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Learning How To Learn


Learning How To Learn- Being Coachable

Learning How To Learn- Being Coachable


The very best way to learn is to get regular feedback from a coach who will tell you accurately about very specific errors and then pat you on the back when you correct each one. Complex feedback is totally useless and incomprehensible to most students. That doesn’t mean you’re stupid. It means your instructor doesn’t know how to teach you. It’s easy to single out those coaches. They’re testy and irritable when you’re just “not getting it”. Of course, you don’t understand what he wants because you don’t know what he’s saying. Corrections should be simple. You should be able to think about the correction during your next attempt. For example, you might be asked to keep your elbow close to your body or keep your head steady so that it doesn’t “jerk up” on impact when you hit a tennis ball. Those are cues you can actually think about while you’re performing a skill. As each one of these corrections sticks, it becomes incorporated into your motor program. These corrections may be visual, where your instructor will show you your error and then show you the right way. Or your instructor may tell you to try for a certain “feel”. Cues help most where the instructor tells you to move a hand, elbow, shoulder, hip, or other body part in a specific way. You try to follow the cue, and the instructor then imitates you error, demonstrates the correct technique, and then gives you cues to perform the skill the correct way yourself.


With each subtle change, you get better. You’ll become eager for error correction, knowing it’s the best way to learn rather than a mark of humiliation. Make certain you fully understand the correction. If you don’t know what you’ve done, there is no learning. It’s only with a “knowledge of your performance” that you will improve, That’s why lots of people think they can never get better. They don’t want the constant criticism of a spouse or friend or coach who points out their errors, so the don’t listen. They don’t want to be “bugged”, don’t like instructors, and so never improve. Learning takes place quickly and will really stick if you get good error correction. It is the very essence of learning. I view a good learning experience as better than psychotherapy. A psychotherapist might convince you that you’re okay when you’re really a mess. After a coaching session, you really are better than you were before! How many psychiatrists can claim the kind of success after an hour of psychotherapy?


Good students of learning don’t just like feedback, they love it. They’ll be motivated to try harder. So much so that it’s sometimes pretty hard to get away from a coach and play on your own. That’s why I think it’s critical to develop the next step, your own internal sense of reward for what you do.


Trial and error really is the best way to learn. Get an idea of what you want to do. Do it. Then learn from errors you’ve made. Those errors won’t be hard to see. Even professional athletes make large, easy-to-see errors. Curiously, those who make big errors and have them corrected may have much better long-term learning than those who perform a skill right off the bat, because they are more likely to forger it and be unable to perform it in the future. So, if you’ve tried long and hard to water-start a windsurfer in big seas, when you’ve finally got it, you’ve got it forever. Twenty years from now, you could head beck out and do it again. Correcting big errors is the best way to set skills in stone. Without error correction, you’ll learn nothing.

If you think you’re setting yourself up for getting criticized, that’s not what error correction is about. Good error correction motivates students to practice longer, harder and better. It also reinforces why you’ve done right.


Learning doesn’t have to take very long at all if you can really connect with your coach or instructor. From the first minutes of a lesson, you should be able to implement each suggestion the coach makes and then refine it through error correction.


Instructors who are heavily critical and too caught up in their own glory are generally useless. Coaches first need to motivate. That means conveying a really positive attitude.


An instructor shouldn’t be judged on how will he plays, but on how will he gets you to play. Judge a teacher by his product. I’ve never seen  the famous tennis coach Nick Bollettieri play a game, but he has produced Andre Agassi and a swarm of hot new prospects. He and his staff endlessly and selflessly think about the game, think about why the pros hit the ball a certain way, and think about how to get off-the-street students to follow suit.


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