Are You a Player or Coach? A Way to Teach

by Marc Winitz

One of the complexities of teaching or sharing information is communicating a concept in a way that makes the topic understandable to the student. You would think that this goes without saying, but it doesn’t. There are plenty of teachers that cannot communicate effectively. A sports analogy I often use is the “player vs. coach” example. Some people are natural athletes. As players of a sport they excel almost effortlessly. But they have no ability to really coach (teach) others on how they do what they do, and more importantly to teach you how to emulate those skills. A similar example is the college professor who can only process and present information in an abstract format. If you are not a genius you are out of luck in this class.

By using the term “teacher” I mean anyone that has something to share that can improve the performance of someone else. Similarly, “student” refers to the person receiving the information, this is not a class room discussion, per se. In my last post I talked about the “why of teaching” with dealt with the obligation aspect. This post deals with thoughts on the “how” element of sharing information in a learning environment.

I’ll state up front that one of my biggest challenges in school was listening to someone explain a theory and then for me to be expected to take the theory and apply it to a real world problem. I am a very visual person so the way I take in information is relatively literal, not abstract.

In a martial arts setting that makes learning very difficult, believe it or not. It’s not the part related to watching a technique and being able to perform it that I have difficulty with. It’s being able to watch some one do it, and then break it down into small understandable parts that can be explained and replicated. If you have a chance (and the time), Tim Ferris of 4 Hour Work Week fame, and a fellow martial artist, does a brilliant job of showing how to take the very complicated Samuari art form of Yabusume (shooting arrows at a target the size of coin while riding horseback) which you can see here.

Through years of martial arts training, and on a personal development level, I have found the these methods work in communicating the following teachable situations:

  • Processes to follow (for example teaching a sales process)
  • Habits to create and re-enforce (personal development coaches utilize this)
  • Sustained discipline of a specific activity (a parenting skill, notably for young children)
  • A basic teaching framework that supports more complex topics over time (provides a teaching foundation)

I am not talking here about historical knowledge transfer or the development of critical thinking. Nor am I talking about the complex process of teaching “development of self” – something that takes a long time to master in order to be able to teach. This is related to the component process model and it accounts for more than just providing knowledge in the process of learning. This deals with how to learn.

On a very practical level, I have broken this down to a 6 step process and it works well because you can take complex problems and whittle them into smaller pieces. It allows the student to build on what is being taught over time. Too often, teachers use a “drink from the firehose” approach. While sometimes that is necessary, it isn’t always optimal. The whole purpose of these 6 steps is to get you in the process of internalizing the information you know so you are able to share it with others.

Component Process Teaching Method

  1. Start Small – It isn’t always effective to teach someone a brand new process all it once. In martial arts training, when we teach kata (complex forms made of many movements performed in sequence) we only teach a certain number of moves at a time. We build or add to it overtime so the student can learn the movements appropriately. We even do this with black belts. It’s the same for something like teaching a sales process or learning a new habit. A student can’t be shown it one time and then be expected to do it. Simply start with showing/demonstrating/discussing part of the lesson so the student can absorb it properly.
  2. Provide Examples – This is for context and I am really big on this. In a physical art form (like karate) if I am teaching a new technique I explain when to use it and why. Often time’s teachers provide the theory but no context for when/where/why to use the technique. There is no use in teaching someone how to do a spinning back kick without explaining what situation you use it in. Similarly, if I am teaching a sales process, I want to share what is behind a specific approach so the student knows where I am going. For example there is no purpose in “calling high in an organization” if you can’t stay there – so I discuss examples early in my career of why not being able to stay at that level led to failure.
  3. Tell Stories – I mentioned above I like to make analogies and do this often in teaching. Doing this or telling a story around why you are teaching something specific helps a student “visualize” the problem or solution. You don’t always have to do this but honestly it is very effective for kids. That means, by extension, it’s perfect for adults. One of the best personal development coaches I have seen is Brendon Burchard. His personal story behind his best selling book “Life’s Golden Ticket” makes it easy to understand his pitch and is a great example of this.
  4. Actively Engage – This is done regularly by teachers with students in martial arts training simply because it is a physical activity. Teach a drill and then have the students do it themselves. We always say “more doing and less talking”. It’s the best way to learn a new process as it gets them actively engaged in the actual learning. I find it odd that business executives, personal development coaches and parents don’t do this more frequently. When teaching a specific process, technique or habit you should stop and have the student attempt to perform it. As the teacher, if you keep talking the student won’t really internalize the lesson and learn it.
  5. Constructive Criticism – Immediately after having the student “engage” come back together and provide a critique on what was done right and what wasn’t. Do it constructively for re-enforcement. For example, a parent might say “you did this part of what I asked well. The part that needs more work is…something we will keep at.” You don’t have to take someone’s head off to make a point (not that a parent necessarily would). Usually non-constructive criticism is driven by emotion and frustration of the teacher. Try to avoid that or your comments may simply shut the student down from learning.
  6. Confirm and Expand – To a degree, make sure the student gets the lesson and then move on. This can’t always be done, but it really needs to when dealing with relatively theoretical or complex issues. Make sure when you are teaching (sharing) something complicated the student gets it. Simply checking in with them to see if they understand is a good approach. On the dojo floor, one way we do this is to have the student stand up and re-explain a drill or technique and then perform it. Professional development coaches know this and do this naturally (usually). This approach works in all kinds of situations beyond martial arts training. Once you have can confirm understanding, move on to the next topic.

