Focus on Learning, Not Teaching

Learning Great
Photo by Edwin Martinez1

In the Inner Game of Tennis Tim Galwey addresses the mental skills necessary to achieve consistent high performance. He makes a compelling case that it is learning, and not teaching, that drives the player’s progress.

A great teacher observes and listens, creates competitive learning environments, and then allows experience to be a teacher.

Further, the job of a coach is not to teach, but to help athletes learn.

This may seem a subtle distinction, but in many ways it is a huge departure from how many coaches currently work.

(Although their approaches appear different, this idea does remind me of the wonderful book about John Wooden by one of his former players, You Haven’t Taught Until They’ve Learned.)

 

There are three core ways in which this coaching process works according to Gallwey:

“Increase non-judgmental awareness of what is”

In other words, help athletes to judge themselves less and simply accept the reality of where they are. If I can’t kick with my left foot–I couldn’t my entire freshmen year–why judge me, or worse why encourage me to judge myself.

Instead, accepting the reality allows me to get to work on solving it.

“Clarity of the goal”

A clear goal matters to this process.  Equally important, the athletes should author the goal. She should feel ownership.  In other words, the coach becomes the follower in this process.

What does the athlete want to achieve? Does the athlete make the choices?

The coach becomes a facilitator at that point of the experience and the learning.

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Another Key Ingredient for a Healthy Coach

I am working hard to be a healthy coach (not to be confused with a health coach) these days.  I sometimes struggle to stay fit at times while I do my job as a coach.  I wrote about this last month.

As I grow older I find staying strong vital to the health journey.

I typically resist lifting weights.  Lifting brings me little pleasure whereas I really enjoy a long hike or a hard interval training.  In the latter I escape into my thoughts.

There is no escape with weight lifting. I am painfully aware of what I am doing the whole time.

Yet, you have to work at it if you want to stay strong especially as you get older.  You don’t technically need weights per se, but you do need to do something to maintain strength.  The same can be said for balance and flexibility.

We simply take many aspects of our physical fitness for granted that deteriorate as we age.

Sorry to be blunt, but it’s true.

I know other coaches spend time in the weight room like our athletes do. They stop by and pick up a workout provided by the strength coach. I don’t do that and have not for many years.

Partly because that strength program is designed with a different purpose in mind.  Its purpose is to drive performance, not to enable strength as a function of health.  And, partly because as I get older, weaker and less fit, I don’t want to spend all my workout time in the same space as very fit athletes.

I’m just being honest here. It’s a pride thing.

But it also hurts my confidence as a person, and frankly makes me a less effective coach, to be out of shape. I cannot be the healthy coach I want to be–a model of strength and fitness, in some measures still an athlete, without lifting weights.

So, what to do?

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Character Guides A Team’s Success

Poppovich Character Matters
Photo by Howdy, I’m H. Michael Karshis

I recently came across a gem of an interview on the site Hoops Hype with the great Gregg Popovich, Head Coach of the San Antonio Spurs.  The interview details Poppovich’s coaching philosophy and focuses on his great strengths as a coach.

One thing stood out to me. He integrates character development into all aspects of his coaching.

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How Fitbit Helps Keep You Fit

fitbit blaze photo
Photo by Andri Koolme

I have a hard time staying fit during season. I assume other coaches struggle with this as well.

It’s hard to find the time, and sometimes, the motivation to get my workout in.

I tend to sit more during season, often because I study film, read, catch up on email, meet with staff or an athlete, travel on a long bus ride, or feel generally exhausted.

Team training keeps me from a totally sedentary life, but still I don’t get enough exercise there to get in shape and stay healthy.

I eat too much during season as well.  We provide large quantities of food to fuel the athletes’ efforts and my willpower often fails me.  The options bedevil me.

Food is too easy to acquire and too easy to justify.  I can eat if I’m tired, or if we win, or if we lose, or have a good training, or I have to watch a lot of film, or…. you get the picture. I have a tendency to feel deserving of a treat for the smallest of accomplishments or slights.

