Learning is Consensual (Ep. 6 Transcript and Show Notes)

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Strong Athletic Podcast Episode 6: Learning is Consensual

Nadia Kean (show host)

I was coaching a clinic that I hold called Camp Elite in Eugene, Oregon. At some point while I was coaching I started to notice the body language and the look on the face of this one skater. They just looked like they were bored out of their mind. So, (laughs) I started to get distracted watching them, and they were just, like, looking down at the ground. They didn’t really look engaged, and it’s funny how you can be coaching 50 people and half of them are shaking their head, “Yes”, and they’re like “Oh yeah, that’s a good idea.” But, if one person looks like their angry or pissed, distracted annoyed or just disinterested you get hung up on that person. This is definitely a coaching rookie mistake, but I did this.

I reminded myself, “You know, you can’t win them all,” and I kept on coaching.

At the end of the session, this skater comes up, and she says, “Hey! I just wanted to tell you that was such a good session. I learned so much and I really appreciate how you took the time to talk to us and explain things to us.” So, I was pretty surprised, because like I said, I thought she was really disinterested, bored out of her mind and pretty disgruntled.

She’s holding this apple in her hand and she asked me, “Have you ever seen someone split an apple apart just using their hand?” And I hadn’t so I told her that. Then she proceeded to split an apple apart with one hand, and then (laughs) she was like, “Alright, you want half the apple?” I did, so I took it and that was that.

Music Intro by the Little Bicycles

Kean: Hello and welcome to the Strong Athletic Podcast! This is your host Nadia Kean. I am the host of this podcast and also the owner of Strong Athletic, the t-shirt company. This is Episode 6, Learning is Consensual.

So, if this is your first time listening to the

Strong Athletic Podcast, I’d like to welcome you. Welcome! Thank you so much for listening to this podcast. And if this is your sixth time listening to the Strong Athletic Podcast, I’d like to welcome you back. In this podcast we talk about why people get into sports, why they choose to leave sports and why they stay (in) sports. We also examine the methods for coaches and athletes to learn how to communicate more effectively and that’s because we want learning to take place faster and we also want it to be more productive and more enjoyable.

Now, I started this podcast because I was looking for a resource like this podcast to help me get better at coaching and I just couldn’t find it. So I decided if I couldn’t find the exact thing that I wanted I would just create it for myself. Now, sometime while I was designing the show notes and creating the content I realized that there really weren’t resources for athletes to learn how to get better at being coached. Or to learn how to communicate with their coach better or ask for what they want or tell coaches what they don’t want, etc. So, I decided it’d be pretty rad if this show had a counterpart where we also made content for athletes, and so, that’s exactly what the Strong Athletic Podcast does.

I think that a lot of time in sports there’s a lot of missed opportunity, and usually missed opportunity comes in the form of underperformance. And, on occasion, underperformance is caused by a, like uh (thinking of the right word)... a miscommunication between a coach and an athlete. I want to avoid these types of underperformances because when you’re really performing at your peak in sport, it’s exhilarating and it feels wonderful when you you’re finally getting out of it what you’ve put into it. Also, sometimes underperformance is not the worst thing that happens. Sometimes athletes or coaches leave sport and so I really want to avoid that because I want to help to keep people in sport.

Now, you might wonder why I’m obsessed with sport. First I have to say that I’m not a sports fanatic. For instance, the Houston Astros were just in the World Series and I didn’t watch a single game, and yes I am a Texan. (laughs) I don’t really pay attention to football, basketball, gymnastics, hockey, it’s not that I just want to just spend all of my time watching sport. I have made a life in sports , and more specifically in coaching and also through Strong Athletic. So, here’s the thing. In today’s world, so many people are wanting to draw a massive line in the dirt and say that you’re either on this side of the line or you’re on that side. And if you’re with me, you believe everything that I believe. You agree with me completely and you are just like me and if you don’t then go to the other side of the line, we are different.

