Welp… It’s been almost a year since I’ve posted a blog but I guess that’s a good thing since we’ve been staying busy at Inferno!
I’ve brought up today’s topic WAAAAY back in a previous post but I wanted to finally dive into process-based learning.
This type of learning is characterized by a focus on (you guessed it) the process that an athlete takes to accomplish a task. So we can consider this an antithesis to outcome-based learning. So what does process-based learning look like? In volleyball, it’s giving attention and feedback (reinforcements) on things within an athlete’s control. This includes form, effort, communication, decision making, etc. This DOES NOT include outcomes. This can seem confusing at times because of how behavior has been ingrained in ourselves. I think the best way to explain this idea is through scenarios.
*Consider an athlete in serve receive: on service contact, the athlete doesn’t take any steps and passes the ball near their bicep and chest. Their back extends to keep the ball from contacting their face and this allows the ball to be passed with enough height for the setter to make a play. The athlete’s hips also happen to be in a good position and they dipped their shoulder to create an angle for the ball to be passed about two feet in front of the setter.* Altogether, not a bad pass but there are some things here that the athlete could do to improve. A coach that’s used to outcome-based learning may say something like “Good adjustment, but be careful of your feet.” Let’s break down why this feedback may cause more passes of a similar fashion. This first reason, the body will take the path of least resistance and the athlete has just found that they can pass a decent ball without a lot of effort. Second reason, by giving non-specific words of affirmation (“good adjustment”) we have rewarded the athlete for this behavior. Remember that as a coach, athletes will regularly look for validation in their performance from you. So anytime they receive attention from you, the behavior is being reinforced. Yes, this can even occur when discouraging an athlete from certain form or behaviors but I’ll defer to coach Jaime to discuss this psychological topic! The third reason lies in the non-specific discouragement (“be careful of your feet”). As I aluded to in the first reason, the path of least resistance is a common issue and coaches fall prey to the same mistake; using non-specific or generic feedback is so easy and we’re all guilty of it but it doesn’t really help your athlete. You’re not giving your athlete the necessary support or tools to adjust. Utilizing specific feedback not only helps your athlete understand what you’re asking of them but also gives you the opportunity to really focus on the process. So in the above scenario, I might start by asking the athlete how the pass felt and why it felt that way. If they can answer these questions then I may not have to dive into feedback too heavily because they already have a strong grasp on the process we’re working on. After asking these questions (I talk more about this in the Autonomy blog), I may say something like, “I really appreciated that you dropped your shoulder and attemped to create a good angle for your setter. The ball contacted you so high on your platform that you had minimal control on your pass. Try taking a drive step to put yourself in the best position to platform the ball right on your forearms.” With this response, we’ve reinforced the shoulder drop that we know is critical for passing and we placed focus on our contact point and footwork. As you may have noticed, I don’t mention the outcome at all. Even though it was a good pass, it’s important not to bring attention to that unless the process was correct. I.E. “Excellent drive step and platform angle! Your footwork really allowed you better control over that serve and it was a fantastic pass.” We can compliment outcomes, once we’ve made it clear that what’s important is the process.
The big reason for using Process-based feedback over outcome-based feedback is all about habit development in athletes. We want the habits they create to be apart of a solid foundation that increases their “ceiling” (potential). It kind of sounds like building a house then. If an athlete’s ceiling is a reference to their potential as a volleyball player then I would challenge everyone to think of the foundation of their house as the habits they develop or their learnability. We’ll tackle the rest of this house in further blog topics.