In the wake of UFC 235, Tactical preparation will be explained from a top down perspective so as to elucidate upon one of the most foundational, yet one of the greatest limiting factors in preparation for sport.
Tactical Execution begins with the binary, and highly emergent, nature of decisions and actions.
The focus here is the implications surrounding the failure to execute tactical game plans.
From the top down perspective, the discussion of each tactical decision must begin with psychological state.
The state of one's emotional regulation is unarguably, and directly, implicated in his/her ability to make a decision- specifically from the standpoint of how well he/she processes sensory information and accesses their working memory. The very foundations of tactical decision making are remarkably affected by one's psychological state.
Broad sensory processing (relational processing) vs tunnel vision (item specific processing) are products of emotional neutrality vs negative emotional up-regulation, respectively. The more negatively emotionally up-regulated one is (anger, fear, worry, concern, doubt, anxiety, panic, sadness, dread...) the more that person's sensory experience narrows to tunnel vision AND the more restricted his/her access to memory. Both of which are remarkably inhibiting to effective tactical decision making.
For this reason, any coach, athlete, or tactical operator who makes a tactical error who is then questioned by a peer or superior in terms of "what were you thinking?" would almost certainly be more accurately questioned by "what is/was your state of mind?"
As a professional consultant, one of my preferred ways of offering a 'proof' to this is to remind coaches why it is that when athletes make mistakes in competition they almost always have the correct answer by the time they reflect on what happened (this can be seconds, minutes, or hours later).
*while it is easy to criticize the benefit of hindsight, it's important to recognize that the limiting factor that prevented the optimal decision making in the competition was known and understood by the athlete/coach/operator. The problem wasn't a lack of knowledge, it was that something prevented them from accessing it when it mattered most.
The reason for this is because it's only after the fact when emotions have neutralized and the objective clarity returns to the individual who, only then, is kicking themselves for not having made the correct decision.
I have never consulted with a coach, athlete, or tactical operator who, upon my asking what the reason was for the decision making mistakes, then stated "I/he/she just didn't know what to do". Just the opposite in fact, the individual(s) in question nearly always knew what to do, yet state "I don't know why I didn't do it". This confusion that distinguishes knowing what to do, yet not doing it, is quite often a function of item specific processing (tunnel vision) that resulted from a lack of psychological self-regulation. A lack of self-regulation allows for a moderate anxiety/fear state to restrict relational processing and inhibit accessing what the coach/athlete/operator ACTUALLY knew.
One will be hard pressed to speak, in confidence, with a coach who, in the minutes after his/her team/athlete sustains a significant loss, states "I was simply out couched", who, the day later, says "I wasn't knowledgeable enough". Instead, what almost any coach who states "I was out couched" will, minutes or hours after the game, again once emotions have neutralized, be kicking themselves in recognition of what they well knew before the game that they were not able to access during the game.
While the tactical decision is very much a function of preceding strategic preparation, cognition, sensory processing, and accessing working memory, it must be understood that, literally and unarguably, the foundations of tactical decision making are remarkably implicated by one's psychological state- because the knowledge gained through strategic preparation is dependent upon being recalled, which depends upon memory, which is negatively impacted by negative emotional up-regulation; along with cognition and sensory processing.
The coach/military leader and athlete/commando, on/in their respective 'arenas' are confronted with an environment. The environmental features, including opponents, objects of sensory perception. The features that the brain identifies as higher value/significant targets are the ones that receive priority in the order of processing and it is here, in the fractions of a second when the processing occurs in which cognition and accessing working memory are put to task to make sense of what is processed and respond accordingly.
Here is where motion occurs...
Visually received stimuli, that is then processed via retinotopic mapping, the visual cortex, and related cortical regions that couple a highly complex aggregate of preceding tactical and strategic knowledge through memory recall, and pattern recognition/sensory processing , prior to physical motion, ultimately leads to efferent nerve signals that carry information away from the motor cortex and finalize at the junction with muscles. The product of which is a torque force applied to a bone, and motion follows.
What mandates explanation, however, is the disruption that separates what is accurately sensed, and coupled with pre-existing knowledge, and the effective response that fails to occur (even though the individual knew what to do).
Using last night's UFC 235 as the example, consider the Woodley vs Usman and Jones vs Smith fights, both of which featured the fighters who lost (Woodley and Smith) demonstrating both a curious lack of effective tactical execution (despite having shown exceptional track records of just the opposite in their most recent previous fights) in addition to post-fight clarity that underlines the distinctions discussed above. Further, it's valuable to note how both Woodley and Smith make it a point to explain how confident they were in their preparation, and maintain this claim even after their respective losses in which the skill sets that characterize their successes were largely nullified.
Take a look at the following clips, taken from each fighters post-fight interview, and note the important distinction between knowing what to do, yet not doing it.
Note the similarities shared by both fighters who, according to their post-fight explanations:
- clearly saw what their opponent was doing, down to tactical/technical specifics
- knew what they needed to do to fight more effectively against what they accurately perceived from their opponent, yet couldn't understand why they failed to do it during the fight
- *stated that their preparation and readiness for their fights excellent and that their preparation was not the limiting factor, even though they were at a loss as to why they couldn't access what they knew when it mattered most
The last bullet contains an asterisk because of all subjective claims, this one mandates the most criticism.
To state that preparation is not the limiting factor necessarily requires that it satisfy an objective criteria.
In "The Governing Dynamics of Coaching" I explain what such an objective criteria looks like and is based upon. Included in this criteria is psychological preparation as it is an inseparable component of tactical execution; yet it curiously remains absent as an integrated component of preparation for sport and military tactical objectives.
Psychological preparation, as a component of tactical preparation, describes a process wherein the tactical preparation of any coach/trainer, athlete or soldier takes part in dialogues and psychological exercises that, unlike what often occurs in the disjointed faction of sport psychology, is fundamentally integrated with the tactical specifics of the sport or tactical objective.
Sport psychologists, no different than physiotherapists or strength coaches, are ineffectively educated on the specifics of sport or military tactical/technical derivatives. As a result, their contribution to sport/tactical teams/units/athletes/soldiers is as surface level and unintegrated as most other adjunct specialty contributions to sport/tactical populations.
Psychological preparation must exist as an integrated component of tactical preparation because psychological self-regulation IS a component of tactical execution. So much so, in fact, that there is overwhelming scientific evidence to support the argument that the psychological component of preparation is THE most important facet of tactical preparation because it is the gate keeper that determines whether or not the absolute entirety of knowledge, skill, and ability is manifest in competition and tactical operations.
This case study referenced the main and co-main events of UFC 235, however, the logic contained here is universal and applies to every conceivable sport, tactical objective, and, broadly, and endeavor of any human.
Indeed, one's ability to manifest their knowledge, skill, and ability, particularly when it matters most, is ultimately determined by their psychological state.
The brain is as adaptable as any muscle in the body to change according to the way it is stimulated. One potential result of stated changes is the way in which ideas are dealt with.
Changing how ideas are dealt with changes perception, thought, and behavior. The narrow result of which optimizes UFC, sport, and tactical decision making; while the broad result changes the person as a whole.
Email James@globalsportconcepts.net for psychological consulting information