Young Coaches: Asking Questions Is A Good Thing
One of the things I have been most fortunate in throughout my coaching career has been exposure to other knowledgeable, successful coaches. They are the kind of people who have accomplished enough that you’d be tempted to think they have all the answers.
Yet if there is one core characteristic they all share it’s that they are always hungry to learn more. No matter what success they may have achieved, or helped the players they work with achieve, they’re always on the hunt for more information.
They’ll talk to anyone, or read any article or watch any video or attend any lecture if they think it might help them become a better coach. If they find a better way to do something than what they’ve been teaching, they will change how they teach.
There is a very important lesson here for young coaches – especially those who are still in college or who have just graduated. All too often, I see and here about young coaches basically repeating whatever they have been told as players rather than doing the heavy lifting to learn what the latest state of the game is.
I get it. These coaches were successful as players, so why wouldn’t what they did work for those who are coming up?
Except that a lot of times these players succeeded in spite of what they were taught. If you look at videos of them as players, they didn’t do anything like what they are now repeating. Instead, their bodies naturally found the most efficient way to throw, hit, pitch, etc. a ball.
So why wouldn’t they want to question what they were taught to see if there is a better way?
That’s a question I’ve always wondered. But I actually heard a good answer from Anna Miller Nickel, an excellent pitching coach and former D1 and pro pitcher herself. (For more from Anna, you can follow her on Instagram at ElevatePitching.)
“In college, you’re coming into a new programs and trying to learn the ropes,” Anna said. “You are working on fitting into the program and aren’t really questioning what your coaches are instructing you to do.
“Each coach has a certain philosophy and for a team to succeed, everyone needs to buy in. After your career is over, you realize how much you still have to learn and may not know where to start. The amount I’ve learned after I stopped playing makes me wish I could go back and have asked better questions.”
That is fascinating to me. I would think coaches would want to encourage players to ask questions, because if you’re asking questions you’re engaged.
But that’s not always the case. Often coaches say and players do as a matter of efficiency, so there really isn’t a mindset of wondering why they’re being told to do things a certain way, or whether what they’ve always been told is the best way to do things.
This is an important mentality for you young coaches to break. The reality is questioning what you were taught, and even comparing it closely to what you actually do, is critical if you are going to improve as a coach do right by your players.
That’s what Anna told me she did. When she got out of school and started coaching, she started with the basics as they were taught to her when she was young.
But the more she thought about it, and looked into it, the more they didn’t make sense. She sought out help, did the heavy lifting to learn, and changed many of the things she was doing.
You young coaches can do the same. Don’t take it for granted that what you’ve been told in the past is correct, or even good mechanics.
Take what you’ve been told and compare it to what they best players in the world at a given position do. If the two don’t line up, there is probably a better way to do things than what you were taught.
Also, don’t be afraid to get involved in different groups and to seek out information from coaches who are respected for their knowledge of the game or various aspects of it. I have found that most good coaches are more than happy to share what they know because they didn’t get to that point by themselves either.
Find a mentor or mentors with whom you feel comfortable asking their advice or bouncing ideas off of. I’m certainly willing to help anyone who is interested, and I know there are many coaches out there who feel the same.
The sooner you get past the “don’t ask questions” or “just repeat what I was told” mindset and really start putting your brain to work, the sooner you will achieve success -and the faster you will move up the ranks.
To close this one out, I will share a great parable about the need to understand why you’re doing something:
Take five monkeys, put them in a cage where there is a staircase, and at the top of the staircase hang a banana. Every time one of the monkeys starts to climb the staircase to get the banana, spray them all with icy cold water.
Pretty soon, any time the monkeys see one of their number starting to climb the staircase they will jump on him and beat him up to avoid getting sprayed with water. At that point you stop spraying them with water.
Once that’s established, remove one of the monkeys and replace him with a new one. That one doesn’t know about the water and will start to go for the banana, but the others will grab him. Pretty soon, the new monkey will also grab any monkey that tries to go up the staircase.
Continue to replace the monkeys one-by-one until none of the original monkeys are left. You will see that they will still grab and beat up any monkey that tries to climb the staircase – even though none of them have ever been sprayed with water or know why climbing the stairs is bad.
They’re not sure why they’re doing it. That’s just the way things are done around here.
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