I find these differences that we are creating in the world alarming and I also think that they are harmful for us. In this world where people are finding so many differences between themselves and the person next to them, I think that sport is actually something where I don’t have to know somebody and I can pick up a ball and start playing a sport with them and then I’ll get to know them through that. Actually yesterday, I was playing pickleball with some friends of mine. One of my former teammates from the Texas Rollergirls Pollygon has (laughs) taken up pickleball. She’s gotten us into it and so we were playing pickleball and in fact somebody brought a friend with them with this guy, we didn’t know him at all. By the time we were done playing pickleball we knew that he was a lawyer, he was named after a Jewish name and his parents are from Connecticut. Like, we learned all this stuff, and it was simply because we decided to play the same random sport that we’re all really bad at on a Sunday afternoon.

My obsession with sport, I just love how it brings people together and this is just one instance of how it does that. But think about all of the billions of humans on this earth and the thousands of sports, if we just use these middle ground, these platforms to unify us in ways that our culture, or our religion, or our language, or our country of origin will not bring us together, then I think that that is actually very, very powerful. This is what the Strong Athletic Podcast hopes to do. It hopes to help people within sport have a better method of communication.

We’re about to get into the content for today, however some of you have never listened to the Strong Athletic Podcast before, so I just want to tell you how it goes. If I were coaching you in person, I would give you a lot of time to think quietly by yourself, or talk to the people around you about the content that I am giving you. I like to be an interactive coach and that is because I am very hard to keep focused. So, if you were teaching me, and you were just speaking for long periods of times, you would really need to be engaging or the content would be really stimulating to me to follow along and listen to every single thing that you were saying. I assume that this is true about a lot of humans, and because of that, I coach in a way that is trying to keep you engaged. In podcast episodes to come, we’re actually going to teach you how to be a more engaging coach, especially when you have quite content heavy material that you have to teach people. In my podcasts you might be sitting in a room by yourself, you might be with your teammates, you might be in your car, you might be running, (laughs) there are all sorts of things you could be doing, and so I’m going to do my best to keep you engaged, even if you don’t have somebody next to you that you can speak to.

Some people have Strong Athletic Podcast Journals, and I think this is so awesome and I’ve seen some photos of them. There was one with, I guess, cats riding unicorns, that was pretty epic. Y’all have your journals and you keep your notes in there, and you’re going to do that today, however if you’re doing something where you don’t want to stop and write down information or your thoughts and ideas, that’s fine, but I am going to encourage you to pause the show at times and think about what I am asking you to... (thinking as she’s speaking)... just engage in. To think about content and think about things for yourself before I tell you about my ideas.

I actually do this quite often when I listen to podcasts, or when I’m reading. I do this a lot when I go to shows. I was just at Sleater Kinney the other night and the music that they were playing and what they were speaking about made me feel so intellectually engaged that I had to leave the show (laughs) ‘cause I just wanted to go and think about what I’d heard and thought about.

So, lucky for you, you don’t have to leave a good show, you can just hit pause, and then when you’re ready, you can come back and listen.

We’re about to move on, but before we do, I want to give a shoutout for Rule FiftySix. Rule FiftySix is a company based in the UK and they provide coaching for coaches, which is awesome. They have a summit coming up, it’s called the Derby Stance Coaching Summit and it’s the weekend of November 22nd through the 24th. It is this massive online summit, so you don’t have to go any place, you can just do it from the comfort of your house, or your favorite coffee shop or wherever, and you get to essentially go to all of these workshops and classes for coaches by coaches. If you’re interested I think it’s an invaluable resource and it’s actually why I’m participating in it as one of the coaches. You should go to Rulefiftysix.com, and that is all spelled out, no numbers, and you should look up the coaching summit and see if it’s a good fit for you, your coaching staff, the trainers on your team. It’s a really good resource to learn more about how to coach.

Okay, so we’re going to continue moving forward and in today’s podcast, like I said, we’re going to discuss three concepts.

Concept Number One is that sometimes you can’t tell, but learning is actually taking place. For the last five years, I’ve been studying Capoeira. Capoeira is a Brazilian Martial Art. It’s a really, really great sport, a great thing to do and I actually started it so that I could utilize it for roller derby. There’s a lot to think about and you do everything to the left and the right so you never develop a stronger side. Also, sometimes you’re singing, sometimes you’re clapping while doing all of this and you really have to pay attention because Capoeira is meant to be a martial art, so… you know… if you’re not focusing you could actually get kicked in the face or kicked in the ribs and it could potentially hurt.

