Biggest coaching lessons from being a classroom teacher

At my old job working as a retail associate at The North Face, a coworker once told me: Of the 100% of people who walks through our doors, 80% of people will already be sure if they will buy something or not. It doesn’t matter what you say to them, they have already made up their minds. Our job is to figure out, as quickly as possible, who the other 20% are, and do our best to sway them to buy something.

Now, at my job teaching, I find a similar story. I can expect roughly 10-15% of students who will strive for an A, no matter how poorly I teach the material. I can expect another 45-50% of the class who will somewhat master the content, as long as I try to teach it. That adds up to be about a 60% passing rate for my class, not particularly great. The trick here, as my old colleague pointed out, is to find out as quickly as possible who the 40% are who needs more help, and do my best to help them.

Figure out as quickly as you can who your program isn’t working for, and find the best ways to support them.

Here are the biggest lessons I’ve learned from teaching that has helped me better understand my job as a coach of a team.

  1. You haven’t taught it until they’ve learned it. Merely teaching or telling someone is not enough. A coach’s job is to support.
  2. Treating everyone the same does not maximize each person’s potential. A coach’s job is to be equitable, not equal.
  3. Even though you have to manage 30+ people at one time, you cannot teach things one way. A coach’s job is to tailor to the people.
  4. Everyone wants to be the best, not everyone believes that they can. You need to hold everyone accountable, whether they want it or not. A coach’s job is to believe.

Translating into dragon boat, an effective coaching program:

  1. Has frequent one-on-one time between coach and paddler (at least a few times each practice) that allows for constant dialogue. Paddler and coach both need to know what is working well and what can be improved.
  2. Has multiple points of access for paddlers: full boat instructions, visual demonstrations, analogies, powerpoint lectures, diagrams, videos, etc, etc. Paddlers can and will learn. You just need to find the way.
  3. Structures practice so that each paddler works on what will be most beneficial for him/her. Take into account the different skill levels and needs of your paddlers. For example, if most of the team needs help rotating correctly, it means that there’s a small group that already does. What do you do with the group who needs the technique help, and what do you do with the group that doesn’t? The first challenge is to see that not EVERYONE needed the technique work.
  4. Know your paddlers. Some paddlers might break down in technique after 2 minutes because they are exhausted, while others might break down because they are mindlessly paddling. Know the difference, and hold each person accountable for what you know they can achieve, not what they think they cannot.