Tag Archives: chunking

Chunking And Do-Overs

One of the keys to mastering something is deliberate practice. One of the hallmarks of deliberate practice is instant feedback and error correction.  If I’m coaching you on back squats and I cheer you on for the session and then while you are cooling down and stretching, I mention that you weren’t squatting deep enough and that your weight was too far forward in your toes, that information is of little value to you.  It’s feedback but it is delivered far too late for you to act on it.  You will have to wait until the next session and will likely forget.  Immediate feedback is what I need to give you as a coach. I need to tell you during your set of squats to go deeper and to shift your weight back into your heels. Somewhere during our session you should be making these corrections if you want to eventually improve at the squat.  

If I’m learning a new piece of music, what I do not do is start at the beginning and just try to play the piece of music from start to finish over and over again trying to get it right. Waiting until I get all the way to the end before going back and fixing mistakes is ineffective. I need to break the piece into chunks–I learn a phrase or measure at a time. By chunking it into small pieces, it is manageable and I can repeat each phrase over and over until I get it right before moving on to the next phrase. The time between recognizing errors, also known as feedback, and correcting errors is crucial to efficient, quick progress. 

In jiujitsu, like music, there is instantaneous feedback when you make a mistake.  However, most of us do not practice rapid and immediate error correction.  We make a mistake and suddenly our partner has a good position on us and is on the attack.  We have a constant stream of problems coming at us that we have to solve for better or worse. And by the time we get to the end of a match, we can hardly remember all the mistakes that we made.  If we do roll again, the nature of live training is that we might not ever end up in the same situation again for an extended period of time so there is no guaranty of being able to correct any of the errors from past matches.  

What we should be striving for is more drilling that allows for rapid error correction through chunking.  One way that we do this already is positional drilling.  If you start in the juji-gatami or spider web position, you are effectively chunking your training into one small aspect of the game and you can work on that repeatedly and make corrections each time.  I suspect we could even do better than relying just on positional drilling for our chunking.  We work cooperatively to develop the discipline to train with our partners and agree to have the discipline to stop and redo parts of the roll.  Imagine if you could replay the moment right before you got swept and you could practice the defense.  You want to create a Groundhogs Day situation like the movie where Bill Murray relives the same day over and over again for the whole movie until he finally gets it right.  

You should find a Super Friend and roll with them for a while with an understanding that at some point during the roll you can call a “do-over.”  When that happens you rewind and start over from before the mistake and you try to fix it.  You might go over it for a couple of minutes until you feel you have a handle on it and then you continue rolling live until one of you calls “do-over” again.  Make up the rules you want but come to an agreement with your Super Friend that you will help each other get better and clean up your mistakes. 

Some of you are saying, “I don’t want to have to stop in the middle of every roll.” You do not have to do this every roll. I recommend trying to do this once in a while in order to clean up some of your common errors.   

On Teaching, Part 1: Chunking

I often refer to myself as a “coach”, but in reality I probably self identify as a “teacher” as much as a coach. The difference, for purposes of this article, is the objective or goal of the person you are working with. A teacher aligns their teachings with a student’s “learning objective.” Thus successful teaching is measured by whether the student learned that which you set out to teach them. A coach often aligns themselves with a goal. If their athlete achieves their goal, then the coach was successful. The difference is that I can have a client lose weight (goal) but still not have learned how to balance their macronutrients (learning objective), thus I was a successful coach but an unsuccessful teacher. It is probably splitting hairs to some degree but it provides some useful context in which to talk about chunking.

Chunking is not a novel idea, but I think this exercise is something different that most of the coaches I know can use to improve their delivery of cues and feedback to their athletes in real time.

The Set Up
Gather a group of 3 or more coaches and have one person coach while the others do the exercise. Only have one person show a fault and make it obvious and make it the same every time.

The Drill
Identify the fault – “Joe, you are rounding your back.”
Short actionable cue – “Chest up!”
Acknowledge the change – “That’s better.”
Of course, it might not have improved so you might say, “More!” or “Try harder.” Initially just practice having the person fix the fault.

The drill is extremely simple in this form. You just keep practicing it over and over with a friend or two taking turns. Once you have the basic dialogue, you cue your athlete through repetitions of the movement, “Set up. Joe, you’re rounding your back. Lift your chest. That’s better. Stand.”

The goal is to be fast and effective. Can you keep your athlete or group moving but still give individual attention and teaching? Repeat the same words over and over until they become fast and natural or you realize that you are saying it wrong and find a better more efficient way to say it. You can do this drill with any movement or progression. You can do this with various fixes (verbal, tactile or visual). You can do this with multiple people doing multiple faults. Use this to learn how to conduct fast effective fixes in a group setting. Be conscious of details like where you are standing and whether the athletes can see and hear you and you can see them. Can you stand in a better place to be more effective? Can you then fix multiple people with a slight change in your words, or where you are standing or how the group is organized?

Get good at the technique, so you can let your personality come through and you can actually be present to your athletes. Thus you will be effective as a coach and a teacher.