Ecological Dynamics

There’s an evolving body of psychology offering a better way to teach athletes.

If you’ve ever gotten frustrated with your struggles to learn Jiu-Jitsu, maybe it’s not you…maybe it’s your coach.

Many coaches coach based on tradition: they coach the way their coaches coached them. But tradition doesn’t always align with evidence, and there’s an emerging body of evidence that your coaches are doing it wrong.

Most coaches do their job by giving you instructions and expecting you to “just get it.” But the science is quickly showing us the problems with this old-school method.

Dr. Rob Gray from The Perception & Action Podcast calls this old way of teaching the TWIT method:

  1. Tell the athlete what do,
  2. Watch them try to do it,
  3. Inform them what they did wrong,
  4. Tell them again…

If your coach is still using the TWIT method, then…well…they’re a twit. Sorry! There’s a better way.

We’re talking about something called ecological dynamics, which comes from the emerging field of ecological psychology: the study of how your mind and body perform in a realistic environment. In our sport, the most relevant piece of ecological psychology is:

Athletes can’t just “repeat” things that their coach showed them. This is because no technique truly occurs the same way twice. There are just too many variables in motion.

So as a coach, your goal is NOT to “give your athletes the instructions…”

…it’s to help their body develop adaptability and figure out the solution on the fly.

Exactly how ecological psychology proposes we do this is a long and evolving explanation. For starters, we recommend that you:

  • Abandon the TWIT method!
  • Stop giving your students instructions; have them play games instead.
  • Use constraints to guide learning in the right direction.
  • Keep the games fun; students should succeed 70% of the time.
  • Shake it up! Introduce variability and unpredictability.

The best brief primer we’ve found on the matter is How We Learn to Move, by Dr. Rob Gray. For a BJJ-themed introduction to his work, check out BJJ Mental Models Ep. 206: How We Learn to Move, feat. Dr. Rob Gray.


On the podcast:


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