I love Capoeira. It is so much fun. Generally I feel like I’m not learning anything, but then suddenly it clicks and it feels amazing. I’ll go for weeks trying something and then my Instructor might say something in a different way, or I might approach a skill a little bit at a different angle, and then it clicks. I bet you’ve had this happen to you before in the sport that you’re in or a new sport that you’re trying out.

This reminds me of babies learning how to turn over on their own or learning how to push themselves up and crawl, or learning how to stand up or walk. If you’re a parent or you’re a sibling, and you’ve seen this happen, it’s quite phenomenal. And it’s (laughs) really rad, like, I don’t remember the process of learning how to crawl, or stand up, or walk, but I did. My mom never gave me a “how-to” manual and my sister, she never gave me any quick tips on walking, but you know, you’re inquisitive, you’re a child, you’re curious, you want to see what’s in the other room, you have the necessity to move. Eventually you start to do things that nobody has taught you how to do. It’s quite intriguing. If babies can learn how to crawl without instruction, then that is evidence that sometimes learning is taking place without the aid of instruction or without us seeing it or realizing it.

Concept Number Two, ties into that, and it’s that learning is consensual and this is actually something that my wife Carla said to me once. She just said those words basically, “Learning has to be consensual.” A couple of days ago I coached a session for about 10 rowers, and before I coached them I asked them questions and basically asked them for consent to coach. As a coach, you have to be perceptive in that even though you have a concept that you want to share with people, they might not want to learn it from you.

Now, there’s a fine art to knowing when someone wants coaching. It’s kind of like this subtle movement in their eyes, what their breathing is like, what their body language is, you need to decipher their facial features and the tones in their voices. (pause) Just joking!!!!!!! (laughs) That would be way to complicated. No, you don’t have to be that skilled at reading people. All that you have to do is simply ask them, “Would you like coaching?” and then they say back to you, “Yes, I’d love coaching,” and then you say, “Great! This is what I’d like to coach you on.” Or, you say, “Would you like coaching?” and they say, “No,” and then you say, “Okay, I’ll be around if you do.”

Now, some of you might not be able to fathom this, that the athlete gets to play a role in deciding if they get coached or not, but here’s the deal: just because you have something to say, doesn’t mean that somebody wants to learn from you. Also, just because you are speaking, doesn’t mean that somebody is actually listening. There are a lot of times when you are coaching and you are under the impression that learning is taking place, but it’s not. In later episodes, we’re going to be speaking about something called “Indicators.” Indicators are the athlete giving you information about if they’re learning or not and this is good for you to know about because sometimes we’re speaking to them and we’re thinking, “Of course they should be learning,” but they’re not, and we don’t know why and we don’t have the right tools for it, and so I’m going to be teaching you about that later.

First, I want you to think about what you can do as a coach to ensure that the athletes that you’re working with will want coaching from you, and then when you’re ready, go ahead and hit play and you can hear my list.

Okay, so the factors that I’ve come up with, I have four.

Be trustworthy. Most people don’t want to learn from somebody that they don’t trust.

Have respect for the athletes, most athletes can tell if you respect them or you don’t respect them. Most athletes don’t want to learn from someone that they don’t respect or they think does not respect them.

You want to have multiple ways to say something. So, sometimes, we’re just unfortunately repeating a confusing statement to an athlete. They don’t understand what we’re trying to say. They’re not learning and if you just keep on repeating the same words, it becomes frustrating.

And then, the fourth factor that I have, is, start to try to learn what the correct amount of information is. We’re going to talk about this a lot in episodes to come, we’ve already spoken about it in previous episodes. But, it’s like, what is too much coaching and what is not enough coaching.

So, if there are factors that you can control, if athletes are going to want coaching from you, then there are obviously factors that you can’t control. Take a moment to think about factors that you can’t control, and then I’ll tell you the list of factors that I came up with.

So, things that you can’t control. So, some people, myself included, sometimes we just want time to ourselves to fumble and make mistakes with a concept before we’re coached on how to improve it. It’s interesting as a coach, it’s hard for us to step outside of our own knowledge-base.

In the sports that I coach, I know them so well, I no longer remember what was confusing, or what was hard to understand at first, and this is what’s going on for athletes. For example, in Capoeira, you need to keep your eye on your opponent or the person that you’re playing against. But sometimes, for the new Capoeira person, they don’t even know where their opponent would be, so they don’t even know where to look. But, an Instructor, who’s been doing it for so long, for that person, it’s obvious to them.

Say that you’re doing Capoeira with me, and all that you need to focus on is which direction you need to point your foot, but your Capoeira Instructor is telling you which direction you need to look; focusing on both of those things at one time might be overwhelming to you, or a burden to you. Maybe you might just be okay with looking in the wrong spot, if you’re able to point your foot in the right direction. Remember (coaches) you can’t control that factor, that’s how that one individual athlete thinks they might learn best, so, you don’t have any control over that.

Sometimes people just don’t mind making mistakes. In that example, the athlete wouldn’t mind making a mistake with where they’re looking because they’re just hyper focused on where their foot is pointing. Other times you might be working with athletes who are blissfully unaware or aware that they are making mistakes and they really don’t care. In that case, a lot of times those athletes don’t really come to you for coaching. However, say that you coach a team and you have a handful of people who are there to simply do the sport, not necessarily get great at the sport, then that might be an instance where they simply don’t really want coaching and you’re going to have to be cool with that.

And then, also, sometimes people just won’t like you. (laughs) You might think that you’re the most charming, nice person on earth. That you are so approachable, that you’re just such a good coach, and that could all just be true, and someone might just not like you. There’s probably somebody in your life that you just don’t like and you don’t have a good reason for it. But, instinctively, somewhere, in the back of your brain, their just not your type of person. On occasion, you’re going to have athletes that just don’t like you. If they don’t like you, they probably don’t want coaching from you, and you can’t do anything about that.

Now, there’s a chance though that you coach a team of athletes and you need them all to be doing the same thing and when that person doesn’t want coaching from you, it’s actually hurting the whole team. If this is the case, we’re going to file that under a different situation. But, for the most part, probably you won’t have to deal with this very often because, say that somebody doesn’t like you, they’re probably not going to hire you for private sessions. Or, you know, they’re not going to find themselves in a situation in which you have to coach them. But, on occasion they might, and I have been on a few teams where I just didn’t like the coach, and I didn’t really want coaching from them, but I did listen to what they had to say, especially if I thought they were skilled at what they were doing, but other people, they might not have that rational.

Now, say that after this podcast, you get a lot out of it. Or, you’re listening to this podcast with the athletes that you coach and everybody’s really into these ideas and you want to incorporate them, first, that’s great. (laughs) Now, how can you come up with a way to enhance communication between the coaches and the athletes so that people… it becomes, like, threaded into your culture that coaching is consensual? I’ve come up with a list of ways to communicate this, and a way for athletes and coaches to communicate. I want you to come up with your own list. When you’re ready, just hit play and come back to the podcast. (you can hear someone else’s voice in the background).

Okay, so here is my list and I came up with five things and they are pretty straight forward. Sometimes it’s hard or embarrassing to be straightforward, especially if you don’t come from that type of culture. But, um, here’s my list.

First, just ask athletes if they want coaching.

Um, also, ahead of time, let athletes know that it’s okay to say no, that they don’t want coaching and also that you’re not going to be offended by it. Remember, it has nothing to do with you, for the most part, it has something to do with their brain and how they’re thinking.

Let athletes know that on occasion you’ll need to coach them anyway, that it’s justifiable, even if they don’t want your feedback. This is going to come (up) a lot of times when you’re on a team. Maybe the concept is strategic and you need to tell an athlete, “It looks like you don’t understand this and we need to incorporate you into it because it’s important for the play.” Something like that.

When coaching, ask athletes if they want more information. Sometimes we have five concepts that we want to tell athletes, and they only need to hear two. After you conclude a concept, and you want to add more, just ask them, “Hey, are you ready for more information?” Some athletes really love the big picture ahead of time. I’m thinking of my friend Juliana, she wanted 20 concepts up front, even if it was going to take, maybe, two years to cover them skill wise (laughs), so just ask them.

And then, also, incorporate athletes into the teaching process. So, ask them questions, get their insight, and make it clear that you’re incorporating them into the developmental process, and that their feedback is part of the big picture.

