Saturday, August 11, 2007

Teacher or Demonstrator?

Many people are dazzled by displays of great strength or endurance. They are amazed at the grace, skill and ease at which a gifted athlete demonstrates their sport or skill. They figure that this person, who can do so much so easily must have the answers to their own weak points, shortcomings and seemingly intractable training issues. They must because they are so good themselves. Sometimes people think that just by being close to this type of gifted person their talent might rub off on them. It makes so much sense, in one way. If someone has risen to great heights they must have some kind of 'inside track' that would allow them to help others also rise to greater levels of performance and skill. Some secret that will set them on the path to greatness. And yet it so rarely works that way.
One of my favorite sayings is "anatomy is destiny' because so much of what we can or cannot do is decided by the way are bodies are put together at the start. For instance if you have T- Rex arms, a long spine and short legs chances are you will not excel in, or like to train the deadlift. Chances also are that squatting and benching will be fun for you. You can take seminars from all the great deadlifters in the world( who you will see are pretty much built like each other), get the greatest coaching and make excellent improvement in your own personal bests but you will probably never be a world champ in that lift.
But people will still flock to the Lamar Gants of the world, trying to find out why he could pull 661 at 132 lbs bodyweight and not realize Lamar himself doesn’t know how he does it. He just can; mainly, because he is built to do so.This is not to say he didn't train his ass off to do so. Genetics is only potential. If that is to be actualized years of hard work and sacrifice must be made.
But he also, chances are, cannot help you increase your lift as he might not have a clue how a short legged, long backed, short armed guy or girl would go about making progress. Many of the most talented individuals are the worst teachers precisely because they never had to learn how to do their skill themselves. They could just 'do it'.
I knew many 'physical geniuses’ who could look at a gymnastics trick and then just do it, on first try. Unfortunately for guys like me who had to try to do it 1000 times before I got it right once they were of no help to me improving my learning curve. And when this natural gets hurt and can no longer demonstrate their skill they will be hard pressed to help others as they haven’t learned the real secrets of growing their way to progress. Yet trying to do that trick 1000 times and then finally succeeding one really has to figure out which shortcuts worked as you basically have to try them all!
Many times the best coaches have not only never been superstars but have not even done the sport themselves! Kurt Thomas's high school and college coaches had NEVER done a second of gymnastics themselves! Yet they both produced champion athletes and teams. How can this be? Well a shortcoming in one area can be compensated for in others, like deep analysis, research, incredible observational skills and a big brain. Many also like to point at peoples athletic 'numbers' as the keystone for their ability as a teacher or a coach as well as their ability to transmit knowledge. Again, sometimes this is the case and sometimes not. Some literally have never had to 'learn' how to do things and have a hard time teaching others what they never had to learn themselves. BUT, they are great demonstrators and can provide an incredible visual as to what it is supposed to look like when done perfectly. At least when done by them.
One of the important distinctions I make between a great demonstrator and a great teacher/coach is by looking at who have they worked with and what have those people accomplished. And I am not only talking about high level performance either. Renowned spine biomechanist Dr Stuart McGill works with only the Elite and the hopeless. Working with motor morons and bringing them up to average is way harder than taking an Elite and making them greater. I have seen too many seminars where the 'teacher' spent all of their time demonstrating perfect form but gave almost no corrections to the flailing students. Some learn well with just visual cues. Others need corrective drills, insightful analysis of their biomechanical or postural limitations and a huge amount of patience .And a specific path to their own improvement.
Many assume that great demonstrators are great teachers but this is not always the case. One key is to look at who this person works with on a regular basis and how far they have come. Winning numbers are great but solid improvement over time is the real measure of success to all but the most competitive among us.A great powerlifter once told me "no matter how strong or weak you are, there is always someone who is stronger and who is weaker. Be concerned about YOUR progress as that’s all you can control." Everyone gets older. Everyone gets injured. The true measure of a great teacher, imo, is not just what their personal ‘numbers' are but what they have done to help others with their numbers.
In my mind, no matter how great an athlete you are, or how amazingly you can demonstrate your skills to your clients/students, it is how well your students do, and not just on the competitive platform as most won't even venture there, that will be the measure of you as a teacher, not just your individual progress or accomplishments.


Geoff Neupert said...

More high quality insights, Rif.

I wonder what prompted this? Hmmm...

Mark Reifkind said...

geoff, thanks man, I will give you a call.

Tim Anderson said...

Yoda, a teacher i want to be.

Mark Reifkind said...

tim san,

you are already well on your way my friend.

AikiBudo said...

Another chapter is posted, I see : ) I think you have a working title now too; 'The beatings Will Continue Until Morale Improves'

Great Stuff, Rif! I remember my first martial arts teacher said anyone one can train the gifted ones, but it takes a good teacher to help the 'motor morons' to develop! So true!

And just because you can do, does not mean you can teach. I wish Universities knew this. A Ph.D or a Gold Medal does not make you an instructor!

Mark Reifkind said...

LOL, thanks Aki, and I think you are right about the title.glad you liked the piece.

Taikei Matsushita said...

From what I saw about you from cert, you made us who we are and let us do what we do best, and pushed us forward when we were about to fall back.

The last person I've known having this kind of attribute led his team to couple of championships, and molded several professional athletes.

Mark Reifkind said...

thank you Takei for those kind words. Can't wait for the first Japanese RKC cert!

Robert said...

Mark, you should get the dragondoor guys to publish this in the next hardstyle (if they are not doing so already). Wise words.