Unleashing Potential: Why Coaches Need to Take a Leap of Faith and Trust Athletes' Self-Organization
Coaches are often revered for their technical knowledge and experience in sports such as MMA and Grappling. However, there is a growing body of research in sports science that challenges the idea that coaches can outsmart the human body and how it self-organizes. This research suggests that coaches might exercise some humility and understand that they best serve their learners by being guides and facilitators rather than instructors and purveyors of knowledge.
Knowledge 'of' and knowledge 'about' are two different types of knowledge. Knowledge 'about' is objective and external to the individual. It can be taught, written down, and shared with others. Knowledge 'of', on the other hand, is unique to the learner and their attributes and form of life. Coaches may have knowledge about a particular technique, but it's the athlete who must develop their own knowledge of it through practice and experimentation. The coach can guide the athlete, but the athlete is ultimately responsible for developing their own unique knowledge 'of' the technique.
One of the reasons for this is the concept of affordances. Affordances are opportunities for action that are perceived directly. They are not computed based on abstract representations of the environment, but are instead directly perceived by the athlete. As such, they are specific to the individual and their environment. A coach can help guide where to look so that affordances over time become more salient, but it's up to the athlete to develop their own unique perception of them.
The idea of direct perception is closely tied to affordances. It suggests that perception and action are not separate processes, but instead are coupled together. The environment and the athlete's own body are perceived directly, and the athlete's actions are directly related to their perception of the environment. This non-linear relationship is crucial for skill acquisition, as it allows athletes to develop their own unique ways of interacting with their environment.
Perception-action coupling means that we cannot and should not break the sport apart so much that we rob the learner of the opportunities to build these relationships and perceive affordances. We can scale the problems to the appropriate challenge, but isolating them and robbing the learner of the authentic information their opponent and environment offers is not an effective or authentic long-term development strategy.
As coaches, it is vital to understand that athletes are not machines that can be programmed to achieve the desired results. Instead, athletes are self-organizing systems that are responsible for their own development, and coaches are there to guide and facilitate that development. While technical knowledge and experience in sports like MMA are valuable, coaches should recognize the importance of the athlete's unique perception of their environment and affordances.
Effective coaching requires attributes such as psychology, mentorship, relatability, motivation, counseling, management, and tactical knowledge. By relinquishing control over the athlete's movements, coaches can focus on these other aspects of coaching, helping the athlete achieve their goals and develop their skills.
In conclusion, coaching ecologically requires coaches to take a leap of faith and relinquish control. In highly dynamic and non-linear sports like MMA, the athlete's perception and action are inextricably linked, and by recognizing the importance of the athlete's self-organizing system, coaches can help athletes reach their full potential. Coaches should exercise humility and understand that their role is not to instruct, but to be a guide and facilitator, allowing the magic of self-organization to unfold. Through this approach, athletes can learn to harness their unique perception of their environment and affordances, and coaches can help them become the best versions of themselves.
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References for further reading:
- Davids, K., Araújo, D., & Brymer, E. (2018). Designing affordances for sport. In The Routledge Handbook of Sport Expertise (pp. 94-107). Routledge.
- Orth, D., Davids, K., & Seifert, L. (2018). Constraints representing a meta-stable régime facilitate exploration during practice and transfer of learning in a complex multi-articular task. Journal of sports sciences, 36(6), 652-660.
- Renshaw, I., Araújo, D., Button, C., Chow, J. Y., Davids, K., & Moy, B. (2020). How to write a systematic review: Tips and tricks for researchers. Kinesiology Review, 9(1), 28-41.