Get in the Habit
The process is as much about helping you understand what is being taught as it is about communicating the information to someone else, regardless of your personal or professional situation. To use the 6 step method I often try first to explain a new sales pitch/product idea/business concept/insert topic here to my wife. If I can’t explain it in this situaiton, I don’t understand it. Try that approach. If you can’t explain something face to face, you either don’t understand the concept well enough or don’t know how to present something. It’s a safe environment and it will put you in a position to understand how to break something up into the 6 steps outlined above.

As I said in my last post  – you have an obligation to teach others. This is true personal development. I’d love to hear some of the ways you share information as a teacher of anything. Tell me what works for you and what doesn’t. And thanks for training with me.

Photo Credit Courtesy of A.A

{ 1 trackback }

Make Yourself Commit to Succeed
February 22, 2010 at 9:43 pm

{ 12 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Paul February 19, 2010 at 1:19 pm


An excellent post, when I show this to my partner, she’s sure to agree. Your assessment of the genius and being able to teach is spot on. In sport you see top footballers who are unable to convert it to coaching skills; likewise the university professor unable to teach his knowledge to students below the university level.

Your strategies for delivery is also spot on. Thank you for sharing.

.-= Paul´s last blog ..How fussy are you about things in life? =-.


2 Marc Winitz February 19, 2010 at 1:59 pm

Paul – thanks for your kind words and stopping by.


3 Ben February 20, 2010 at 12:45 am

Great post Marc!

Most teachers think that they need to teach in a way that they understand and that their students should then finds ways to learn from that. Nothing could be further from the truth. As an educator myself, I know how important it is to teach concepts (which sometimes in my seminars can be quite complex) in a way that the students understand.

I love you tips to effectively teach content to someone – they are many of the same ones I use when working with young people in schools in the UK.


4 Marc Winitz February 20, 2010 at 7:49 am

Ben – thanks. The fact that you are a professional educator bodes well for your martial arts career. My grandmaster was my high school math teacher. The two disciplines, while similar, are not the same. I didn’t speak to this influence in the post but he had a way of explaining very abstract concepts in the most practical terms – which I needed. Honestly, it’s what got me into Karate.


5 Farouk February 20, 2010 at 1:02 am

according to the article i am both a teacher and student :) nice one Marc :)


6 Marc Winitz February 20, 2010 at 7:50 am

We all are Farouk!


7 Christine Livingston February 20, 2010 at 2:14 am

I like the player vs coach comparison – it immediately takes me to the world of work where countless times I’ve seen good technicians promoted into manager roles that don’t play to their strengths at all!

I like, too, your strategies for teaching effectively. It seems to be down to both pacing the readiness of the learner, and trusting that he or she will ultimately be able to integrate the learning as their own.

Thanks for another lovely post.
.-= Christine Livingston´s last blog ..How New Work Pioneers use redundancy, burn-out, breakdown and loss of meaning as catalysts for transformation =-.


8 Marc Winitz February 20, 2010 at 7:53 am

Hi Christine – Pacing and readiness are interesting thoughts. I guess the pacing relates to the readiness, although I don’t mean to infer that a student should be “coddled”. They can be pushed but only if you give them the chance to properly take in the information being taught. Thanks for the comment.


9 February 20, 2010 at 9:11 pm

Hi Mark, that’s a great method to follow. I can totally see how I can apply it to even blog post writing. So often we focus on just theory, but giving an example, telling the story and actively engaging readers is so much more effective and ensures your message gets understood and applied.
Useful and insightful post as always, thank you!


10 Marc Winitz February 21, 2010 at 6:40 pm

Definitely a possible application Lana, thanks for the comment.


11 Patty - Why Not Start Now? February 22, 2010 at 1:48 am

Hi Marc – What a great six step model. I learned a similar model in grad school, a facilitative method of teaching. Breaking the material down into small steps, using stories and dialogue to present it, active engagement through group work, then feedback and check-in. Then start the whole thing again. I used to teach a lot, part-time in a counseling program. And at first I totally forgot about this method, and my teaching was pretty bad! But later I got the swing of it, and not only did I become a better teacher, but teaching became easier as well!
.-= Patty – Why Not Start Now?´s last blog ..Does the Truth Hurt? =-.


12 Marc Winitz February 22, 2010 at 8:15 am

Hi Patty, it’s a great model and just getting oneself into the habit takes a bit of doing, especially if you are not involved in a normal teaching activity (school teaching, karate, etc…). It’s interesting to me how much people struggle in this capacity and never really focus on the process of how to communicate information effectively so it can be actionable by other. Thanks for your comment.


Leave a Comment

Previous post:

Next post: