Teach technique, or teaching technique?


As always - I love a 'clever' blog title. Unfortunately with this one I think the cleverness completely obscures the meaning. What I mean is, what is more important, knowing the technique to teach an athlete, or having good teaching technique (and ability)?

I've been in many situations where coaches have been very interested by technical information. When I say very interested, to me it seems borderline obsessive. On various posts and blogs featuring sport coaching questions, it seems the most passionate, and controversial topics, are on the minutiae of technique.

It worries me that many think the answer to success in sport is knowing the perfect technique, rather than how you teach that technique.

The following is a conversation with a group of coaching friends on this topic, names changed to protect the opinions. The question I sent was:

What's more important, knowing the right technique, or knowing the right way to teach? 

LAURA

Hi. Both. It has to be both if you're good at what you do. It's a great thought for I have met both types of coaches. Someone who knows the right technique but can’t teach it is not very effective. Someone who can teach but doesn’t know what to teach is also not very effective.

ME

No Laura. You can't have both. Hear that Malcolm. You too! You have to pick. That's the point.

LAURA

Ok I will choose one: Knowing the right technique is good for me.

BILL

I'd be happy with one or the other. Plenty of teachers are bad at both. DO you really know "the right way to teach" if you don't "know the right technique"?

MALCOLM

My short answer is: the right way to teach.

My longer answer is... when you say: knowing the right technique, or the right way to teach? "t doesn't make much sense without more information. In the abstract it's a bit meaningless. So if we assumed that Person A knows the right technique and is a moderately good teacher and Person B is a great teacher with moderately good understanding of technique then my answer is as above. This is a likely real world scenario. Having knowledge about something without being able to apply it makes you an academic. Having less knowledge but being able to deploy it wins out for me every time. If you said that Person A knows the right technique but has zero ability to teach it and Person B has zero knowledge of technique but perfect ability to teach it, then neither person has any use.

Thinking about it more:

  1. Ideally you want people with both. In reality we have a lot of people with neither. If I had to choose one OR the other
  2. If I'm thinking grassroots and getting people who want an enjoyable experience and play - I'd want coaches that "know the right way to teach"
  3. For people at a better level, I'd want coaches that know the right technique - the players will have to be good learners anyway to succeed.

MATTHEW

The traditional (and correct) answer is that your limit as a coach is what you can communicate and teach.

NICOLE

Great teacher wins every time. You'll work out the great technique together with your athlete.

ME

Thanks for that - I was hoping for answer like that (ie: right answers, not wrong ones).

As Malcolm pointed out, its a simplistic and meaningless question in itself. But that's the sort of questions I like to boil things down to. I know its not an either/or, but they are two extremes.

Laura's point is great - and it's what happens at some successful programs, where there are people who are good at teaching but don't really know what they should be teaching. In the end they get quite good at what they are taught. The opposite is, for me, coaches who are obsessed with the minutiae of technique but never worry about how to teach it. Or, they think that the answer is working out what the perfect technique is, and that knowledge will make athletes great.

My feeling is that if coaches who focussed only on what the perfect footwork for a skill was, spent more time working out how best to teach skills in general, players would be better. And, of course, coaches who don't have technical knowledge but are good at teaching.....I wish they would want more technical knowledge.

So - that sounds like I want to have it both ways, like Laura did. I don't. The answer is - be great at teaching. The subtext to the question is always (for me) excellence. Which I didn't state at the beginning. But then I didn't have to - because it was my question. Ok - maybe the better question should have been - what's more important, trying to be great at teaching or trying to accumulate great technical knowledge?

(note - page has been updated with 'NICOLE', who provided her thoughts on the original post)

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