Life-Long Learners Need to Learn This

We toss the term life-long learner around as an identity casually and without really identifying what we mean by that term. But life-long learners might need to consider this lesson.

Educate. Resonate. Integrate.

If you can’t explain something to a first year student, then you haven’t really understood.

Richard Feyman

I know I do it. Toss the phrase “life-long learner” around. There’s no harm in it. Little risk of criticism. Who is going to jump at you and say, “that’s terrible, you’re always learning”?  Although, admittedly I get quite a bit of “wow, you read a lot.”

I do, however, think there’s a risk associated with always learning if we also fail to integrate those lessons into our philosophy, system or team environment.  We might confuse those around us by leaning in to something new and shiny all the time without making anything a part of our system.

The challenge is at the point of implementation. We might try too many new things, always shifting and changing or we try to make use of ideas we don’t understand well enough.

Educate. Resonate. Integrate

One example just hit me while reading The Constraints Led Approach: Principles for Sports Coaching and Practice Design.  Really quickly within the book the authors contrast the depth of the constraints led approach to the simple phrase “the game is the best teacher” which has led a few coaches astray while believing they are advocating for the method.

“While we would agree with the philosophical notions of the mantra, it would lead to practitioners developing an overly passive pedagogical approach.”

In other words, it’s not as simple as just roll out the ball and let them play. Yet this would be easy to do if you quickly introduce yourself to the ideas and over-simplify the Constraints Led Approach before jumping off to the next interesting concept.

When we are always implementing new ideas we also might confuse athletes and teams by constantly shifting to new ideas. We land on one thing, then another, as we jump around trying new things like a fly at a family picnic.

In subtle ways this can erode the culture we are working hard to build. You might hear: ” Oh, another new idea.” or “Wait, which way are we going here.” 

We see this in the business world or as professionals all the time don’t we?

Life-Long Learner Be Authentic

Coaches need to be authentic.

As you are learning new information listen for resonance; new ideas that resonate with your personal philosophy and coaching style.

Recently a study was making the rounds online–I posted it too–about the effectiveness of anger at half-time. I mentioned it to a coach who very clearly was not going to employ that technique. Power to the coach. That tool did not fit her style. It would have reduced her effectiveness as a coach to try to use it as a tool.

So, what will get the same result coming out of half-time? That is the question she needs to ask herself.

When engaged in learning why not listen, look for, be open to new ideas, tactics, styles that resonate with your authentic self as a leader or a coach.

There is no one way to get anywhere. Anyone who tells you there is, probably has something very specific to sell you.

Instead there are multiple paths to an intended outcome. You want to find the right path for your journey.

Keep learning–absolutely keep learning–but be discerning. Explore what resonates with your values and your philosophy. Stretch within that framework.


I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something.–Richard Feyman

Because the next thing for the life-long learner is to integrate what you are learning into what you are doing. This can take time and focus.

Sometimes I get too caught in the learning and don’t take enough time to think about how to deepen and integrate the new knowledge into a system that allows it to then resonate with the team. Or creates an environment for learning.

Sometimes I think I am employing a new idea, but realize I’m only doing so in the relatively calm and easy moments. I fall into old habits as we get into the flow of a game or training session.

For example, the approach offered by Timothy Gallwey in The Inner Game of Tennis resonates for me.

His simple principle Performance = Potential – Interference makes complete intellectual sense, but implementation requires more. Coaches can create interference when focused more on teaching (instructing, correcting) than on the athlete’s learning.

I am getting better at not critiquing during play (I think), which can interfere with performance, but I am still working on my habit to praise and its unintended effect on an athlete during performance.

Here’s Gallwey in the book:

Although semantically this remark was simply an observation of fact,
my tone of voice revealed that I was pleased with what I saw. I was
complimenting them, and indirectly I was complimenting myself as theirinstructor.
To my surprise, the girl who was due to hit next said, “Oh, you
would have to say that just before my turn!”

I’m practicing this now. And, it does take practice, feedback, reflection and more practice.

My point is, you can’t do it all at once. And, you can’t keep introducing all your new ideas without giving others, like your staff and team, time to make it their own too.

Or, without giving yourself time to make it authentically yours.

So, I think now in terms of educate–resonate–integrate.

educate resonate integrate