Monday, September 5, 2011

Experience is a must

*Bloggers note*
this is a long post but please stay with me. I hope the point will become clear at the end. Enjoy!

An excerpt from "John Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections, On and Off the Court."

The gym is a classroom.

I felt that running a practice session was almost like teaching an English class in that I wanted to have a lesson plan. I knew the detailed plan was necessary in teaching English, but it took a while before I understood the same thing was necessary in sports. Otherwise you waste an enormous amount of time, effort and talent.

I would spend almost as much time planning a practice as conducting it. Everything was listed on three- by-five cards down to the very last detail.

Everything was planed out each day. In fact, in my later years at UCLA I would spend two hours every morning with my assistants organizing that day's practice session (even though the practice itself might be less than two hours long). I kept a record of every practice session in a looseleaf notebook for future reference.

My coaches and managers also had three-by-five each day so they knew-to the exact minute- when we would need two basketballs at one end of the court for a drill, or five basketballs at mid court for a different drill, or three players against two players at a certain place and time, or the dozens and dozens of variations I devised.

I kept notes with the specifics of every minute of every hour of every practice we ever had at UCLA. When I planned a day's practice, I looked back to see what we'd done on the corresponding day the previous year and the year before that.

By doing that I could track the practice routines of every single player for every single practice session he participated in while I was coaching him. In those days freshmen were ineligible. Otherwise I would have gone back three years in reviewing the drills.

It was very important that I learn about each player and then study that player so I would know if he needed a little more time on this or that particular drill. I needed to know which drill had greater application to this player or that player because individuals vary.

So I devised drills for both individuals and the group and studied and analyzed them. Some drills would be good for all and some drills would be good for just certain players.

I needed to understand how to apply these drills in practice. I learned I must not continue them too long. I must know as the season progressed how they were going to change and then devise new ones to prevent monotony, although there would be some drills we must do every single day of the year.

All those things I had a responsibility to do to the utmost of my ability because they were things over which i had control.

The pressure I created during practices may have exceeded that which opponents produced. I believe when an individual constantly works under pressure, he or she will respond automatically when faced with it during competition.

I engaged in very little discussion. I'd talk while drills were going on, mostly to individuals rather than to the group. I did more individual coaching in that sense.

Following the drills, I would make notes. Perhaps we needed two more minutes on this drill or less time to complete that drill.

By reviewing and analyzing everything, we were able to get the very most out of our practice time. That was necessary to reach our goal: getting the very most our of our abilities.

Then I would say, "Young men, you have a responsibility for the attainment and 'maintainment' of all the little details that we do in practice. Your responsibility begins each afternoon when practice ends, because you can tear down more between practices than we can possibly build up during practices. So please practice moderation in what you do"

But it all began with attention to, and perfection of, details. Details. Details.

Develop a love for details. They usually accompany success.


I am moved by this because of a recent statement by Education Secretary Arne Duncan that he is worried about losing "great young talent" and view this passage as a great opportunity to voice why I think he is wrong.

 While, I am only entering my seventh year of teaching, each year that passes I get further away from my first days, with it I bring in more experiences, more management techniques, more teaching techniques and more confidence.

I know it is popular to blame older teachers right now. They are at the higher end of the pay scales and young teachers are cheaper. No politician has proven yet that an older teacher is a hinderance to learning and that younger teachers are the answer.

In Malcolm Gladwell's book "Outliers" he talks in great length about the "10,000 hour rule".  It states that in the pursuit of acquiring a specific skill set, it takes in the ballpark of 10,000 hours of practice to master such skills. He goes on to demonstrate this with the efforts of the Beatles before they broke onto to scene. He chronicled Bill Gates' routine as a teenager of spending hours and hours of writing computer code also.

10,000 hours generally falls into the ball park of 9-11 years of working at that skill. Compare the 15-20 year employee to the 5th year and it might be no contest who has the most expertise.

To dump a teacher who has over 10,000 hours of experience and expertise in favor of a teacher with little or no hours of professional experience clearly shows the disconnect and hypocrisy of politicians who want "highly qualified teachers." Non of these pols would hire a person without any experience for their private company, but think that non experienced teachers will move education forward? This flip flop thinking is much like how an elected official will tout his/her level of public service experience when running a campaign against a younger opponent.

I am not saying people don't deserve a shot to get that first job. We all have to get our start somewhere. But to claim the young and inexperienced are better teachers is not always true and officials must know that.

To tie John Wooden into this whole mix, he was the greatest college basketball coach ever. This passage is proof of his level of competency and skill as a coach and teacher. However, John Wooden was hired in 1949, but didn't win his first national championship until 1964.  For the math majors, that is a time span of fifteen years. His opportunity to gain expertise, and log in a multitude of hours over this time set him on the path for success for the rest of his career. In today's world he might have never made it that far in his contract, as he had a few seasons that were less than stellar. In continuing to pursue his craft, he turned his work ethic into something that will never be surpassed by any other college coach in my lifetime. (Im 31!)

What if he was released after year ten for a younger coach who was cheaper? The greatest run by a college basketball program might never have happened. His team's run of ten national championships in twelve years happened after his 15th year at UCLA.

This understanding of knowing the value of experience can be seen by looking at who UCLA hired in 1975 when Wooden retired: Gene Bartow. Years of head coaching experience prior to following Wooden: fifteen!