Teaching vs. allowing them to learn

This is both a philosophical question and one with practical applications. How much should a coach teach the “right” way to do something vs. allowing the wrestler to organically learn on their own?

I used to try and teach everything I’ve possibly learned and felt that was the best way to ensure my wrestlers understood a technique or situation. I couldn’t stand seeing them do something “wrong” and make mistakes. When showing a move, I would explain every possible detail so they didn’t miss anything. And when they asked me a question about a position, I would give them a detailed answer.

But is that the best way for them to learn? To be dependent on their coach or someone else for the answers? When they are in battle on the mat, they don’t have time to look to their coach and wait for the next instruction.

As I’ve matured as a coach, I’ve learned that it’s sometimes best to withhold my knowledge. To let them work it out on their own. To experience failure or uncertainty and try to discover what works for them. I believe this internal problem solving strengthens the neural connections and builds more confidence because THEY own the answers instead of simply doing what coach told them to do. It allows them to have more flexibility to adapt on the fly mid match versus needing to know the “right answer” in all situations and freezing up. They wrestle through the positions better when they are not dependent on their coach.

Now when they ask me what the best thing to do in a situation, I turn the question back on them. “What do you think? What are some good options here?” I withhold what I think is “correct” and help them work through the scenario in their own mind first. I collaborate with them, even though I might still guide them down a path.

Does this mean I shouldn’t teach detailed technique? Heck no. That’s one of my biggest strengths as a coach. I’m blessed with the ability to break things down and communicate the details. And my experience has given me the ability to diagnose why something isn’t working and to provide that insight to my wrestlers.

So what is the right amount of teaching to provide? How much is too much? When is it better to withhold the answers to let them discover them on their own? That’s something I’m still experimenting with. And I think it’s different for each kid too. Some who seek the answers are the ones who need to discover them for themselves. And some who think they can do it all themselves are probably the ones who need the most guidance.

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