On this cool, gray afternoon, I'm on a sports field with 15 masked-up teenagers getting better at -- among other things -- playing Ultimate Frisbee. Another coach and I have arranged a drill involving a sequence of cutting, throwing, and catching, aiming to get the players coordinating their actions. We two coaches have taken positions simulating defense. Our players are beginning to understand the patterns of movement, how the timing of one action triggers another. They are going through the motions, literally.
So, I alert them that I'm going to change my placement, reflecting a shift in defensive strategy. Their careful orchestrations of a moment ago prove fragile, crumbling into disorder. Auto pilot, rather than automaticity. They hadn't understood what they were doing; rather, they'd been mindlessly repeating the steps we coaches had taught. We paused the drill to unpack why better. We encouraged players to pay close attention to my defensive tactic and counter it with purpose. Within a degree of agreed-upon structure, read and respond. If-then. After a few more repetitions, no matter how I stationed myself, they were executing the scheme with more decisiveness and consistency. Not perfect, but better, and that was excellent.