Today, I was walking along the beach explaining to my lovely daughter, Ronda, about learning curves, a basic concept in industrial engineering.
It's logical, really. The second time you build something, it is going to take you less time than the first. You've figured out that you need 12 widgets, so you get all 12 before you start, rather than making 12 trips to the widget cart. After turning your thingamajig over a few times and looking all over, you realize the 4 screws go on the bottom. The third thingamajig you build faster yet.
Each one you make, you learn a little more how to make it better. Eventually, though, your improvements become so minor to be insignificant. The 11,001st thingamajig is probably not built appreciably faster than the 11,000th.
How does this apply to coaching?
Simply this -
1. There is a finite amount any coach can teach you.
When you reach that amount will vary greatly from one person to the next.
When you start out, say the coach knows 4,500 knowledge units (KU, for short) and you, a recreational player, are learning at the rate of 15 per week. Your coach is busy, having to teach the same techniques to multiple people, maybe with other responsibilities, a full-time job, running the business side of a school, whatever. Plus, he or she is at the OTHER end of the learning curve, not learning as much from each new game or practice. If your coach is picking up 5 units a week, you are learning 10 more units than the coach. It will take you about 9 years to have learned everything from that coach.
Wait, though. There are a few variables here. Let's say you are an elite athlete, training every day. In that case, you will learn 60 units a week, exceeding that coach by 50 a week and will have outgrown him or her in less than 2 years.
2. An experienced player going to a new coach will almost always improve performance - for a while.
(In my experience, this applies to individual sports. I have no experience coaching team sports.)
Go back to my point about the 4,500 knowledge units. Say you have learned 90% of what the first coach had to teach you. Let's assume, unlikely as that is, that you go on to another coach who has exactly the same quantity of knowledge. It is almost certain that the actual content of that knowledge won't be the same. Perhaps the first coach was better at standing technique and the second on ground work.
Now, you are learning these new ground moves that you had not seen before and - remember the learning curve - you are improving at a rapid rate.
Does that mean your old coach sucked? Nope. Does that mean the new coach is "better"? Well, if you define "better" as, "will help you improve faster", then yes.
Feeling smarter yet? Want to feel even smarter? Play Fish Lake!
3. When several players all go to the same new coach, they will all improve for a while - until they don't.
Because of points #1 and #2, you may see several players 'jump ship' to a new coach and all of them improve. All of a sudden, that new coach is the flavor of the month - until those players are not improving any more and start losing.
Did that mean it was a mistake for them to change from the original coach? Nope. Clearly, it helped for a while. What is a mistake is that often athletes stay with the second coach far too long. Their rationale is that "I improved so much when I came to Bubba and so did my friends, Billy Bob and Eustace. He must be doing something right."
What they fail to realize is that they would have shown that same level of improvement at Mary Lou's Just-As-Good Gym down the road.
4. Coaches who "take" champions instead of "make" them often have a better reputation than they deserve.
There are clubs in every sport I know who make it a point to swoop in when a player starts to show promise and recruit the athlete to their "higher" level club. Because they have done this over and over, with most of the athletes initially showing improvement, they get a reputation as a top club. They find athletes who are already successful and bring them into a new place where there is a bump in performance, for a while. Since they do this drill over and over, the fact that the crop of recruits from 2 or 3 years ago is not performing so well is overlooked. The athletes who are performing below expectations are blamed because, after all, it can't be the coach. Look how much better they became when they came here initially
The moral of the story - you will often get better faster if you get out more.