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I've battled this topic for many years, as a young ambitious coach who has been fortunate enough to spend time learning from great coaches and athletes, and in some truly high performance environments.
I'm not sure I ever really appreciated the value that experience plays whilst coaching. Until now, that is. I was of the opinion that knowledge was crucial, but 'experience' was just a loose term thrown around relating to anybody who has coached for long periods of time.
I still don't believe that duration of years coaching and experience are the same thing. I believe that huge levels of experience can be gained and compressed into intense (and short) durations. I'm sure there aren't many people that would argue against a 17 year soldier having life experience following a 6 month tour on the front line. The same can be said for coaching in certain high performance environments.
On the flip side of the coin, coaches who have spent just a few hours a week in low performance environments for long periods of time would have vastly different amounts of knowledge and experience in comparison to a new coach working as an assistant to a high performing sports team. Time does not reflect experience. Action does.
Here's the thing, knowledge is nothing. You can be 'drowning in information, but starving for wisdom' (Tony Robbins.)
Knowledge is no different than the 7 year old athlete that walks through the doors for the first time. You know, the kid that can already do 10 chin ups and 15 leg lifts? It's just potential, and potential is nothing unless it's implemented and acted upon.
I like to think that experience is like a long drive without the need for GPS. It's driving a route that I have driven 100's of times before. I would be totally familiar with the surroundings, my schedule, my route etc. I can hit traffic, or even face a diversion and I will still reach my destination. Better yet, previous experience of the journey even allows me to anticipate problems, and avoid them by taking alternative roads. All the signs are in place and easy for me to read.
My inexperienced drive would have me totally reliant on the GPS. Traffic and diversions would completely throw me. I would be driving down unfamiliar territory, where I couldn't interpret the signs or directions clearly. I would find myself driving in the wrong lane by accident, or even get caught speeding due to a lack of awareness of the limits.
Can you see the similarities between these journeys and coaching?
Have you ever copied a baking recipe from a cook book word-for-word, yet the end product looks nothing like the photo in the book? Not even similar? Not even edible?!
How can that happen? Even with clear instruction every step of the way, in conjunction with the right tools and the right ingredients, experience remains a fundamental asset to coaching (or cooking!), and shouldn't be disregarded.
Experience is just one asset of the performance puzzle. In my opinion, there is no substitute for PASSION, HARD WORK and PERSEVERANCE. You can't teach experience, it just happens. I've come to accept that, and instead now choose to concentrate on areas of my coaching that I can influence by placing myself in uncomfortable situations where lessons will be learnt. After all, 'experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.'
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