Are You or Your Students Suffering from the Instant Gratification Cycle?

One of my colleagues dropped a student he was working with because in between coaching sessions, his student would either solicit or accept coaching direction from other archers and when they got back together he had done none of what they agreed upon he needed to do to get better. Instead the student would want to discuss a long list of things he had been trying suggested by fellow archers. Requests to have the student check in with the coach before just trying things, but that did not happen.

This student was suffering from a malady common in amateur athletic circles. Desiring instant results, if something appears to not be working, they would try something else. The “something else” may be something they just made up or something suggested by another archer.

As archers we are often in the advice business for myriad reasons: archery is a social sport, we all want to encourage newbies and those struggling so they will get better and stay in the game, etc. (As coaches, we are not supposed to offer advice unless asked!) In fact, there is such an established pattern of giving advice, especially older archers to younger archers, that we equip our younger archers with a canned response. If someone offers them advice, we suggest they say “Gee, thanks, mister, I’ll tell my coach the next time I see her/him.” If a young archer merely brushes off such attempts to “help” them, they can get a reputation for being aloof or “stuck up” or worse.

When an archer is trying to get better, they are trying to do things differently from what they had been doing which is always awkward. Whether or not those changes are successful can’t be determined until the “new moves” are practiced until they become “normal.” This means that serious archers need to be patient. Coaches need to explain what “being patient” means in terms of practice time and clock time so there are no misunderstandings. Coaches need to explain to archers that if they flit from one tip to another like a bee harvesting pollen, they will end up with a whole mess of nothing.

Archers need to know what to do with such tips when they are offered. In addition to the above canned response we teach to younger archers, we suggest that they write down such tips so they can discuss them with us via text/email or in person. Sometimes something valuable is suggested. Knowing that Coach is open to suggestions helps build trust in the coach-athlete relationship.

Whatever happens on the relationship front, an archer has to avoid like the plague the Instant Gratification Cycle:

a problem occurs → something new is tried → something works somewhat better  → another problem pops up → etc.

A basic fact of human behavior is the Hawthorne Effect: which is that when something new is tried, things tend to get better … for a short time. The first time this effect was described it was used to explain an experiment done on office workers. The office workers were told that if the lighting were slightly better, it would help their work and when it was brightened a bit  office productivity increased. Then they were told that if it were made even brighter, etc. … and their productivity increased again. Then they were told that the optimal amount of lighting had been determined and the lighting was changed once again, and productivity went up again. The final change was to lighting exactly as it was when the experiment first began. But, after some weeks, the measured productivity dropped back to what it had been before the experiments began.

Some say that the Hawthorne Effect is just a result of expectations on the part of the participants: if you expect to do better (reasonably, not magically, there needs to be a reason) you tend to do better. But the “improvements” are short-lived. This has ramifications when archers are looking at form changes and equipment changes, etc. First impressions are not always valid as they tend to be better than one will get in the long term. So, patience is required to make rapid progress in archery form or in one’s equipment/equipment setup. (Yes, you have to slow down to speed up.) The sure way to slow down someone’s progress is to work on something for only a short time and then switch to another thing, and another,…

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