Todd Beane

Cognitive Hippy-Dippiness – Yes, Please.

Todd Beane
Cognitive Hippy-Dippiness – Yes, Please.

There will come a day when we wonder why we have missed the mark for so long on talent development.  

It is going to take a few more bitter tweets and a few more attempts to kill the messenger, but the message is so powerful and resoundingly hopeful for our children’s development that it will not be ignored. 

Sometimes meaning needs more than text; it needs context. 

I was accused once of promoting “hippy-dippiness” in my approach to maximizing a player’s potential. Yes, that phrase exactly. I am sure that you can do a tweet history to find its origin, but nonetheless I assume it to have been an assault upon my ideas of cognitive development in football training. No harm, no foul, as they say. 

Fast-forward to some more productive tweets from that same origin and I was guided to some links to Cognitive Load Theory (CLT) and the work of Dr. John Sweller. We need not delve as deeply as I did into research upon research article covering the matter. This is a blog after all, not a thesis submission. 

Human cognitive architecture can be summarized as follows. We have a limited working memory that deals with all conscious activities and an effectively unlimited long-term memory that can be used to store schemas of varying degrees of automaticity. 

Intellectual skill comes from the construction of large numbers of increasingly sophisticated schemas with high degree of automaticity.  Schemas bring together multiple elements that can be treated as a single element and allow us to ignore myriads of irrelevant elements. (Sweller, van Merrienboer, & Paas, Cognitive Architecture and Structural Design)


Go ahead and read that four times as I had to in order to digest this morsel of magnificence. 

Through this research we are guided to understand two important elements. 

  1. Schema Creation
  2. Schema Automaticity

As study upon study regarding chess masters has revealed, accomplished competitors create schemas (point 1) from which to draw upon instantly (point 2) as they recognize and act upon a state of positioning profoundly familiar to them. 

Skilled chess players recognize most of the board configurations they encounter, and they have learned the basic move associated with each configuration. Unlike, less skilled players, they do not have to search for good moves using limited working memory. Rather they use knowledge of board configurations and the appropriate moves associated with those configurations. 

All studies confirmed the major factor distinguishing novice from expert problem solvers was not knowledge of sophisticated, general problem solving strategies but, rather, knowledge of an enormous number of problem states and their associated moves. (Sweller, van Merrienboer, & Paas, Cognitive Architecture and Structural Design)

So what?

If we are to be cognitive faithful to the demands of a football match we must allow our players to train their way through scenarios they encounter on Saturday. They must gain confidence from familiarity. They must feel that they have solved this problem many times albeit with very slight variations. And yes, they must have the skill to execute this decision. I would argue that moving a pawn may be a bit easier than playing a properly weighted pass, but that is for another blog. The “moves” we refer to here from this research are the “decisions” to gain advantage. A player must draw upon her resource library and access the long-term memory in significant and speedy ways to be successful on the pitch.

Indeed, knowledge about working memory limitations suggest that humans are particularly poor at complex reasoning unless most of the elements with which we reason have been previously stored in long-term memory. (Sweller)

I tweeted back to my “hippy dippy” detractor a great big thank you. Indeed I had been dancing about in the land of idealism. Guilty as charged. I had been blissfully thinking that rondos, position play exercises, and training games would allow players to create prototypes of the game we want to play within the overall architecture of a match. I was doing so believing that pattern recognition would allow my players to work toward mastery like chess masters. I held that a cognitively challenging training would promote improved perception, conception, and decision-making. Cyber-space vindication at last. 

Thank god, “hippy dippiness” is a brilliant state of being. It is being committed to helping our players with schema creation and automaticity by implementing a coherent research-based methodology. It is comforting to know that what we promote in this world of talent development is not lost in short term memory. Even if tweets can be deleted, our player’s talent will not. 

Thank you Mr. Tweeter for your lashes and your links. You have driven me further down the path of celebrating all that is gained when we align leadership with learning.