
What, if any, information would have changed my decision?

I keep a similar log already, but less organized. It leaves out routine plays, but highlights errors and more difficult plays. The information that I write in this log is situation-specific. It generally includes who I was throwing to, what sort of throw it was, why it succeeded or failed and "would I make that decision again in the same situation with the same in-game information AND after assessing this most-recent situation?"

I keep this log on the sideline in games and practices. It has ~5 years of information in it spread through 6 notebooks. I review it prior to the start of every season and highlight things I need to improve upon. I find that it informs me of my progress and stimulates my mental game.

parinella said...

Anonymous, wow, that's amazing. Do you share this with anyone? Do you get made fun of? Has anyone else decided it was a good idea? What about when it rains, doesn't that ruin your notebook? Do you do it after the point or just between games?

When we first kept stats back in 1990, I used them to look at my turnovers and kinda categorized them as either bad choice or bad execution. I still do it, but just on-the-spot and generally don't make it a formal part of an improvement plan. I have noticed that lack of play makes me rusty in both areas, but perhaps surprisingly the effect is greater on my decisions.

Anonymous said...

Certainly given a hard time by my teammates, but they approve at the same time. As you might guess, I'm a very analytical player. Others play better by not thinking.

Rain? I carry it in a plastic bag and have a pen that writes on wet paper.

I generally play offense, so it isn't generally too hard to make notes between points. But I also sometimes forget and/or wait until after the game. It all depends on how much dedicated focus that particular game requires. How early in the season is it? Is it a tight game? Is it series or non-series? Is it vital for me to be providing sideline help to my d-team during this game? Can I afford to be adjusting my game between games at this point of the season? Etc.

I have seen other players taking notes during practices, but that is the extent of it that I have seen from others. And, generally, that has been limited to taking notes on team strategies.

I don't share it with anyone, really, as it is essentially my ultimate mind on paper. I'll share observations gleaned from it, but not the material itself. A bit too personal, I think.

I don't want others to change their strategies or choices based on something that I write with only myself in mind. That is to say, being completely open with your teammates in regards to your own thoughts and choices is not always the best or fastest way to get them on the same page as you. Different players require different information to mesh properly on the field or to progress as players for that matter.

Idris said...

maybe I just think its a bigger deal, but it seems the simple idea of learning after the fact was glossed over. and i think this is a HUGE step in the development of a player.

they key i think to really implement this though, one must make a big effort to make quick and decisive decisions, then learn from their consequences. i don't think this can be overstated enough.

maybe the best way to teach it is to tell them to just go ahead and make the first throw they think of

who does this? this is the big change. there have been lots of comments about the post practice, post tournament, post choice reflection... but if you are simply reflecting on plays where you made a decision after carefully assesing the situation, you aren't training yourself to make quick, decisive, instinctual decisions.. that are also the correct ones.

i spent two practices with a bay area team these past two weeks. oddly enough decision making was a big part of the skill sessions, so jim's post was perfectly tiemd for me to chime in.

the first week i went out i worked with them and they seemed to not pay attention enough to know if were open...I addressed it with them and tried to get them to read this and read that and cut appropriately... then wrote this post.

after getting the feedback in the post, i came back the second week and gave this instruction for the same exact drill...

"cutters... get out into the cutting area and make your move in ~3 steps... right away (1-2 steps)... figure out if you are open... if you aren't... change direction and commit to the 2nd cut. throwers... you can throw the first pass if they are open... if they are not, when they make their second move in the opposite direction, throw it to that cut no matter what. cutters and throwers... when you get back in line... think about why your cut or pass did or did not work and what you maybe should have done instead (more for cutters than throwers)."

ideas behind the drill and instruction:

-simplify and don't over think (in the previous week the cutters would cut back and forth back and forth, not really sure if they were open.. worrying to much about "reading the situation" and not letting their instincts drive them)

-make a decisive move (its in the thrower's best interest if the cutter makes decisive moves.. as well as the cutter's)

-as a rule of thumb, if a defender shuts down a cut to one area, quite often a cut to the opposite area is open... if they make the move right away. forcing the thrower to make the pass on the 2nd move no matter what allowed the thrower AND cutter to see that passes/cuts maybe they were holding back on previosuly were actually open... the "2nd cut" passes.. even though they had to through it as a rule.. we're completed at high percentage.

one the big things i also wanted them to realize [and that i talked about, with regards to why they had to change directions after being shut down for only 1-2 steps], was that cuts that rely soley on speed ("i might not be open now on this comeback cut, but i will be open if the thrower just waits long enough") are bad.

bad in these ways...

the longer you run in a cut while essentially being shut down, the thrower has to sit in "wait and see" mode... waiting to see if you will ever get separation enough to throw you the pass. away cuts like this are hardly ever thrown too and comeback cuts like this gain few yards (as well as being prime candidates for layout blocks by defenders who were actually baiting the pass). while precious seconds tick away, the throwers second options then decrease.

and secondly, the longer you go into a cut to area A.. the more the defender can anticipate that you will likely change directions and attempt to get open in area B. this is what happens when you see a cutter make what appears to be a good cut but is shut down, and when the change direction to go deep or in, the defender is whith them step for step to shut down the second cut.

sorry strayed off topic.. i'm done.

parinella said...

Good stuff. I think I was asking whether it was workable to do what you did. The key to making good decisions is, ironically, that you don't actually make decisions and let experience/instincts make the call. And simply playing isn't enough (or, rather, it takes too long), you need to contemplate what you _did_ in order to learn from it.

Most players probably aren't that introspective on their own, so they will need to be coerced. (And some don't need it, and some will never learn anyway.)

#55 said...

I know I'm coming into this one a little late, but I'm kinda surprised no-one has mentioned The Inner Game of Tennis. It's been a big help in my aim to become a better coach, with relatively little playing experience behind me, and expresses these ideas within a general framework.