Monday, 7 April 2014

Thoughts on how we learn in the coaching, fitness and therapy industries

I am fresh off the clinic season and ready to start putting everything I have learned in the past 5 months to practice…Just kidding.  I think after 15 years in the industry and over 70 clinics/conferences I have come to the conclusion that this is probably not the best way for me to further my professional development.  This doesn’t mean I don’t see value in it, it just means I am ready to pave a new path for learning in the coaching industry. It is important to note that I work as a sport coach, strength and conditioning coach as well as a manager that over sees 25 plus employees.  So the clinics that I attend usually have something to do with all three aspects of what I do professionally. In the past month I have attended two great clinics that sparked my urge to write this.  Our regional NSCA clinic was excellent from beginning to end as was the IHRSA (The International, Health, Racquet and Sportsclub Association) conference and trade show. Both completely different in content but both had tremendous speakers. 
After creepily staring (some may call it stalking) at one of the girls leading a Zumba class during the trade show for an abnormal amount of time, I had an epiphany.  IHRSA does something a little different than other conferences I have been to and they do it well.  There are key note speakers every day (Royal Society of the Arts and TED Talks caliber).  The key notes speak to what their specialties and professions are and tailor it to the conference.  To be honest, a plumber would have found value in listening to these speakers.  This is then followed by a wide array of speakers from all aspects of business, professionalism, human resources, social media etc.  If it has to do with the business side of things, they have it covered.  The NSCA clinic is far more practical from the coaching and networking side of things.  So while these were fresh in my mind, I thought to myself that both clinics had great content but something was missing.  There were thousands of people at IHRSA and the NSCA clinic was sold out and capped at 120 people.  As the “people person” that I am, I really noticed something both spectacular and alarming at both conferences.  The attendees ranged in age from 20 to probably 70 in some cases with all different experience levels and professional backgrounds.  As amazing as it is to see multiple generations sharing their love for learning and continuing their education it made me wonder how as presenters, teachers or coaches we can captivate such a diverse population.  I am willing to guess some of the older population are still learning how to use their smart phones and are slightly unclear as to how the Facebook thing works yet while the younger generation lack interpersonal skills because they wouldn’t look up at the speaker from their phones or tablets. 
            I wanted to touch on this since we live in a time where people no longer need to think things through because the answer to everything can be found on our smart phones yet we have not changed the way we teach or learn to adapt to specific stimuli.  Remember, the internet moved from being the inner lining of our swim trunks to some horrific sounding dial up connection to having all of the world’s info available at your fingertips in just the last 15-20 years. So I pose the following questions to those of you that are presenting information or are in the learning seat to provoke thought and to challenge the new age of learning and professional development in the coaching, therapy, personal training and fitness industries.
1.     Has our way of learning aligned and adapted with all of this new technology?  This doesn’t mean we just teach with a smart board or use technology to get our message across.  This means does the message you are trying to portray get across to your audience in a means that will foster retention of the topic?
2.     Do you understand that technology is here to stay whether you agree with it or not?  Do you have the ability to not be frustrated that certain generations are reliant on technology and that your message may need to be modified to suit a generation that doesn’t always retain information the same as you may have?
3.     Are you clear as to why we now have the attention spans of a goldfish?  Does it make sense to you that even when talking to educated people their attention will shift fairly quickly if you haven’t “hooked” them in the first few seconds?
a.     Do you understand the difference between being a cheerleader and being a dynamic presenter and why energy as a teacher, presenter or coach is so important?
b.    Why would someone continue their education by listening to you when they can find the majority of information online? 
4.     Do we consider that in any given conference the audience may be from diverse backgrounds? In the therapy, personal training and strength and conditioning conference world there is often a gap in knowledge, experience, age and scope of practice.
a.     It should be understood that the presenters should not have to cater to all backgrounds but can their message or premise be understood knowing this?  
5.     Do you believe “common sense” to be a necessity or even a valid premise when all answers can be found so easily?  Remember when it was common sense to believe the world was flat and all that challenged it were burned at the stake?  Things have changed and we need to be able to adapt to the fact that a lack of common sense is not the issue. The lack of critical thinking and the understanding that there are consequences for every action are the root of us changing our continuing and developing education systems. 
6.     Do you understand the difference in being knowledgeable about your practices and being good at trivial pursuit?  One can articulate a message to anyone with a deep understanding of the topic and one can regurgitate information.
7.     Is there a balance in your teaching methods that can bridge the gap between the base scientific principles and the practical components needed to fit the diverse populations that you may be working with? 
a.     If not, do you have a diverse staff that can help to bridge the gap between the science and practical side of things? I am lucky, I work in a setting that covers all scopes of practice and I am surrounded by people that are way smarter than me. Our different backgrounds allow for professional development to occur daily.  If you are not this fortunate, do you speak with other professionals on a regular basis to bounce ideas off of each other?
8.     As someone in the learning seat, do you have the ability to decipher what may be useful to your practice? Do you have the confidence in your base knowledge to not let your ego overtake the message set across to you?
a.     Can you take what is being said, understand the population, experience levels and abilities the presenter is talking about and modify it to fit the population you will be working with?
b.    Do you understand the value of being taught and coached by different people throughout your life?  How something this simple can have a positive effect on your career even if the teachers and coaches were not actually very good?
9.     Are you of the understanding that if there was something so amazing that it would make everyone better that we would all be doing it? Or are you just trying to sell something?
10.  Do you speak in absolutes? If so, your critical thinkers in the group may tune you out pretty quickly.
11.  Do you exude the utmost level of professionalism?  Do you tell the audience to feel free to email you with questions and then proceed to ignore your emails? Do you share all of your content or are you fearful that someone may steal it and use it for evil?  Do you speak down to people when you assume they know what you are talking about so they feel stupid?
12.  Do you practice what you preach or are you just presenting to get your name out there?
13.  Do you have a circle of friends through social media that pump each other’s tires without knowing if you are actually good at what you practice as opposed to being good about talking about what others should practice?  Have you created a false resume of how great you are at presenting or writing vs. actually being or have been a coach, therapist, personal trainer etc? This may bode well with those that don’t have the ability to think critically, but those that do may shut you out pretty quickly.
14.  Do you have a history of practicing what you are presenting upon? This is not a necessity, but having the ability to connect on a different level with your audience certainly helps.
15.  Do you love what you do? Other than friends and family is this your passion?
For those of you that know me, I thrive on negativity but I am not an unhappy person.  I like being driven by hate and anger.  Some psychologists may call this a “problem”, but I can honestly say that I love my life, my career, my family and friends and 1 or 2 of the people that I work with (I’m kidding, I have the best team and clients around which balances me out).  So please take everything I have said here with a grain of salt.  The intent isn’t to knock what we have been doing because there are some amazing professionals in our industries, the intent is to question if it is the best way for us to learn in a time when it doesn’t take work to find answers to questions.  At the very least, bounce ideas off of your colleagues so that you may achieve some level of balance.  As always, if you have any questions or comments, please do not hesitate to email me at
"One should guard against preaching to young people success in the customary form as the main aim in life. The most important motive for work in school and in life is pleasure in work, pleasure in its result, and the knowledge of the value of the result to the community."

  --  Albert Einstein
Yours in Strength,
Joe McCullum
Director of High Performance Training and Staff Development
Level 10 Fitness Inc.

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