The Power of Reflection
Today's blog is on reflection, something more and more important in our busy world.
Hard recall helps embed experiences and learning. What we remember immediately after an event and what we recall at varied times, and after we can adjust. We can bend things negatively or positively depending on our disposition.
Taking notes on performance in training and sport is a very powerful habit. We may have read some self help books or extracts or heard people talk about making notes every night and kinda dismiss it as over the top, a bit obsessive, or very straight. But when you practice formal and informal reflection you slowly start to see the power of it.
Reflection can help us sleep better with the very simple habit of writing down 1-3 things we achieved that day and the first 3 actions we will take the next day. Even as simple as, get up, have breakfast, bring kids to school, arrive at my desk and have a good day. That kind of imagery has been shown to be very effective both for reducing anxiety and improving quality and quantity of sleep.
Reflection helps us learn. Of course we need to be honest with ourselves at times or get external critique and support.
Why are we learning?
We learn to be more competent or, to take one of social sciences mental models, we desire a "Circle of Competence". We know from previous articles and from models or theories like the Optimal Learning Theory and Self-Determination theory that a feeling of autonomy and competence underpins a lot of a human's desire or intrinsic motivation to do anything.
As coaches and leaders we are trying to support this growth. Of course an awful lot of it is dependent on the individual and their history of motivation. But to complete a "Circle of Competence" the learner needs these 3 things: curiosity and a desire to learn, monitoring, and feedback.
Reflection, though, is almost like a monitoring and feedback loop all of its own.
I would add to those 3 elements of competency that the individual needs an element of desire and discipline to try things, stick with them, and also be prepared to fail. We can't have competency without failure.
Reflection in skill development
Reflection also has been shown to help with skill development in physical activities and sports.
As coaches or teachers, the questions we ask can have a massive effect on the people we are working with. Even between games on a pitch or classes at school. Asking positive, leading questions that force the person to retrieve what just happened and think about it will help increase the knowledge of the subject or the success of their actions in a game.
For instance, as a coach we can tag it to the principles of play of the sport or the principles of our team. We may have designed a great game or practice to physically improve it, but we are slowing the learning process. Therefore, maybe success, by not adding a reflection element to it.
Positive realism is the best approach I feel here. We can't ignore defeat or consistent failures but we don't need to dwell on them either. Moving forward with positive reinforcement will allow us to work on the weaknesses as well.
Specific and positive affirmations rather than general praise is another important element of this reflection being really worthwhile. Instead of "great save made there keeper", we could reinforce fundamental principles by saying "I really liked your movement across the goal and concentration on the ball before the shot, and your feet moved really well to be in the right position to make the save."
This is going to support the keeper to learn that the positive result he got came from a process he went through. He is much more likely to repeat this again as the quality movement and concentration is associated with success. This could be called 'co-reflection'; the players' feedback here and description themselves would be great also.
With major performance events like competitive games I use a simple positive approach called the 3:1 approach - 3 things you did well and 1 thing you would like to work on. That 1 thing may be a constant, and that's fine as long as you have a plan to actually deal with it, and an approach to improvement.
A lack of action in an area constantly emerging would likely lead to some form of blockage to actually improving. This is where a growth mindset from the coach/parent and player is critical. Particularly at adult level I still hear too much of "ah he's 24, you'll never change him now." Or if they don't have a particular skill: "ah, if you don't sort that before they're 12 they'll never get it - Bullshit.
What it invariably is, is that the coach is not motivated enough to try. This might be as the players’ ability is already "adequate" or they don't see a player worth working on. Or they don't know how.
This is why I believe coach education should have a lot more learning science, psycho-social modules, and skill acquisition. This is opposed to the heavy technical element it now delivers in most sports, growing too heavily tactical as people go through the levels.
The positive lean on reflection for sports performance has the embedded aspect of driving motivation and supporting an athlete to be confident in their strengths while keeping an eye on weaknesses. Traditionally coaching has focused on constantly trying to pick at weaknesses and this approach often leads to a drop in confidence in the athletes.
As coaches ourselves
We can be a little more critical if we want, in private and with management. If we understand the frameworks we work within, we can have a bit more balance on positive:negative ratio. Because it's up to us to see things down the road and be like a snooker player playing a few shots ahead.
The best and most consistent leaders were "suspicious of success".
Can we get better?
Defeat is easy to analyse
Loss emotionally drives reflection. However, success releases endorphins that can sometimes mask deeper issues. This can be the case in business, relationships and sport.
Why do seemingly good relationships fall apart quickly sometimes? Why do winning teams get undone by a freak result? Why do businesses have a run of success but then can not adjust to a sudden technology, social, or economic change?
Usually a lack of reflection through success.
One could look at reflection like part of a cool down, or as suggested above, part of the bedtime routine.
Reflection with Imagery
While the cognitive revolution from thousands of years ago meant we got off the trees, we now go and overthink everything. One of the benefits of this that does differentiate from other primates is that we can imagine.
Neurobiology seems to indicate that we are essentially the only animal who can make things up, but we can also imagine possible scenarios, even if they never happened to us, before by imagining possibilities. That means we can imagine how a game may play out based on all the games we played in the past.
Adding this kind of imagery to positive but clinical reflection are a powerful duo. If we can reflect as athletes with a positive tint and be critically fair to ourselves (and players if we are the coach reflecting on technical performance), we can allow for levels of imagery which could raise expectations and support skill acquisition or team and individual development down the road.
So that's it for this week, see you next week.