Focus on Learning, Not Teaching

LearningIn 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.

“Inspiring self trust.”

This is huge! The coach can play a role in helping athletes to trust themselves.  Each athlete has more potential than she gives herself credit for, and each athlete interferes with her own potential far more than she realizes.

Often this is just a result of her thinking.

What if as coaches we did not contribute to this interference? What if we created an environment in which athletes could reach their potential?

The book is a wonderful read to explore these ideas and questions.  I’ll write more about each of these when I review the book next week.