Doug Lemov's field notes

Reflections on teaching, literacy, coaching, and practice.

04.29.22Coaching Notes: Chunk = Distinct Name + Clear Picture

 You can only conceptualize what you can name.


I tried my hand at leading a small group training session with my friend James Beeston last week.

I’m not a coach full time or “for real” but I love and write about coaching and I’ve dying to try my hand at working with players around the idea of deception and disguise.

So off James and I went and my favorite part happened during a very simple passing exercise we did at the outset when my intervention was highly unsuccessful and James’ was highly successful.

This segment begins with three players passing the ball in a triangle. I’m pointing out to them that disguising what they do WITH the ball is different from disguising what they will do BEFORE they receive it.

I think this is super important. 1) Fooling an opponent with a feint before you get the ball is better than fooling him with a touch once you have it because it’s faster and creates an advantage earlier. 2) Players often get into a habit of using disguise only in certain points of their game. I was trying to get players to attend to and experiment with deception at different times- to broaden their conception of how to be deceptive.

Anyway one of the players made a really nice move to feint towards the ball and then let it run by his body. This is one of my favorite moves as it can create a window of space much faster–and thus in more situations–than a clever touch on the ball.  I wanted other players to replicate and adapt it.

So I stopped them and described what he did… with a vague description and a half-effort at a demo.

And then James stepped in- and what he did was much much better. You can instantly see the results in the way the players we’re working with start using his idea. But more importantly it tells us a lot about teaching and learning on the field.

SO first of all here’s my lousy intervention and then James’ very good one… let the video roll and you can see the players are really successful at using the idea he’s given them.

What’s the difference between what James did (good) and what I did (bad)?

  1. The first thing James does is give the concept he’s teaching a name: the Jab Step.
  2. Then he creates a very clear picture by modeling it multiple times in different ways.
  3. This combination: having a clear, detailed picture of an idea and a discrete name for it conjures it into being. Suddenly it is a “chunk” of knowledge and players begin to 1) see it everywhere and thus learn from it more and 2) conceive of it as one idea they can manipulate etc.

I say: Disguise before you receive the ball. Try checking in to the ball like you are going to receive this way and then snap back and take it this way.

I am describing.

James says: Try a jab step. As the ball is coming in… jab with the front foot. The ball comes across and you you’re out the other way. Let me show you again. I jab… and I’m out.

As he’s naming the thing he wants them to do he’s modeling it. Notice how many time he models it and how differently.

  • at :25 he models what the whole move looks like.
  • at :27 he models again but now only the key movement of the jab, in isolation and without the ball. But notice how he says the word “jab” again as his foot comes down to peg the name to the image in players minds.
  • at :30 he is very subtly modeling again, this time the second part of the move where the ball rolls across his body and he plays away at 90 degree.
  • then at :37 he models the whole thing again, now that players understand the component parts. “I’m stepping” he says as he jabs, to emphasize with his toe of voice the intensity of the action.


The whole thing takes 20 seconds or so and now players have what i never gave them: a clear picture attached to a name. Really you can only conceptualize what you can name. So James has conjured this idea of the jab step into being, and you can see what happens.They put that chunk to good use right away!

So again a Distinct Name + Clear and Precise Picture = a Chunk of Knowledge players can use and encode in memory.

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