#154 – Searching for the A-ha Moment: Coaching vs Teaching
Matt and Scott discuss the nature of learning and how it applies to effective coaching and teaching. They emphasize that coaches and teachers serve as guides during the process of instruction, in our case, leading the lifter toward the correct movement pattern. However a coach can’t actually perform the movement for the lifter, the lifter has to do it herself. Consequently, the actual learning takes place in the lifter’s mind; in other words, they discover the correct movement. The coach merely reveals the path.
Coaching and teaching are distinct endeavors, however. As Matt describes, coaching per the Starting Strength model involves getting the lifter to move the way you want them to move, according to a model. The coaching method (also referred to as the teaching method in Starting Strength, although we draw a distinction here) instructs the lifter to perform a movement correctly using a concise, easily digestable series of steps. The coach then reinforces the steps and corrects deviations from the model using cues. The objective in this process is simply to get the lifter to perform the lift correctly and ingrain the correct motor pattern.
Teaching goes a step deeper, however, and involves the acquisition of knowledge about the subject. The rank novice, having just been coached, can now perform the lifts adequately, but has no knowledge about the mechanics of the model and why/how the instruction method works. Scott compares this stage of learning to the trivium a person acquires in early childhood. It’s a collection of facts, without any context or deeper understanding of the time period, culture, or import of those facts. The point of trivium is not to learn about the subject of the facts, it’s simply to acquire facts, and practice the skill of learning — “learning how to learn.” Dorothy Sayers refers to this stage as the “Poll-Parrot” stage in her essay The Lost Tools of Learning.
The same can be said of the rank novice on the platform. Learning the lifts at this point is an exercise in collecting the motor patterns that make up a lift. Later, after the motor patterns have been absorbed, the real learning begins. The learning now becomes a process of discovery, as the lifters discovers why the motor patterns he has acquired result in a good lift that satisfies the Three Criteria.
Clearly, learning — not just teaching and coaching — is an active process, one that can only be done by the lifter himself. Passively receiving instruction does not result in learning. The lifter actually has to search and discover correct movement on his own.