Scale without Impoverishing

According to recent studies, learning is optimized when we succeed around 85% of the time. From a recent paper by Wilson, Shenhav, Straccia and Cohen:

‘In many situations we find that there is a sweet spot in which training is neither too easy nor too hard, and where learning progresses most quickly. […] For all of these stochastic gradient-descent based learning algorithms, we find that the optimal error rate for training is around 15.87% or, conversely, that the optimal training accuracy is about 85%.’

My take for grappling…if our athletes are always successful, we’ll have a difficult time understanding what skills need improvement (plus these athletes might not be as motivated to strive for improvement!). But, if failure is consistently high, our athletes won’t learn what works (plus they’ll quickly become discouraged and lose motivation, too). Only when we have an appropriate mixture of success and failure—again, 85:15—can we draw a contrast between good and bad skill application.

Achieving this ratio is a tall mountain to climb when coaching combat sports, whether for kids or adults, since ultimately there’s only one winner declared in each match!

Instead, we must first consider that our practice design is about developing motor skills, versus producing a winner in a match. (You might also recall our mantra that ‘skill is technique applied in context’.) From there, in order to move progress toward the 85% rule, we should design activities for each athlete and his or her needs, and then ‘scale without impoverishing’.

At HHGC we’ve been working over the last week on clearing ties and then immediately engaging in a reattack. So as a way to embrace the 85% rule, I try to keep a close eye on how effective each athlete is during this activity on, let’s say, clearing a collar tie and immediately getting to a Hi-C on their assigned opponent.

If his or her success rate is well below 85% on clearing and re-attacking, it’s time to adapt the drill to facilitate better skill development. Perhaps a different opponent (which works really well when coaching kids with a broad array of ages), or adjust the objective slightly, i.e., clearing the tie differently, or addressing how he or she is getting to the opponent’s legs.

Again, one should avoid ‘watering down’ the drill. It’s more about adjusting variables to make context more intuitively managed for the athlete—only then will new skills emerge!

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