So, yeah for me, season has always been trouble for my waist and my health.

Enter the Fitbit.

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A Wealth of Common Sense

One of my favorite blogs is “A Wealth of Common Sense” run by Ben Carlson.  He writes primarily about investing, but he also veers into other relevant topics like psychology, decision making, etc.  And, sometimes he writes about coaches and sports.

He recognizes where all these different topics intersect.

Here’s an example. In a recent blog post about the new book Pre-suasion by Robert Cialdini, he makes an interesting connection between the decisions an investor makes when deciding to buy or sell a stock and those a coach makes throughout the course of a game or a season.

“Belichick was described as a huge fan of Charlie Munger’s ideas on the power of inversion. Instead of looking for ways to win the game he tries to figure out how not to lose. This is a subtle distinction, yet it can be a useful way to find success. Negative knowledge is a highly overlooked aspect of making better decisions.

It is also worth following Ben Carlson on twitter where he occasionally mentions great coaches in his tweets like this one on Poppovich, one of my favorite coaches.

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Steve Kerr’s Coaching Priorities

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Steve Kerr was recently interviewed at ESPN.com and asked about his coaching priorities for the upcoming season. Specifically he was asked about the record number of wins the Golden State team produced last year and what role that accomplishment played this season.  He acknowledged it had been an important accomplishment the year before, but that the focus has changed for the franchise.

They want to win a championship this season. That takes priority over any regular season records.

What’s the key? Being fresh at the end of the season.

How do you do that? Here are his coaching priorities:

Pace Your Team:  He borrowed from his experience as a player with the Bulls where being the best team year after year wore on them. I remember watching that team, and Kerr as a player, and you could see at times in the middle of the season they were simply managing themselves to get to the end. A full season is a grind.

“We were running on fumes,” Kerr said. “I think the toll was over several years. That’s one of the reasons I think this year we’re going to pace ourselves somewhat … but we’re also better off having the new blood and the new life, because I think it will give us that boost.

“It doesn’t guarantee that were going to be better, but it changes the dynamics a little bit. I think it’ll make things a little fresher, and make it maybe a little easier for us to get through the regular season and get through the grind.”

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Links: “The Reward Changes Their Perception”

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*An interview with author Peter Bevelin who took a year off to read, write and think his way through some important ideas.

“As I wrote in Seeking Wisdom: “If we reward people for doing what they like to do anyway, we sometimes turn what they enjoy doing into work. The reward changes their perception. Instead of doing something because they enjoy doing it, they now do it because they are being paid. The key is what a reward implies. ”

* Following on from a year of learning, here’s a master list of free books you can get on your device.

“They may lack the sensory pleasure of print, but the ability to carry an entire library of classic literature in your pocket has its advantages, to say the least. And if your travels include long drives, you’ll also want to check out our master list of Free Audio Books.

*The cultivation of el liderazgo:

“The great Argentinian coach Carlos Bianchi, who won four Copa Libertadores with Vélez Sarsfield and Boca Juniors, once laid out 10 “unwritten rules” of successful coaching for the magazine Management Deportivo. Not a single one of them referred to on-pitch strategy. For him the most important thing was to cultivate “el liderazgo”. The term literally means “leadership” but for Bianchi it was more than that – it was about developing a cult of personality. It is a strategy at least partially shared by Mourinho and Klopp.”

*How to overcome noise

“We offer this aphorism in summary: Where there is judgment, there is noise—and usually more of it than you think. As a rule, we believe that neither professionals nor their managers can make a good guess about the reliability of their judgments. The only way to get an accurate assessment is to conduct a noise audit. And at least in some cases, the problem will be severe enough to require action.”

Head Coaches: Don’t Wish Time Away

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Start where you are. Use what you have. Do what you can.” –Arthur Ashe

I just discovered Mike Deegan’s email newsletter.  He writes regularly about life lessons from sports and coaching. The particular one that came to my attention, “Seven Things You Should Consider Before Sliding Into the Big Seat,” has to do with the transition from assistant coach to head coach.

The transition is not always an easy one.

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