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Omaha Tar Heels
Scott Werth
Omaha, Nebraska
  From the Shot Doctor  

Saturday, July 31
Why Are Many Athletes Less Coachable Than They Could Be?

Recently I was talking to a head coach for a professional team, and he
lamented how little learning he sees going on with the players in the
league from year to year. There are some exceptions, of course, like
the shooting improvement that players like Magic Johnson and Karl Malone
made in their careers, and Grant Hill and Jason Kidd, too. But the
majority don't seem to improve their skills that much.

He said he can show players what it is they need to do, be it a better
way to pivot or an improved way to shoot, and when he turns his back,
the players have reverted back to old habits. There doesn't seem to be
much motivation to learn in some players at high levels.

I was wondering what the problem is.

I have seen remarkable learning take place with players old and young,
both in basketball and in another sport I coach, golf. I know learning
is natural and achievable by people of any age. But, yes, there has to
be strong motivation because it requires a lot of awareness, patience
and persistence. Old habits are hard to break. I would guess that many
of today's highly paid players don't feel the need to work so hard once
they get their big contracts. Learning takes concentration, attention,
observation ... it takes, in a word, "work."

It's easier and more "fun" to just play around and goof off, rather than
to work at something. Let raw athletic ability take over. But to
people who truly want to develop themselves, learning is discovered to
be extremely enjoyable, to be the "real" fun. One of my mentors came to
the realization that learning and enjoyment could really be looked at as
one word, "learningandenjoyment," they go together so well. From his
experience and mine, when we're learning something, there is incredible
joy and pleasure.

I worked one time with a pro player who could not shoot well. In a
lesson of an hour and a half, he followed my coaching and made
tremendous strides in his shooting. I kept reinforcing what was
happening, making sure he was aware at each point how his shot was
changing and getting more effective. There was even a third party, a
good friend of his, observing and confirming what I was saying about his

The next time I saw him, however, a couple days later, it seemed that
80-90% of what we had, together, developed was gone. He had regressed
back almost totally to where he had been.

Now I wasn't surprised by that. I know from my own experiences in
learning something new in golf that, under pressure, I would almost
always revert to old habits for a time, until gradually the new motion
was learned and trusted. I needed on-going coaching for awhile to help
me truly integrate a new motion. So I expected this player to revert.
It's just part of the package.

But what I didn't expect was that he wouldn't ask for more coaching. He
knew it was my knowledge of shooting that was helping him, and he knew
that my coaching method had helped him integrate the new shot and shoot
so well by the end of that session. But something in his makeup has
prevented him from calling me back in ... so far. (I haven't given up

When I was with him, he was very aware and coachable. That wasn't the
problem, but afterward he didn't take the steps needed to keep the
learning going. As a professional player, we might think that the
ability for him to shoot better would be given high value and priority,
and anyone or anything that could be proven to help in that area would
be desirable.   

It's taken me a long time to learn the value of humility when it comes
to learning. That I don't have all the answers. That I can't figure
everything out for myself. At least not if I want to excel at
something. (Mediocrity can be achieved by anyone on his or her own.)
So I can't judge these players who are reluctant to see it the way I see
it and do not ask for coaching. Something in us wants to take credit
for everything that works and avoid the blame for anything that doesn't.
That same thing wants to be the source for all growth and development,
though we know it's impossible. And that same thing likes things the
way they are, too.

We need coaching to grow, we need teachers and coaches throughout our
lives if we want to master things. To ask for coaching is not a sign of
weakness. It's a sign of wisdom and humility.   It's a necessity for
greatness. But our whole culture is being whipped into the frenzy of
instant success, instant rewards. People who are into training "for the
long run" are few and far between. Most want to achieve quick rewards
or they're off to the next big "thing."

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