When I first learned to play Blood Bowl, I thought I simply had to pay attention to avoid picking up some bad coaching habits. It sounded simple enough. Yet, I would sit on the pitch’s sidelines, sweating through my t-shirt in the middle of the Canadian winter. I even ended up taking a nap before every important game because it was really hard work. Actually, it was exhausting.
So, why is it so hard to pay attention? Well, studies show that when we are really trying to pay attention to something like a Blood Bowl game, at some point, most of us will drift on cruise control … And smash straight into some bad habits. So what is going on here? Why do so many coaches fail to avoid bad coaching habits by paying attention? It turns out that it is because we are all addicted to rewards.
Addiction to rewards
When our brain sees a player besides an opponent, it shouts sky-high, “C’mon, roll some block dice to pow and roll the armor!” We then roll our block dice, we pow, we roll the armor and it feels good. It feels even better when we roll a casualty as our brain whispers to us, “Remember how you got that reward”. It then records it and we repeat the process. A player in contact, roll block dice, pow, roll armor, roll casualty, feels great.
Simple, right? Well, after a while, our extremely efficient brain says, “You know what? You’ve got the hang of it. Don’t mind me. I’ll just drift on cruise control while you roll more casualties and make us feel good”. Same addicting process, just less rational.
Bad coaching habits
Early in our coaching career, we were sitting ducks and everyone rolled tons of casualties against us. In our very limited experience, we thought, “To be competitive, I must also roll tons of casualties”. It is not an accident that we then clumsily adopted a heavy contact play style. Each time we were rewarded with a casualty, we learned to repeat this behavior and it became a habit.
Knowing this, it is no surprise that some veteran coaches on cruise control still play heavily in contact without any good reason. This bad coaching habit is often one of the many reasons why they continue to register losses after losses.
Fight back by being curious
So back to paying attention. What if instead of uselessly forcing ourselves to pay attention, we just get really curious about what is happening on the pitch, right now?
Here is an example. As a Blood Bowl teacher, I experimented whether curiosity could help some students quit playing a mindless heavy contact play style. In fact, I even told them to indulge and seek contact whenever they could. I said, “Go ahead and bring the war to your opponent. Just be really curious about what will happen.”
And what did my students notice? Well, one of them noticed, “Hell broke loose! My players are continually eating turf!” Now, I can confidently report that he moved from knowledge to wisdom and that the spell was broken. He became disenchanted with his bad habit and understood it at a visceral level. He did not need to pay attention anymore as he was just less interested in doing it in the first place.
Curiosity lets us clearly see what we get when we indulge in a bad habit. This is not to say that it is as magical as a leaping squig. But over time, as we learn to see more and more clearly what results from our bad habits, we let them go and form new and hopefully better ones.
Unlike paying attention, curiosity is naturally rewarding. What does curiosity feel like? It feels good. And what happens when we get curious? We notice that our bad habits mostly happen when we are on cruise control. In other words, when we get curious, we shut down our cruise control and get back into our game, right now.
So, even if playing a mindless heavy contact playstyle is not a bad habit of yours, you can still learn something here. Maybe the next time you grab your die for an ultimate go for it, or for a compulsive last single die block, be curious of what will happen on the pitch at that moment. Here is your chance to either perpetuate a bad coaching habit … Or step out of it.