Just remember coaches, even if we have a lot of great ideas, and we can’t fathom that an athlete wouldn’t want to hear them, just because we’re saying them out loud, it doesn’t mean that they’re listening or learning. And, we have to understand this and we have to be okay with it. The sooner that we are, we’re going to be a lot happier as coaches. There are tricks to keeping athletes engaged while at practice, and we’re going to cover those in different episodes, but for now you just have to realize that just because you’re talking, it doesn’t mean anybody is listening; and, just because they’re listening, it doesn’t mean that they are learning.

Okay, so now we’re going to talk to athletes. So, athletes, how can you tell your coaches when they’re giving you too much information, or they’re not giving you enough? When we really respect somebody, sometimes we find them intimidating. So, if you really respect your coach, and you think that they have a lot of good information and ideas, sometimes you might think it’s not your place to ask them for more info. Or sometimes you might not think it’s your place to tell them you don’t want more information. But remember, coaches are people too. They are reasonable. A really reasonable coach, a respectful coach, is going to be fine with you either ask for more info or ask for less info.

So, athletes, let’s approach this differently. Let’s do some role playing. Think (laughs) about it in your head, how you might be able to ask your coach for less information. How could you tell your coach in a tactful way that you do not want coaching? So, think about it, hit pause, then when you’re ready, come back, hit play, and we’ll do some role playing (laughs).

So you could say things such as, “Hey coach! I really got a lot out of what you just coached me on and I think it’s best that I just focus on it before I move on.” That’s a pretty straight forward way to say it. Or you could say, “Man, I don’t feel ready to move on. I think I should just try this a little bit by myself and then when I’ve had a chance to work on this, then I think I might be ready, but it’s okay if I mess up, I don’t mind, I think I’m learning.”

(laughs) Do you feel like you’re watching an after school special? I hope so!

You could also say, “Thanks so much for all that information. I think right now I’ve just got to let it simmer.”

You could also say, “Man, things just aren’t clicking. Perhaps I just need to stop working on this for a moment and approach it later.” Actually that last thing, it’s really interesting. Sometimes with rowers, I would take maybe six weeks to two months from coaching them, for whatever reason, I just couldn’t coach them, and I would come back, and the concept that we were having such a hard time with before, it would click into place. It was such a beautiful thing. I just like what time can sometimes do that instruction can’t.

So, those are some ways that you can tell your coach that you don’t need coaching from them. Remember, depending on the sport that you play, sometimes you’ll be able to do this, and sometimes you can’t.

Alright, so now, let’s do some role playing for how you can ask for coaching when your coach seems pretty quiet or sort of just watches, but never gives feedback. Why don’t you take a moment to do some role playing in your own head and then when you’re ready, hit play, and we’ll do it together.

So, how about something straightforward, like, “I’d love your insight on how I’m doing.” So, that’s pretty straight forward, right? Or, “I’d love you to put into words what you’re seeing. I know you’re studying me, but can you just say what you’re seeing out loud?” You can simply ask, “What can I add to my plate?” Or you can ask them, “What do you think the most impactful modification would be for me?” Or you can say, “I think I’m getting this, but I want you to tell me what you think.” You could also say, “I can tell I’m missing something, but I’m not really sure what it is. Do you know?”

Remember, sometimes coaches are going to give you too much info, and sometimes coaches are not going to give you enough info, and really, a happy medium is best. The coach is not a mind reader, and so the coach can’t tell when you’re getting too little info or too much info unless you tell them. The same is true for you. Coaches, remember, athletes, they’re not mind readers, they don’t know when you want to tell them more or when you think that they should stop. And so, really you should just have these discussions.

Athletes- if learning is taking place even if you don’t know it or you can’t see it happening, remember, sometimes coaches are studying you, and they’re trying to get the big picture before they coach you on little concepts. And so, this happens a lot in rowing. A lot of times a coach will watch rowers for minutes, to even hours, to whole sessions, and they won’t be telling you what they see out loud, but they are studying you and they’re just trying to get a jest of what they need to do for the big-picture, moving forward.

But there are athletes who almost want the coach to hold their hand. They don’t want to do anything without the coach’s instruction, and that can be problematic too. Coaches, let’s do some role playing for you for how to deal with these athletes. I’m sure that you’ve had one before that just wants your okay. They want your approval, they want you to tell them if they’re right. If you’re coaching a practice just one on one, maybe it’s okay, but if you’re coaching a practice with 40 people, then obviously, you can’t do that for just one athlete.

