The KISS Principle

Rest assured that I’m not talking about Kiss, the rock group, but rather the acronym that stands for “Keep it simple, stupid!”  KISS is the opposite of information overload.  It’s a simple principle that seems to elude many coaches who feel the need to show off the depth of their knowledge, rather than make it easier for students to learn.  The Japanese call this kuchi waza.  I call this diarrhea of the mouth.

Just before I left for the 2011 World Championships in Paris, I observed one of my coaches helping a player who was having trouble with a simple juji gatame.  After several minutes of providing information (overload) and manipulating the bodies of the players, he moved on.  I approached him and asked him why he didn’t just tell the player to keep uke’s thumb up.  It hadn’t dawned on him to be so concise, and he thanked me for the feedback.  Unfortunately, I was annoyed because I had already asked him on numerous occasions not to recite a novel, but to make quick comments and not confuse players.  KISS would also allow him to continue to “coach by walking around” and help more players.  Try as he may, I’m convinced that KISS will never be part of his genetic make-up.  So, I’ll keep badgering him to cut it short.

In Malcolm Gladwell’s The Tipping Point, the author tells us why telephone numbers have seven digits.

Bell [an American telephone company] wanted a number to be as long as possible so they could have as large a capacity as possible, but not that long that people couldn’t remember it…At eight or nine digits, the local telephone number would exceed the human channel capacity: there would be many more wrong numbers.

Bell used the KISS principle decades ago, but the idea still hasn’t caught on with many of our coaches.  So, let’s use a phone number to shed light on KISS and information overload.

Approach 1:  pick up the receiver, and press 5787748.

Approach 2:  pick up the receiver, and press 5.  Move down one row and to the left, and press 7.  Move to the right, then press 8.  Next, move back to the left, and press 7.  Press 7 again.  Move up one row and press 4.  Finally, move to the right, then down one row, and press 8.

Which teaching approach do you think will be more successful?  The answer is obviously Approach 1, which is the KISS method.  It’s short, to the point, with no superfluous memory distractions.  This is the way we should teach Judo, but we don’t.  Instead, we’re in love with Approach 2, the information overload method.

Coaches fight KISS tooth and nail, thinking erroneously that every little detail and every little error must be addressed immediately.  They don’t.  Information overload and correction overload lead to frustration.  Frustration leads to dissatisfaction and a sense of incompetence, which ultimately results in the coup de grace for the struggling judoplayer- quitting.

Minimize the amount of information you give your players.  One or two pieces are sufficient.  Focus on the most important parts of the skill.  You’ll get to the rest down the road.  Rome wasn’t built in a day, and neither will a judoplayer.

To practice what I preach, I’ll now quit writing.

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