If you’re looking to make massive improvements as an athlete, you need to know your weaknesses and fix them. That can be difficult to do without a coach or a great teammate who can tell you what you are doing wrong. To become a better athlete on your own, begin by learning to ask the right questions.
Take It From Toyota
To find the right questions, borrow a technique from the manufacturing industry. First, point out what has gone wrong in explicit terms. Then, ask “Why?” five times.
You may have heard about Toyota’s kaizen approach to production. Every person who works on the assembly line has the authority to stop production when they notice a problem. The entire department then comes together to look at that problem. They figure out its root cause by asking “Why?” multiple times. They solve that root cause. The entire process improves.
You can apply this concept to your training, your practices, and your game performance. Game film gives you an opportunity to look at your play from the outside. You can even watch at slower speeds. You can identify exactly when something has gone wrong. You can scroll backwards in the video until you find the cause that you are looking for.
The article series about watching game film has already been written. This piece is about learning to ask the right questions. As Simon Sinek titled a great book, start with “Why.”
Imagine This Situation…
Assume that you are out of position on a deep cut and get looked off.
The first thing you should ask is, “Why was I looked off?” If you knew you were out of position, that is pretty straightforward. Ask why again.
Why #2: “Why was I in the wrong place on this deep cut?”
Was the defender controlling your space? Did you mis-time your cut? Did you mis-read where you should have been? Maybe a judgment error put you in the wrong position. Ask why again.
Why #3: “Why did I make that choice?”
Was it a gap in your knowledge? Was it a miscommunication between you and your thrower? Was it because of fatigue? Whatever the situation was, ask why a fourth time. If you made the wrong call because of fatigue…
Why #4: “Why was I so tired?”
Did you do something amazing on a previous play but could not recover quickly enough? Had you overextended yourself trying to break free of your defender? Or were you just out of shape? You can see where this is going.
Why #5: “Why was I out of shape?”
Apply Your Findings
Use the 5 Whys is to keep digging down. When you identify the cause of a problem, ask why that cause existed. Continue down until there is nothing left to explain.
If we realize that you were out of position on a deep cut and got looked off because you were tired… and that you were tired from trying to get open because you were not in good enough shape to compete… and that you were not in good enough shape because you did not do the right work in the offseason… then you know what to do this year.
There is no magic elixir that will bring performance improvements. You need to start early and be consistent. 3 focused training sessions per week are plenty. You can build the base of conditioning that you need in order to not be tired after 4 minutes in a point. Then you won’t choose the wrong position. You won’t get looked off. You will make the catch.
Perfection Doesn’t Exist
The 5 Whys process cannot eliminate every mistake that occurs on the field. Ultimate is too dynamic for that. Your thrower may have looked you off simply because they don’t feel confident in the throw they are making… (…I would encourage them to ask why!)
But the 5 Whys will alow you to dig deeply into how you prepared for the situation that you found yourself in. They will help you determine what you need to do now in order to be better prepared.
Next season, not only will you perform at a higher level — and this is the part that I find exciting — you will discover new errors to correct. We only learn from our mistakes. The 5 Whys can enhance the speed of your learning.
You are going to make mistakes while you are on the field. If you want the growth that those mistakes are promising, you have to learn to ask the right questions.
The right questions are, “Why,” “Why,” “Why,” “Why,” and “Why.”