Although this is targeted to coaches, the message should ring true to all of us, whether we are teachers, parents or aspiring entrepreneurs.
One of my many mentors told me long ago, “Scott, if my goal is to teach you everything I know, then I will most certainly fail you.” I will pause a moment and let that sink in….
How many coaches go into new season hoping to teach their student/athletes everything they know about the sport? My guess is that we all hope that they can absorb every ounce of information we feed them. But as my mentor told me, “If all you ever learn is what I know, then what have I really taught you?” Still confused? Hang on…I’m getting there…
As the conversation continued, I gained a greater understanding of his approach to teaching, or mentoring, as he called it. See, he always acted as if he did not know the answer to the questions we asked him. In fact he would commonly respond to each question I asked with a, “Why…? So what?” This response often frustrated me, but it forced me to ask deeper question, and I often had to justify why I was asking the question in the first place. Then he would again respond with a, “So what?”
After several minutes or sometimes hours, we would stumble upon an enlightening theory, or I would have to dig so deep in my line of thinking that I would eventually answer my own question. The brilliant part of this whole process is that he was teaching me how to think. How to draw upon my experiences, process information and come up with a theory. This process of deep learning is the essence of coaching.
It’s one thing to tell a player how to react in a given situation. It is something completely different to lead a player down a line of thinking to where they not only know how to react to that situation, but they also understand why, how, when and under what conditions.
Our goal as coaches (or maybe I should say…mentors) is to put our players in situations where they have to assess the situation, think critically and react efficiently. We should not criticize their actions, but instead ask, “Why did you make that choice? Could you have done something different?” Whether we are talking about assessing the effectiveness of a strength exercise during an in season workout or splitting a double team in a championship game, we should be in a constant state of mentoring this thought process and deep learning.
If we only teach them what we know, then the best that we can hope for is that they turn out just like us. If we teach them how to think for themselves, then they are only limited by the depth of their imagination and desire to succeed.
Success in the teaching and coaching profession is not measured by the wins and losses of a season, but rather by the number of individual success stories your program produces over decades and decades. My hope for all my student/athletes is that they learn to enjoy the pursuit of a goal…that they learn to love the process. I hope that they learn just as much from their failures as they do their successes and that it drives them towards a greater understanding of who they are, and what they hope to become.