The roles that everybody have in my sport, we say two things I think that are important. One, we’d like our athletes to be good at all the skills but great at one or two. If we let them do everything, we don’t specialize them early, that’s a big problem in this country right now. Parents are saying they’re either this sport only, instead of letting them do a lot of different sports and saying, “No, my daughter is this.” I mean, I have little 12 year olds that go, “I’m a setter.” I go, “Great. Well, you’ll be a better setter if you learn how to hit.” “No, I’m a setter.” No, we want you to do all the skills because that makes you better at the skill that you know on this team.
I think another thing is we should start with this base that I’m not expecting you to make mistakes on purpose. And since you’re not, when you error, it’s just part of learning. Failure is part of learning. I think a story that I like to tell a lot of people as they coach and as they’re athletes, how did you learn to ride a bike? Did your parents hire a bike-riding coach? Kids die learning how to ride a bike. They don’t die learning to play volleyball that I’ve ever found.
But did your parents hire bike-riding coach? Oh, they didn’t. Well, did they do any bike-riding drills? Oh, They didn’t. Did they send it a bike-riding summer camp? No. Did they do bike-riding pieces, like progressions, to put it all… No. Then how’d you learn to ride a bike? Well, your parents put you on and held you for a little while and let you go for a little while. And whenever you crashed, they came and said, “What are you crashing for?” No, they didn’t. They came up and said, “Are you okay?” Because failure’s part of learning. And that’s part of what I think a growth-mindset athlete in program needs to understand is that when you make a mistake, they’re simply opportunities to improve. They are not something that I believe you ever do on purpose, therefore my job is to guide your discovery.
When we talk about coaching, most coaches have had coaches that tell you what to do. That’s called explicit learning, and it’s the worst learn and the worst learn by being remembered and the worst way to problem solve new stuff. The best way you learn is this bike-riding example. You learned it all on your own. I mean, there were no bike-riding drills. You just rode a bike in different ways until you could ride. Some of the unicyclist and some of the mountain bikers, the things they do… Danny MacAskill. It’s like, whoa. But he trusts himself and trusts his bike from what he learned implicitly.
Well, take any sport that a coach or parent might be helping their kid with here, and it could take a long time to learn it implicitly. So our role as parent or coach for an athlete is to be this person that guides their discovery. I have the wisdom of what is probably a good thing to happen, and I ask questions to guide them to discover it themselves. That’s because the best learned and the best retained and remembered in everything and created problem solving for new things comes when they figure it out themselves.
So how long has it been since you’ve ridden a bike? For some people listening it might be 10 years. Get on the bike and what happens? You wobble one or two strokes, and boom, you take off. Why? Because it was implicitly learned, not told to you what to do. We need to fill this role of guided discovery as parents to just ask questions until the kid goes, “Oh, well then maybe I should…” And you go, “You got it.” That’s the best way to learn.