Wednesday, June 15, 2011


Back in high school during a basketball game, I remember trying to make a fancy play, Magic Johnson style, when my coach yelled across the floor, "Keep it simple, stupid!" I'm not a big fan of calling my students stupid, but I do agree with my former hot-headed coach that simpler is better.

One of the biggest traps coaches unknowingly fall into, in my opinion, is making it more difficult than it has to be. As I was recently reminded by a wise teacher, Lance McWilliams ( "You don't have to explain to me how the watch works... just tell me the time." That statement is as true as it gets. As a student, it's instinctive to think your coach must tell you everything he knows about the subject in order for you to learn. The opposite is true -- the less he tells you, the more you'll comprehend in the long term. 

As I was working out, practicing for a tennis tournament years ago, I was interrupted by a coach on the court next to mine, who was barking out instruction after instruction to his teenage student. "Do this, then that. Then after you finished that, make sure you remember not to forget to do this. When you're done with all of that, remember to check position (A), making sure it's not in position (B)..." I wanted to scream! The kid was struggling, and getting very frustrated. 

I literally walked over to the fence, in the middle of my practice session, and asked if I could add one simple instruction to his lesson. Back in those days, I didn't understand how much of a cocky, inappropriate move it was to interrupt another teacher's lesson. I was young, arrogant, and knew it all. I believed it needed to be done, as this coach obviously didn't understand the concept of K.I.S.S. I suggested that his student try focusing on (X), rather than getting bogged-down in everything else. The coach told me the problem was more complex than the one, simple fix I was offering, but he'd allow his student to try it (probably thinking it would fail miserably, and he'd be shoo-ing me back to my court). As the teenager began working on my suggestion, I went back to my practice session, but making sure I kept an ear on the teaching court. "Nice shot, Scott... you got it" was all I heard for the next 1/2 hour. 

No matter what your goals, make sure to focus on the simple path. It may look more exciting to walk along a complex, more detailed direction, but more isn't always better. Actually, it rarely is! Listen to everyone who wants to help you, but be diligent when trying to decipher who's "talking big" vs. who's talking simple. I've learned the hard way -- the one who constantly talks about how good he is, and the guarantees of instant success, is the one who's the most insecure. The teacher who wants you to focus on less, concentrating on a patient, long term process is the person you should trust. 

In order to achieve anything, action must be taken. Simple, detailed action is the key! If you're feeling confused, look for another way. It doesn't have to be complicated.

Take a peek at your watch. Forget how it works. What time is it?

1 comment:

spldbch said...

I am all about keeping it simple! I notice that sometimes people get so bogged down in the details that they become overwhelmed and unable to take any action. I also believe in the concept of focusing on one thing at a time. Sure, there may be a lot of things that need to be done but it simply isn't possible to do them all at once. So prioritize; pick the most important thing, focus on that, and when you've made progress you can move on to the next thing on the list.