The Real Reason Your Team Can't Execute in Games

Nov 23, 2021

The real reason your team can’t execute in games is because…

they forget!

When players fail to execute a play, concept, or action, often as coaches we assume it is either…

  1. a lack of focus
  2. a lack of effort

Sure, there are some instances where this is the case. 

But most coaches would be better served to assume that mistakes by players are a breakdown in learning that is most often caused by the simple, and yet extremely powerful, factor of forgetting.

And if this is really the case, then I’d argue that the issue is with our teaching, not them.

It’s easy to assume that mistakes are the fault of athletes’ lack of focus or effort.

It’s harder to examine whether mistakes are due to us as coaches neglecting the realities of the learning process.

The evidence is clear, we (all people) begin to forget much of what we learn as soon as we stop focusing on it. 

Our players are not exempt from this! 

When our brains are presented with new information, we store it in our working memory, which has an extremely limited capacity to hold information.

If that information is not transferred into our long-term memory, which is essentially unlimited, then we will have difficulty recalling the information without some relevant cuing or prompting. 

And as it relates to performance, unless the information and concepts we’ve taught our athletes are cemented into their long-term memory, it’s unlikely that it will show up in the game!

So it’s critical that we do everything in our power to move learning into our athletes' long-term memory to win the fight against forgetting, which will ultimately improve individual and team performance.


Here are two simple strategies to help fight forgetting:

1. Retrieval Practice

Retrieval Practice can be done in all sorts of ways, but at its core it’s simply reviewing previously taught content. 

This could mean that you do some very low-stakes quizzing of players to review terminology, or it could be inserting a 10 minute review block into your practice where players review key concepts, skills, or plays that your team runs.

Retrieval Practice is powerful because it brings information back into our athletes working memory again and gives the information an increased chance of being stored in their long-term memory, which is the goal!

Learning takes time and multiple repetitions.


2. Interleaving

This is a particularly powerful concept, especially for coaches who have a small preseason window, or who only get to practice a couple of times a week with their team. 

Here’s how it works…

In your practice, work on concept A, next work on concept B, then come back to concept A.

It sounds really simple, but here’s why it’s so powerful in the fight against forgetting...

As soon as you stop working on A and move to B, your athletes begin to forget concept A. 

When you come back to concept A later, it forces your athletes to retrieve that information. 

Essentially, you are just speeding up the process of forgetting and remembering to attempt to move learning into their long-term memory more quickly. 

Like I mentioned, this can be really powerful in your preseason practice. 

Instead of spending 20 straight minutes on concept A, spend 10 minutes on A, go to B for 10 minutes, then come back to A. 


You're fighting forgetting, don't forget that.


If you enjoyed this blog, you’d probably enjoy our Cohorts, or our Book Clubs on The Coach’s Guide to Teaching.

Also Here’s an incredibly helpful example of a forgetting curve from Doug Lemov: Click Here