If you were to do a quick search on YouTube for motivational speeches, you would find any number of videos discussing the importance of dedication, hard work, perseverance, sacrifice, and focus. All these traits are certainly crucial to achieving you goals, but are such qualities the ONLY factor in the success of your goals? I personally don't believe so. You can have all the drive and dedication in the world and still fall short of your goals without the necessary supporting roles along your journey.
In Part I of Staying the Course, I discussed the value of community in the pursuit of goals. Community often lends an invaluable hand in sticking to the chase. When we feel unmotivated or defeated, we can surround ourselves with our community to help us take that next step. Now, I don't mean to say you can't achieve your goals without community, because you certainly can, but finding your own tribe within your pursuit tends to make the journey that much more enjoyable and increases your chance of success by decreasing your chance of self-sabotaging your goals.
Whether or not you have found a healthy community or feel you don't have the need for community in your life, there is a supporting role that I believe is crucial in the ability to reach your goals and it comes in the form of knowledge. Whether you find that knowledge through instructors, mentors or coaches you must build the knowledge base necessary to find yourself on the other side of accomplishment. The unfortunate thing about this is when we seek out that coach we often do so with a sense of innocence believing that person to be the expert in the field, or at the very least more of an expert than us, so we do not seem to equip ourselves with the permission of questioning what we're told.
In 2009 I taught the massage therapy program at a local college and I remember sitting in on another instructor's class as I listened to a student ask a question about the modality being taught. I don't recall the question, but I do recall watching the instructor's face as she quickly fumbled through her mind for an answer that she clearly didn't have. Instead of saying "I don't know; let's look that up.", she made up an answer and the student nodded and took the answer for gold, and of course he would! Why would he suspect he was paying thousands upon thousands of dollars for an education just to be given false information? And now that student is somewhere out in the field today perpetuating the cycle of that false information he was given, unless he has had the opportunity since to question what he was told and learn the truth.
While it was a shame the instructor felt she had to make up an answer, I have empathy for her. Instructors, mentors, coaches and all people in an authoritative position over adults are constantly walking a fine line to maintain that authority. One slip and you might permanently lose that student's respect for you as a person of knowledge within your field. That is one of the many reasons for the no fraternization rule you see in colleges. Instructors have to maintain this almost otherworldly authority and knowledge which can be jeopardized if students are able to start relating to them as a peer with regular human problems.
Do you remember the first time as a child when you saw your teacher outside of the school building? I do! I saw my kindergarten teacher at the grocery store in regular street clothes and I vividly remember the shock I felt to discover that she didn't live and sleep at the school! And I admit, while it obviously didn't jeopardize her authority over me, it did remove a certain "magical" element about my teachers from then on.
We've all heard of similar situations where instructors are handing out false information. It can feel dangerous as an instructor to admit they don't know something about their field, which is why I encourage all people seeking knowledge to not be scared to fact check what you're being told. However, remain open minded to the possibility that there is more than one right answer as well! I was teaching someone how to wrap their hands once and overheard someone else scoffing at my technique explaining that he was taught a completely different way and I obviously had no idea what I was talking about. As I watched the "scoffer" wrap his hands I saw there wasn't anything wrong with what he was taught, and actually wasn't too different from what I taught except for a couple little details, so I commented on how he wrapped his hands and pointed out the benefits of both styles in the hope that I would be able to both maintain my authority as a coach to the student who was caught in the middle of differing styles and regain my authority as a coach to the student who questioned what I was showing. There is often more than one way to accomplish the same goal. Collect as many ways as possible! While you will probably find you have your favorite method, keep the others in your "tool box" so you have other options in case you find yourself in a situation one day where your preferred method doesn't apply. Frances Clark once said "There wouldn't be a sky full of stars if we were all meant to wish on the same one."
So don't be afraid to fact check and be open to the reality that there is probably more than one method that leads to the same result. Also, before choosing your mentor (or writing someone off as a fraud) keep in mind the concept of learning styles and understand that, just as there are various learning styles in the world, there are also various teaching styles. Someone once told me, "A really good teacher will know how to say the exact same thing in ten different ways in order to incorporate all the various learning styles in the room.", and I agree that this would indeed make a great teacher. However, I think that also is a skill that takes practice and just because someone might not know ten different methods doesn't mean they don't have wonderful information to share with the world. They will just have a smaller demographic of people who will be able to learn from them until they further develop their teaching skills because they will have to find students whose learning styles are in sync with their teaching style.
In my athletic journey, I have had to really search for the proper coach. I've had my fair share of bad luck with finding one beginning with my high school track coach who told me at the age of 13 that if running hurt my shins I needed to quit and find a sport that didn't involve running because there was nothing that could be done about my debilitating shin pain. I was 13 and he was the coach, so I listened to him and carried that "fact" with me into my adult life where until recently, I refused to run with the idea in my mind (despite firmly believing that we dictate our own possibles and impossibles) that I simply COULDN'T run because of what some "expert" in the field told me when I was a child.
My first boxing coach told me I was so bad that I should give up striking and just stick to grappling which I had seemed to take to much easier. Instead of embracing the teaching challenge, he just wrote me off.
