The Effects of the Forgetting Curve on Your Team

A few years back, I was in the middle of “lesson season”, the period of time between New Years and Opening Day.  I was probably doing 15 hours each week of individual and group lessons, working with kids of all ages as they tried to cram in as much training as they could in hopes of making their Spring teams.  I distinctly remember preparing for a lesson with a player that I had worked with the previous year.  However, I was having a difficult time remembering what we covered and the issues we targeted.  I sat for several minutes trying to pry from my brain the content from the prior year’s lessons.  Unfortunately nothing came to mind.  The next feeling that rushed over me was one of guilt.  Instead of hitting the ground running with a solid plan in place, I would have to start all over again with him.  I would need to spend 15-20 minutes watching him off the tee, front toss, and BP to determine where we needed to focus.  And for a lesson that cost his parents $110, I was costing them $37 because of a simple mistake…I didn’t take notes.

Since that day a few years back, I have compiled several small notebooks filled with notes from lessons, camps and games.  The notes consisted of simple bullet points on what we covered; where we need to focus our time for next session; what went well; and what went wrong.  I even took notes on the player’s personality; as well as notes on the parents.  Why do I take notes?  Simple, there is a good chance that I will work with the player again, and it’s important for me to gauge where they were when I last saw them and where they are today.  It helps me determine whether they have worked on the drills I left them with; or simply ignored my lesson soon after they left.  The notes serve as a blueprint for how I want to build the next session.

I am a strong believer that all coaches should be taking notes after their lessons and during their games.  And especially those coaches that are classified as “Professional” (meaning, they are paid to coach your kids).  A coach’s job is to improve the overall skill of your child.  Their job is not to win!  Every coach should carry around a pen and paper (or small notebook).  During the game, when a teachable moment pops up, the coach should be seen writing in their notebook.  They should be jotting down a brief note on what just happened so they can discuss after the game or at the next practice.  Yes, they can address the situation at that moment; but its always best to write down some notes and address it in a practice as a player’s “game emotions” won’t be interfering with processing what you are telling them.

Taking notes during a game is difficult.  I will be the first to admit that I get caught up in the emotions of the game and forget to take pen to paper.  It takes a while to develop the discipline of separating yourself from the game to do what is truly important, which is to teach the kids.  We get hung up on trying to win the game when we really should be trying to improve our players.

Games are there for us coaches to get an understanding of what is working, and not working, for our players.  It’s a tremendous learning opportunity for us.  Are the drills we are putting kids through during practice starting to have an effect on the players in the games?  Are players struggling to understand baseball situations?  Are they struggling mentally because the flow of the game is too fast and they simply panic?  These are all questions we need to be looking to answer during the game.  And the answers to these questions should be written down; and then later used to build our practice plans for the following week.

Hermann Ebbinghaus, a German psychologist, pioneered the experimental study of memory back in the late 1800s.  Ebbinghaus is credited with the discovery of the “forgetting curve”, which shows how information is lost over time.  The first 24 hours is where we lose most information according to the forgetting curve.  This is dependent though on how much other information we are trying to process.  Unfortunately for us coaches, our neurons are constantly firing during a game, trying to process a LOT of information.  A 2017 study at the University of Melbourne focused on the effects that binge-watching TV shows had on memory.  The results showed that those that binge-watched, over time, forgot more of what they saw than those that simply watched the TV show once each week.  The fact that we lose much of what we saw in the first 24 hours should be enough of a reason why we should take notes during a game.  But, as coaches, we also likely watch a lot of baseball; whether it’s from coaching or as a fan at home on the television.  And as the study last year in Melbourne has shown us; binge-watching does have a negative effect on what we retain.

Do yourself a favor…actually, do your players a favor.  Take a pen and paper with you the next time you step out the door for a practice, a lesson, a camp, or a game.  When you get out of the car for the event, leave the pen and paper on your car seat.  That will be your trigger to take notes once you get back in your car.  That’s right, no need to take notes during the session.  If you put the pen and paper in your pocket, you will forget, TRUST ME!  Start with leaving it in your car.  Once you build the habit of taking notes, it’ll be much easier for you to transition to doing it during the session as you will see the benefit it has on your players.