Coaching the Over-thinker

“Stop asking so many questions, you’re over-thinking this! Just do it!”

“Do WHAT, though?”

Practice can sometimes be a struggle if you are an over-thinker or trying to coach one. Without intending to, some skaters complicate the simplest tasks in their minds.

I’ve often been told I am over-thinking a drill, as evidenced by hesitations and missing opportunities on the track, and every time a coach has said that to me, I’ve wondered what on earth I could possibly be thinking about. It doesn’t feel like thinking, rather that I don’t quite have every thing I need to do what’s being asked of me, whatever that is, so I unwillingly freeze up.

I decided to put up an anonymous poll up to find out what is on the over-thinkers minds. The results confirmed most of my theories, but I was surprised on how many people relate to being an over-thinker. Here are some of the main themes that came up, and how to bridge the gap between over-engineering a drill, and just fucking doing it.

Dogs and Cats

There seem to be two main types of derby skaters – Dogs and Cats.

People who skate like dogs are always ready, tails wagging. If you tell them to go, they go full force without hesitation. They spring up at opportunities, and don’t ever seem to pause to wonder if they are doing things exactly perfect to the letter; they just make things happen.

Cats are finicky. They have the ability to move really quickly and attack when they know exactly what they want and how to get it. But in times of uncertainty, they take their time. Try encouraging a cat to walk through a doorway; It’s maddening to watch them assess, re-assess, sniff around, and second guess whether or not walking through the doorway is indeed the right move.

Cats have as much as a place in derby as dogs, but they often just need a couple more bases covered from coaches.

1. Over-thinkers do better when they know the full purpose of a drill

If you asked me to bake a cake and bring it to work tomorrow, I can’t just do that. I need to know how many people there are, am I the only one bringing cake, are there any major allergies I should be aware of, etc. If I just baked a cake without the questions, I’d still be getting the job done, but run the risk of bringing the same kind of cake as someone else, or not bringing enough cake, or spending too much time baking too many cakes, killing the guy with the allergy, blah blah blah. I want my cake-bringing to be successful the first time because I’m a perfectionist who hates wasting my time.

In derby, there are so many opportunities to make mistakes – and that can really wear on the perfectionist or over-thinker, so we prefer any pre-planning we can do to avoid jam-ruining errors. But if we allow our obsessive pre-planning to run wild, then practice will quickly turn into a talk-shop without much skating.

To compromise, there are a couple of points of context that will greatly help everyone:

– What is the point of this drill? Is it related to the first pass of a jam, or the scoring pass?

– What are the broken down steps to this drill? What is the objective of each person in the drill? What is the most important thing we should do during the drill, and what is the “finishing move” to the drill? How do we know we are done?

Over half of the survey respondents indicated that they learn best when a drill is broken down into several small steps. Spending the time to go over these steps, even if everyone “should already know this” can prevent having to re-explain the drill several times. Also, demonstration is essential. If you only use words to explain a new drill, or one that isn’t often used, it will definitely be interpreted 15 different ways by skaters, and this is how the overthinkers get extra hesitant and confused.

2. We fear failure, like, a lot.

Several of my survey questions asked about hesitation. Half of the respondents said that they hesitate because they don’t want to mess up the drill. Many spend their time trying to map out exactly what steps to take to not fuck up.

Chances are your big thinkers are also marinating in anxiety. This was one of the big surprises of the poll: Out of 100 respondents, 85% said that they feel at least a moderate level of anxiety when they find themselves hesitating, with over 25% of them reporting a high level of anxiety.

These moments are also when the “stop over thinking!” comments start rolling out, but this just makes it worse. What will help us instead is some navigation. Though it may seem redundant or over-simplified, give the skater some direction using LITERAL next steps.

I see a lot of hesitation in contact drills, especially with newer skaters. So if we have a hitting drill, and I see someone spending too much time trying to set up the perfect angle to hit someone at, I like to try the following things:

– Have them count out loud. They count 1 and 2 while skating up to their opponent, and at 3, they hit. That gives them only a second or two to set up.

– Make a Skill Sandwich, which is a difficult move sandwiched between two easy moves. For example, if the drill is to knock someone to the infield, I have the first step be to skate up to them and find the target for contact, the second step to do the hit, and the third step to step their right foot back under them stability. Sometimes I have them fall down afterwards (safely). I have them fall down because it removes the need for over-thinking the hit for fear of losing control and falling and therefore “ruining” the drill. Failure is part of the drill.

Every time I do this, the skater makes the hit without hesitation, and usually doesn’t even need to fall afterward.

3. Getting through the “Exercises of Futility”

This is another perfectionist tendency which frequently results in missed opportunities. Lets use the example of jamming. I am jamming through a pack, and have now arrived at the biggest threats who are ready for me the front. Lets say that I’m not going fast enough to juke them. I know how this is going to end. If I try to sneak inside, I am going to get hit out and recycled to the back, and it will drain my energy and make me do WORSE. I see dealing with these blockers as an exercise in futility, so I try to come up with a Plan B, some kind of trickery, meanwhile the seconds are ticking by. The error in my thinking is that formulating Plan B should waste less time than just trying to pass them, even if their blocking me out burns the same amount of time.

There is a reason why trial and error can be an effective way to solve problems, but the over-thinkers seem to have a hard time accepting the error part of it.

In recent months, I have made a point to reassure skaters facing a challenging drill that it’s perfectly okay to not be completely fucking awesome every time you practice something. No one is judging you if you got owned by the blockers. Falling down happens even at the highest levels of play. So do failures. Remind them of the object of the drill (in this case, jammer, your objective is to get through the pack as quickly as possible, so you must stay active) and use frequent feedback to keep them focused.

4. Trusting the Dogs

I finally got out of my own head the day I honestly and completely trusted my teammates. One time I was going up to jam, and was already spewing defeatist BS about how I probably won’t score, but at least I’m trying. One of my teammates pulled me aside and said “No way. You are going to bust that pack, and you’re going to score, and it will be awesome!”.

She said it with such excitement that I couldn’t really argue with her. I decided to just believe her, and ignore my history as an ineffective jammer.

So… I did. There was no technical minutiae, no Plan B. I got up there, decided to get through the pack, which I did, and I scored some points, despite myself.

The simplicity of just doing what someone tells you to cannot be overstated.

5. Finally, be honest to skaters with feedback

For a long time, coaches struggled with me because they would tell me to do something, I would say “Ok”, and proceed to not do it. I thought I was doing it, but that’s all I was doing – thinking. Coaches should always be upfront with feedback, and let skaters know if they don’t quite have the drill or move down yet. It may require stopping for a little more explanation. It may be frustrating. But I promise, it’s the shortest road to getting what you really need out of the skaters.

TL;DR… In short, here are some ways to help the over-thinkers get into more productive training mode:

1. Make sure the group knows what the context of the drill is

2. Give very literal instructions to skaters when they get stuck to walk them through a drill or move

3. Encourage skaters to embrace failure as part of “Just Do It!”

4. Encourage skaters to encourage, trust and believe in each other. It may need to be a daily reminder.

5. Honest and constructive feedback should be immediately given. Don’t continue a drill if it’s not being done correctly.

I hope this was helpful!

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