Sequencing: Your Hack for Rapid Improvement

This article is about how I got 400% better at golf in 2 hours.

It’s also about “sequencing”, and why sequencing can hack your learning rate.

In previous articles, I’ve already outlined that the most important variable for success is your RATE of improvement, and that the best coaches give feedback on HOW, not just WHAT. Sequencing is a powerful tool to increase your RATE of your improvement, and also for coaches who are concerned with coaching the “how”.

I came across the idea of sequencing from, of course, Tim Ferriss, in his book, “The Four-Hour Chef”. The book is his treatise on rapid learning, and sequencing was a concept that stood out to me. He writes that “Sequencing is the magic of proper ordering.” If you want to delve deeper, I highly suggest buying and reading the book.

My own interpretation of sequencing, is setting a logical order of instructions that layers the most foundational skills at the beginning and base of the teaching. A master of sequencing will then build competencies and layer skills on top of the foundational skill. The skill below the next skill facilitates the learning and usage of that next skill. The skills are so simple and easy to learn that it’s almost impossible to forget or do them incorrectly. If a learner messes up, they simply regress their focus to the foundational skill, and layer back skills on top. When this is done properly, it is almost impossible to fail at improving.

A coach who sequences their instruction follows a logical progression that makes it almost impossible to fail. Their instructions are simple, easy for someone to understand, and consistent. Think: “Start here, then do this, then do that, then do that…wow you make it look easy!” (No, you did coach!)

Meanwhile, most coaches give a bunch of characteristics of what perfect performers look like, and then bark orders at their disciples who are deviating from those characteristics. Think: “Bend you knees, bum back, head up, bum back down, KNEES BENT THOUGH, head up still, bum back, ARGH!!!”

Golf Time

In his book, Tim recommended another book called “Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons”. He claimed that golf was a skill you could learn to be much better at in 48 hours. He was wrong though, because it only took me 2.

I had some golf lessons when I was younger, but have forgotten most of the instruction. So in my last game, played this summer, with irons, I could hit about 30% of my shots with decent contact. The rest just shanked left, right, straight up, or right along the ground. With woods, I could probably hit 5% that didn’t go straight along the ground, and only 20ft. I remember that even during my lessons, I struggled with woods.

I read “Ben Hogan’s Five Lessons” in about an hour, and then went to the driving range. After reading, I knew exactly what skill to master and practice first, then second, then third, then fourth. I knew HOW to perform those skills. And then, I swung the club: completely missed the ball. I then walked myself back through the skills that Hogan outlined, realized that the third skill…my backswing was completely off. I worked on the backswing, remembering his explanation of HOW. Took my second swing, and WHACK! Perfect contact. The whole swing felt great and it was easy to do. I was then able to hit shot after shot with decent contact. When I went to the woods, I was able to make decent contact again! Ya, I still shanked the odd ball. But I went from a golfer who was happy if I made decent contact and the ball carried in the air, to a golfer who was pissed if he hooked or sliced slightly as the ball was flying through the air…that’s like a swimmer who went from “I’m happy I didn’t down” to “I think I could improve my butterfly a bit”.

This large improvement was by no means attributed to any sort of athletic ability. I proved earlier this summer that my ability to play hockey and squat a lot of weight did not equal a good golfer. I attribute it directly to the sequencing and explanation provided by Hogan in his book. Hogan emphasized that the golf swing hinged (pun intended) on a natural ability that every human possessed. He claimed that if his instructions were followed correctly, it is impossible to fail at swinging. He used the body’s natural characteristics to set up the foundational skills and layered skills on top of it.

Back to Hockey and Coaching

I read the “Four Hour Chef” a few years ago, but only recently read Hogan’s book. So a few summers ago, I had a hockey player who had played for years, but still struggled with cross-overs. The key, I found, was not in showing him the characteristics of proper cross-overs and then telling him to do them. The key was for me to deconstruct the cross-over, figure out exactly what foundational skills worked with the body’s natural movement, and made other skills easier to learn afterwards. It honestly took me most of the summer to hit on the right combination of foundational skills and sequences. But once I got the sequencing down, the athlete’s learning was so quick that we could run through the sequence in the first part of the session and then move onto new things. I could also use the sequence with beginner skaters to have them crossing over like a natural in no-time.