My first muay thai coach laughed at me when he told me to kick the pad with 100% effort and all I could generate at that time for power was what he considered 25% of any professional fighter, at which point he also told me I should consider a different form of martial arts. Instead of embracing the reality that everyone's journey starts at a different point, he felt I should quit simply because my starting point was further back than the other students he had worked with in his coaching experience.
My first cross fit coach would roll his eyes in annoyance any time someone would ask for clarification on a technique he was showing because he was more of a visual learner (he would see something and then be able to do it) and so focused his instruction with an emphasis on visual learners and didn't seem comfortable with breaking down the movement in a step by step method that catered more to the auditory and kinesthetic learners in the room.
I also had a coach who basically felt I was too old to make much progress in the sport and perpetuated the false knowledge he must have been given in his life that you can't teach an old dog new tricks. He was happy to work with me, but he would quickly put down any hopes I would express of making it to a world level in boxing or kickboxing. He just didn't see the possibility in that and so was only willing to invest as much effort in helping me as he would invest in anyone with a "bucket list" wish to fight. While at the end of the day, you should really only care about what YOU think of yourself, having a coach behind you who believes in you definitely makes you feel more confident in your efforts and it can be very difficult to believe in yourself when "the expert" standing behind you has made it clear that he or she doesn't have faith in your ability to succeed.
And while it's far behind me now, I've also had my experience with the scam artist coaches as well. The sad reality is there are scammers in every industry; however, there seems to be a lot of fraudulent coaches out there. You can find any number of videos out there of coaches demonstrating nonsense techniques, of martial art systems that have their students flying across the room with the supposed use of chi, and flashy stunt work that would never apply in a real situation. While the martial arts is a beautiful culture, there does tend to a lot of bruised egos walking around seeking validation through false claims. I have heard of an unfortunate number of martial arts gyms that are run by false black belts or have under-qualified coaches running their classes in an effort to just monetize the program and drain students of their money in membership fees. While I have mentioned that not all false information is spread with ill-intent, it would be wise to remember that the world does have its scammers as well.
I spent YEARS learning from someone who turned out to have a very questionable reputation in the industry for being a scam artist, and in hindsight the writing was on the wall. The turn-over rate of students was extremely high, with few staying for more than a year. Additional coaches that were hired never stayed long. And the school always seemed to be defending its reputation in one way or another. Students at that gym were also HIGHLY discouraged from cross-training anywhere else under the pretense that it was disloyal. Any students who were caught cross training elsewhere were publicly shamed to the rest of the team and/or physically punished by the coach in sparring. After cutting ties with that gym, I later suspected the reason for not wanting his students cross-training elsewhere was because they might discover the falsehoods of what they were being taught. At the time, and with my limited understanding of how the martial arts world really worked, it didn't seem questionable that we weren't allowed to cross train elsewhere, but in hindsight I can see the wisdom in being wary of any instructor, mentor or coach in any field who discourages you from cross-training or cross-referencing what you're being taught. New information should be welcomed into any niche of an industry and where that is discouraged a red flag should be raised.
Don't be afraid to question credentials, or in the case of martial arts, the lineage of the instructors. Especially in the case of martial arts, we're a tribal culture where our team feels like family. Most schools are very proud of their lineage and are not offended by the opportunity to discuss where they came from. This will also give you the opportunity to discover the pool of knowledge that is available to you at the school in question. There is nothing wrong, for example, with a purple belt instructing at a school, but if that is the highest ranking belt in the entire school when other schools are run by numerous black belts, you have to question whether you are at the right school, not because what you're being taught isn't applicable of course, but because you're putting a learning cap on your journey if the highest level of knowledge is still two levels below the black belts of the surrounding schools. There are a plethora of great jiu jitsu schools in Colorado, for example, that are all run by black belts and the belts they have promoted beneath them, so there is no reason to cap your learning journey by choosing a school that doesn't have a black belt on its mats. Developing the knowledge to help you toward your goals, regardless of the industry those goals lie in, should be a task you prioritize in your life. Don't ever feel like you have to settle when it comes to knowledge.
A wonderful solution to all of the possible pitfalls in finding a proper coach is to go somewhere that has a network of knowledge that is built with a team of instructors with a solid history of knowledge behind them. When you have a network of information, not only will you decrease your chance of receiving under-qualified instruction, but you will also be able to learn numerous methods of reaching the same goal, find someone who has a teaching style that fits your learning style, and find someone who can support you by believing in your journey. The massage program at the college I taught for consisted of six instructors all with different areas of emphasis in their background, and they were overseen by a program manager that monitored the accuracy of the information they were delivering. While blunders still happened, obviously, the chance was much lower with a full network of instructors compared to a program that was taught entirely by one instructor.
Once you have the proper network of knowledge behind you, and you have found a community to thrive in, you can then revert to all those motivational speeches that discuss the important mental traits you need to have as an individual in order to achieve your goals. Keep an eye out for future posts about staying the course in your fitness journey specifically!
A lover of words, magic, and the idea of changing the world by encouraging the pursuit of one dream at a time. Living the dream myself as a professional boxer, kickboxer, and MMA fighter.