Monday, September 21, 2015

Don't be afraid to fail

The noon class takes on a new challenge: double kettlebell swings.
Mediocre athletes that tried like hell to get good are the best coaches.
- Mark Rippetoe

Most coaches and trainers you meet are natural athletes. They are drawn to coaching because they love movement and sports, and these are things that come fairly easily to them. This would seem to be a good thing - you want a coach who moves well, of course! But two different problems can arise from this.

At one end of the spectrum are the coaches who are too hands-off. They never had to wade through a million cues and attempts because they just got it right on an early try. They have no clue how to correct form, so they just let everything slide, figuring people will either get it or they won't. This is a problem because when a coach is present, people assume they're doing things correctly unless they're told differently. Very few people will carefully watch and compare form and evaluate themselves and make appropriate corrections. This is what a coach is for! I really believe that no one is hopeless - everyone can work toward better form. Different cues work for different people. Letting bad form slide (which I have seen at many different gyms) just sets the standards low, risks injury, and keeps people from reaching their potential.

At the other end of the spectrum are the coaches who correct too aggressively, who get frustrated and angry when other people can't learn from the one or two cues they know to give. As with the hands-off coach, the source of the problem is that a natural athlete hasn't struggled to learn the movements and so has little insight into the learning process. I have personally experienced this kind of coaching, and it is frustrating for both the coach and the athlete. Worse, the athlete ends up being intimidated and afraid to fail. That is a major problem in the gym. We learn by failing, by bailing in a heavy squat, by missing a heavy lift, by falling over when we try to go upside-down, by going for something and missing.

Now I am not a natural athlete. Almost nothing came easily to me. My disastrous attempts at playing sports as a kid led to the advice that I should probably stick to my music and my books. But I rediscovered movement and training as an adult, I fought through my difficulties, and I learned a lot. (I am still learning, of course.) Maybe it's because of my struggles that I am so tuned into these two coaching pitfalls. I always try to coach with constructive criticism and empathy. I won't let bad form slide. I can't, it hurts me! I know you can do better, no matter who you are, even if it takes lots of time and lots of failures. But my criticism is not a criticism of you as a person. I know the struggle of learning a difficult movement, and I am right there with you. When you come into the gym, you are not being graded. A difficult day is a good thing because it is just part of the learning process. We all need to be comfortable with failure. Come into the gym ready to work and embrace the struggle that is the learning process. I won't give up on you.
Press 5-5-5
Push press 3-3-3
Jerk 1-1-1