Monday, March 19, 2007


I have been working with my girls on breaking some "bad" habits. I have been thinking about habitual behavior in somewhat of a negative context lately. Like habits are always bad. This, of course, is not the case, so this post will discuss, in a general way, both good and bad habitual behavior.

The definition of habit by is useful for this post:

1a: A recurrent, often unconscious pattern of behavior that is acquired through frequent repetition.
1b: An established disposition of the mind or character.
2: Customary manner or practice: a person of ascetic habits.

I guess the the parts that interest me (and bother me much of the time) are "unconcious" and "customary". To say that actions done without thinking and based on social norms and customs does sum up habits pretty well. With my girls, we discuss actions on the field in terms of general principles more than hard and fast rules. In general, I want my girls thinking in the present moment about the current circumstances and making quick decisions. At the UCPC, Goldberg talked about remaining in the present brain, that is to say, not living in the past (I can't believe I missed that freethrow) or in the future (when I hit this home run, it will be so great). He has also discussed in his books about being in the zone. While sometimes this can be characterized as "unconscious", I think his description of being solely concerned with the present is more apt. I do think this distinction is important when it comes to habits. Habit free behavior, within the parameters defined by Goldberg, seems to be clear thinking and decision making in the present moment. Habits, however, seem to be decisions based on custom and unconscious patterns and are, therefore, erroe-prone. So, I think the focus is not on whether "unconscious" behavior is bad as much as habitual decisions can result in a disconnect from the present scenario.

We are working to break the following habits:

-At some point, before I became Wellesley's coach, the way that the team would respond to zone D was by calling "recognize!" in recognize that it is zone. For some reason, this has always bothered me. We are now working on saying "Zone" when it is zone. Just say what it is. We are actually not concerned with what type of zone it is, although we will follow up "Zone" with "1-3-3" or otherwise, if needed. While this is simply a way to deal with a habitual type of nomenclature, the simple call of "zone" is also an additional way of breaking habit. To a large extent, person defense affords the offense, especially downfield, the opportunity to define the spaces in which it will work. Obviously, zone D is just the opposite in the sense that the defense is defining the spaces on the field. These past two sentences are meant to be simplistic and not account for poaching or mini-clams, etc. So, for us, the call of "zone" is not meant to trigger "Oh, I am a wing....I need to run over to my spot" as much as say "look for the spaces in which I can be effective".

-"Trap for 1". This is somewhat like an urban legend. Who is responsible for creating the idea that a trap is somehow wonderfully effective? Meaning more than forcing back into the field. As a cutter on a team with good throwers, a trap was a wonderful opportunity for me to create a difficult decisions on the part of my defender.....however, if we were being forced back into the stack...the options are somewhat more limited. This is not to say that we don't trap...or won't trap for 1...there just has to be reason for it.

-"What do you want to do? I don't know, let's just force forehand". If there isn't a bigger abdication of the opportunity to have something a bit under one's control, I don't know what it is. Again, we will force forehand...all the time....there just has to be a reason why we are doing it.

-"Everytime I cut and don't get open...I resign myself to just getting back into the stack". First, I think most good cutters know if they are going to get open before they cut. Second, any good offense will go to option B if the primary option doesn't work. Idris wrote about good cutters making a good secondary cut after getting shut down. I think this is a great idea. Maybe you will get the disc in another way, and, at a minimum, you are not saying to your defender "I clear to the stack...EVERY TIME".

These are just some examples (for both our team and many others) of habitual on-field behavior. I got to thinking about players' pre-game rituals. There are legendary examples of basically OCD pre-game behaviors. I developed a nice one myself. Is ritual different from habit? I am not really sure. I do think that a pre-game ritual can be a positive source of predictability and preparation for a player. I think that one could argue that listening to one's body, in the present, is needed and that this could, or perhaps, should, depending upon the circumstance, lead to modifications in the routine. I think a player should also be able to react to circumctances beyond one's control that might interrupt their comfortable pattern.

So, in summary, I think habits are something that we need to step back and examine. Why do we make the decisions, especially on-field, that we do? Are we focused on the ever-changing scenarios that are unfolding before us, or are we falling back on patterns of behavior that, while comforting, are perhaps determental to both the team and to our individual performance? I have a friend, who was a very accomplished Ultimate player, who used to say, "The hardest thing for people to change is this (he would be pointing at his head)." I think, at a minimum, that a modicum of awareness of our habits can go a long way toward changing these behaviors.

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