Teaching the “What, Why, and How”

Gary’s description of his instructional strategy “What, Why, and How”.

Competitive athletics are full of successes and setbacks. In youth athletics, setbacks can be disheartening and destroy confidence, sometimes frustrating to the point the child may give up the sport. Many younger athletes (and their parents) are on this “roller coaster ride”.

Here is a list of coaching issues which I feel contribute to this frustration and confusion:

  • Lack of, or incorrect, understanding of fundamental concepts.
  • No clear definition of goals or what the specific athlete is trying to achieve.
  • Confusing terminology.
  • A one size fits all approach to mechanics.
  • Continual and ongoing mechanical changes never allow a comfortable baseline to be gained.
  • Improper focus at practice and at games.
  • Poor inner direction. The young athlete has no idea of how to go about coaching themselves in an effective manner.
  • Uncertainty about how to handle situations when a coach asks the athlete to perform a fundamental in a manner different from what has been effective so far.

My coaching style seeks to overcome these issues by teaching the athlete how they can be their own coach. Knowledge of not only the what to do, but also the why and the how is key.

During my lessons, I discuss in detail the varying strategies used by successful athletes in the specific skill (hitting, pitching, catching, etc). This discussion includes the differing mechanics, movements, and combinations of fundamentals contained within each strategy. When working with students, whether one strategy may be a better fit than another is decided through experimentation. Yes, this takes time, especially when their are numerous options (e.g. choice of stride type, loading of arms and hands, stance type, etc), but the athlete learns concepts and improves dramatically when they have tried different approaches and then chooses the style which works best for them.

If another coach asks the student to make a change, we experiment with the change during the lesson, and talk about if it is a good fit for them. During this process different terminology is compared so an accurate understanding is reached. Through this process of comparing and experimenting, the student gains conceptual knowledge. They grow to understand various options and the why of each option. They are on their way to becoming their own coach.

Additionally, for quick improvement and ultimate success, young athletes must learn how to coach themselves. This is a new idea for most of my students as up to this point most have been solely reliant on the guidance of team coaches or parents. It is crucial the student learn how to observe themselves and make corrections themselves. I ask them to coach themselves during lessons as if I were not present. I want to be confident they know how to practice deliberately and purposefully outside of lesson time. Further, I ask them their dream and help them identify the immediate mini-goals which will help them get closer to achieving their dream.

I constantly quiz my students to test their knowledge. For example, I will ask them to name the pros and cons of executing a specific mechanic, a particular timing adjustment, or a mental approach in a certain way. My finest reward during a lesson is when a student tells me, “Hey coach, I want to show you what I worked on, why I worked on it, and how I worked on it during this last week”. Then completes five A+ executions in a row.

Finally, the student must learn to have faith in their process. Knowing their process will eventually lead to success gives comfort and reduces frustration.

In short, I teach each student the what, why, and how for becoming successful in their skill. My job is to help my students reach a point where they no longer need me. That is, when they become their own coach.