Coaches, think of a way that you can tell an athlete, “Hey, I think you’re good, take some time on your own.” And then we’ll do some after school role playing so that you can kind of, think about how you would tell it to them. Coaches, you could say such things as: “You’re really grasping this concept, it wouldn’t be right for me to give you any more info.” Or you could say, “I think that at this point you’re going to be able to teach yourself more about this then I will by coaching you. You should go off and study on your own for x-amount of practice time and then come back to me.” You could also just remind them, “I think you grasp this idea, it’s obvious that you understand it, now you just need to practice it, to get better at it.

Coaches, there are also going to be athletes who don’t want any coaching and these are some ideas that I want you to say to them: So, you could say something like, “I know you’re working on this concept solo, but I’d be doing you a disservice if I didn’t tell you the following.” You could also say to them, “I think you’re ready for the next concept. I’m going to share it with you so that you don’t go around in circles with this one.”

You could also ask them, “What do you feel is going on? Tell me about it.” When you do this, you’re incorporating them into the discussion. A lot of conversations with athletes like this can go really well.

You can also ask them, “Can you explain to me what you think you’re working on or what you are working on?” And then again, this becomes more of a conversation than a directive. You can also simply just be frank. “I think that you want to improve. I know that you want to go faster,

be more accurate, but if you don’t modify X, then we’re not going to see any changes.” (laughs) so that’s a very straight-forward way to tell an athlete, “I actually need to coach you on this.”

Okay, so before we move on, I just want you to hit pause and think about the phrases that we’ve talked about. All of this, “role playing”. I want you to think about if you would talk that way, if that’s how you could communicate, if you would never communicate that way. Once you are ready just hit play and we will move forward.

Alright, so if some of these ideas just seem so alien to you, that’s cool, I respect that, but I do want you to realize that some of this stuff might be going on in the background and you might not realize it. And so, if there seems to be like, a hiccup, or a kink, then, maybe this is possibly one of the reasons.

Now, if coaching is consensual, then I also want to remind athletes that teaching is consensual. Just because a coach has you as the athlete on their team, it doesn’t mean that they actually need to coach you, and they might not want to coach you. When I coach people and I give them information and I share ideas that I’ve created, it’s one of the most special things that I can do and it’s a really big compliment. At this point in my coaching career, I don’t work with athletes that I don’t like. And so, if there’s somebody that I think is rude or condescending, or I just don’t enjoy them, I just won’t coach them, and I don’t have to coach them and it’s quite liberating for me.

Athletes do remember that you need to gain the respect of your coaches and the trust of your coaches and that you need to be respectful and trustworthy for a coach to invest their time and their energy and their mental focus into helping you develop in your sport.

Alright, so we are going to move on, and this is going to bring us to Concept Three and this is also going to serve as the Tip of the Day and this will also incorporate the story that I told at the very beginning of the episode. So, um, I told a story about watching someone’s face while I was coaching. It’s sort of a rookie mistake to pay too much attention to what somebody looks like when they learn, but have you ever looked at someone’s learning face? Or have you ever looked at your learning face in a mirror? At Capoeira the other day, apparently my learning face… like my eyebrows were furrowed, and I looked kind of angry, and somebody next to me was like, “Ah, man, look at the face you have.” I totally can empathize with that. I wasn’t mad, I was just hyper focusing.

I remember once I was coaching these high school kids and they all looked so bored. I was thinking this is going to kill me if they all look this bored throughout the session. So, halfway through I created like some word, I can’t remember what the word was, I think it was just like, banana; but, whenever I said it, they were supposed to make this, this movement with their hands, where it looked like their mind was blown, like what I had just said, was so amazing that their mind was blown. (laughs) So, um, whenever they looked bored, or annoyed or really really

frustrated, or like they didn’t want to be there, I’d say the word, “banana” and they’d all make this mind-blown movement and that would make them laugh, everybody kind of reset and it was nice, right?

So, when you’re teaching to people, especially if you’re teaching outside, if there’s, if the sun is involved, people have a tendency to scrunch their eyebrows together and squint their eyes at you and if you were not teaching them, even if you were just having a conversation with them, it would look like they were either perplexed, or like they were skeptical about what you were saying.