Blog Post #23 – Those who can teach……

How long has it been since you walked in the learners/athletes shoes? What was it like to be a beginner? As we get older we may take the small details for granted or we might realize that it is in the details where mastery is had? There’s a lot of technical wrestling information out there in the internet these days and as they say, “A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing.” Einstein was said to be a terrible teacher and lacked an ability to relate information to his students. There is no doubt he had a ton of information. He could “do” but he couldn’t teach. In a week I start my 33rd year of teaching and 34th as a coach and looking ahead I am starting to plan for the year and how I’m going to constructively put to use the information I learned this summer.
Wrestling was hard for me but was science hard for Einstein? Our training experience as students in our respective fields was very different. I’ve written similarly about philosophy in the past and how we are influenced by who we were taught by, our coaches, parents and teachers. It is also true that how we developed and what kind learner, athlete we were effects how we coach/teach. Einstein was a prodigy who created and I was an overachiever who struggled as a learner. A compelling question though is does the prodigy make for a good instructor? Would World Champion Frank Chamizo make a good high school coach? We would all love to get in a room a try to break some stuff down with him but he can “do” what so few can and just because you can “do” doesn’t mean you can teach. Let’s face it that might be a tough comparison because he is not training to be a coach he is training to be a World Champion but the line of thought does lead us to the question of what makes for a good coach/teacher?
Communication of course is key to any form of coaching/teaching. There are however other very relevant aspects to coaching/teaching that leads to success. Coaching is not necessarily what Mike Mal does with his great “Behind the Dirt” segments on Flowresting.  It’s great information, a source of detail and food for thought but it’s the equivalent of a series of vocabulary definitions without sentence structure, grammar, voice and all the other ingredients that make for good writing. I will admit though that Mike does a good job disseminating the information and is a good teacher. But what I’m talking about here is the bigger picture. I have a number of technique books and DVD’s on wrestling technique but it is not what will make me a great coach/teacher. Teaching writing is not a series of definitions without context and so too is teaching wrestling a series of moves without a structure. Holistic approach is key here, seeing the big picture. This is especially true when working with a team of beginners, high school kids of varying abilities or a youth team. As coaches/teachers we assess where everyone is at in their development and determine the path that best meets the needs of that specific group. I have 65 to 70 kids on my high school team and to think we are going go in without a plan or to just focus on a series of cool ass technique that I picked up watching the word championships this fall would be negligent. Here I think is at the crux of this discussion: technique is just one facet of the greater picture and how that technique best fits into the daily structure of the overall program and the skillset to put it all together is what makes a coach/teacher great. Every great high school coach I’ve ever been around had a system. If you ever get a chance ask Jim Jackson formerly of Apple Valley or Jeff Buxton formerly of Blair if they had a system.  I know they had a defined picture in their brain how each day, week, season respectively would look. Beyond that they knew intimately how it all fit together who would benefit from what and what the weaknesses and strengths of each team were. It’s never a grab bag approach or doing something just because you saw Jordan Burroughs or Kyle Snyder do it. Sure you can learn a lot from the Einstein’s of the world but the art of coaching/teaching is much more involved. As coaches we need to get deep into our philosophy and why we do what we do before throwing out Chamizo’s single leg defense. The conversation we need to have with ourselves is about practice structure, economy of time, basics and fundamentals, individualization versus teaching to the team, assistant coaches and their roles, percentage of time spent in each phase, drilling, sparring, live, how all this dirge of technique fits into the program and on and on. What are you going to focus on the first week of practice and why? Who are you going to target your practice plan toward; the best in the room, the middle or the lowest. What is good teaching? Is good teaching throwing as much technique at the wall and see what sticks or does all the technique fit into a framework and than at some point it becomes individualized to meet the needs of a specific athlete? Also, there are other aspects that must be addressed like “fun” and as the coach/teacher if we do not make it fun I guarantee the athlete is probably not going to stick for the long haul. It also makes sense that learning anew and building on your knowledge base is industrious and enjoyable as both an athlete and a coach/teacher. When we learn we feel like we are getting better and it gives even the worst wrestler in the room hope for success.

I truly enjoy the Mike Mal stuff on Flowrestling but I’m also crazy enough to enjoy breaking down film on a Sunday morning for four hours. This doesn’t make me a great coach but it does serve to get me closer to what the Einstein’s of the world were thinking.Young coaches and parents make sure that you are using this very resourceful tool in the best interests of your program and kids. There is a foundation to be built and a system to be developed that will be enhanced by the great expanse of information available to us.  As coaches/teachers we need to be pragmatic with this information and use it to best meet the needs of our athletes and that in encompasses the entirety of our program.