Where I’m Going

When it comes to training athletes, and also training coaches, I want to be able to coach them with sequencing in mind as much as possible. I ask myself, is there an optimal sequence for teaching the squat that makes it nearly impossible to fail, and very quick to learn? I’m working on that sequence, and am pretty happy with it. I want to teach it to athletes and other coaches.

But more complicating things, like: mental preparation, decision making, the forecheck/breakout … can these things be sequenced in a way to make it nearly impossible to fail and very quick to learn? I believe so. However, the journey to create excellent sequences is much more difficult and less straightforward than following an already established sequence. I have been bumbling my way towards a better shot for years now. I never had the opportunity to have someone show me the optimal sequence for shooting a hockey puck…but I have been lucky enough to watch some excellent shooters and get their video feedback. But teaching myself has been a bumpy ride. That being said, with the knowledge I have gained from almost 20 years of shooting, I can put together a pretty good sequence for other athletes.

Similarly, I tried using sequencing to teach the forecheck to midget-aged hockey players this past spring. I tried to isolate the foundational skill and then layer skills on top of it. Interestingly, the players were absolutely piss-poor at what I considered to be the foundational skill which was to work together to pressure the puck carrier and take away his first two options, regardless of structure or system. This suggests to me (along with a ton of other evidence that I won’t get into), that coaches are teaching systems too early. These rep level, midget aged hockey players couldn’t complete a simple tactical task, so how could a coach ever expect them to execute a breakout. With only a few practices before our tournament, I didn’t have time to regress the players any further and do more exploration on what would be a better foundational skill to teach.

I think that sequencing for such things can be done…but it is apparent that it is not being done. Again, I discussed previously that it is much more effort for a coach to think about and explain HOW to do something rather than tell players WHAT they’re doing. And that is likely what is happening here. But for the coach who truly wants to make a difference, and provide MORE VALUE to their players, like I do, I want to share with you the questions I ask myself when trying to set up sequencing instructions:

  • What skill should I teach first to make others almost impossible to NOT LEARN?
  • How should I teach that skill so that it is almost impossible to FAIL? What cues make the instructions almost impossible to ignore? (Think vivid visual/auditory cues/images)
  • What skills work naturally and organically with an athlete’s body and psychology?
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Published by

Jason at Train 2.0

2.0 was born from the belief that 1.0 isn't good enough. The way we're approaching coaching, training, and development for hockey needs to be rethought. My own lessons have led me to rethink the way it's being done and I can't help but write about it. I'm writing for my 12, 13, 14, 15 year old self who didn't have this resource. I'm writing for parents who are putting their dollars and trust in coaches who are wasting all of it. I'm writing because I hope it can make a difference.

2 thoughts on “Sequencing: Your Hack for Rapid Improvement”

    1. Rather than lateral stepping cross-overs which is the most common way I see coaches chunk the cross-over skill, I followed a sequence that looked like this:
      1) C-cut around a circle with both feet on the ice, but using the outside food to do the c-cutting. Don’t take either blade off the ice.
      2) Start cutting the outside foot in front of the inside foot. Having a player do this while keeping both feet on the ice forces him or her to figure the timing and a smooth sequence for shifting weight from foot to foot.
      3) I had the player focus on leaning as far as he could into the circle in a way that felt natural to him.
      4) I had the player focus on generating force with his inside foot when he felt he could during the crossover stride. I didn’t specify a specific time, I just told him to generate as much force with his inside foot as possible. The two determinants of how much force they’ll be able to generate is timing and body lean.
      5) Finally, I let them take their feet off the ice whenever they felt it was natural so long as they still felt like they could be smooth, have good timing and force production.

      That was our routine, and I don’t know how well it would work for teaching brand new skaters how to crossover, but I’d love to know how it works…or doesn’t. Best of luck.

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