Friday, April 06, 2012

Coaching, Continued

I was talking to a friend last week about coaching. He is no longer in the business, but was a tennis coach for many years. I told him that I essentially just practice with the kids I work with and any coaching I do is incidental. I talk tennis with my tennis "students" just like I talk tennis with all my tennis friends. We discuss different ways to play, ways to hit the ball, what it feels like to compete, that sort of thing. I'm a tennis friend who happens to be pretty good still and has been through some of what they've been through. I don't consciously teach them, especially when it comes to how to hit the ball since most of them are in their teens and past the optimal stroke-development window.

That's a long preamble to what my friend said that struck me as b.s. He said that a player who was coached would improve twice as fast as someone who was not coached. He couldn't possibly have any basis in theory or practice that could back up such a statement. Why not twenty-five or fifty percent as fast? Why not ten times or one hundred or a thousand times as fast? Why twice as fast? That surely had to be made up.

As I've probably mentioned on this blog before, I'm not sure that in aggregate, in tennis, at least, that coaching doesn't retard development. If coaching can have an effect, we must accept that the effect could be negative. From what I've seen of tennis coaching over the past thirty years, I'd wager that the net effect has been negative, but that's a different post.

I'd like to assume that coaching can help, but that coaching needn't come from paid coaches. I think players can coach each other. I propose that players in most games learn from each other. I'm thinking about the modern games like video games or X-games stuff like skateboarding, snowboarding, etc. What about frisbee? Who coached people to toss frisbees?

Humans don't learn in vacuums. The choice isn't between coaching/teaching and having to discover something in isolation. Humans seek out other humans and learn from them. They watch, they experiment, they listen, they ask questions, they explore. Coaches can be part of this. But the main ingredient in improvement in anything is the desire to improve, the desire to experiment, the desire to try and fail and try and succeed. And to repeat this process over and over and over and over until normal people have moved on to something else.

So long as the environment provides adequate feedback, it's the person who fanatically practices whatever skill he wants to master who will succeed. Part of that fanaticism will frequently lead a person to seek out examples of how to do it better.

Some rare people will discover ways to do things that are better than anyone has every done something in the past. You can't coach something that hasn't happened before.

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