Friday, December 28, 2007

The Danger in Knowledge

Coaching Development – The Danger in Knowledge
By John Leonard

Knowledge is an interesting concept. In the Websters New Dictionary the word "know" is defined as:
1) To perceive with certainty; to understand clearly;to be sure of or well informed about. As, we KNOW the facts.

That's the preferred definition. Hmmmm. "To perceive"".... Lets look at perceive.
2) to take hold of, to feel, to grasp mentally,to recognize, to observe. To become aware of.
So, to KNOW something is to perceive it with Certainty. And, to perceive it is to feel, hold, grasp it, recognize it.
So what you know, is what you perceive?

What if what you perceive is limited?
Ø Limited by looking through a microscope at the cells of a whale.
Ø Limited by standing in Manhattan, and looking at the Statue of Liberty.
Ø Limited by listening to only one source.(What if Eddie Murphy was the only person to listen to?
Ø Limited by reading only one opinion.(What if you could only read Rush ?)
Ø Limited by seeing only one quality swimmer.(What if you ONLY saw Janet Evans swim freestyle?)
Ø Limited by only one source for scientific information?(Chinese/East German athletic system?)

This is scary.

Back in 1980, there was an article in Time Magazine that noted a small footnote of a disease found in Haiti that debilitated the immune system of black male homosexuals. The article assured us that there was no danger to any other population.

In 1982, TIME printed that the disease had spread and now, only male homosexuals were at risk. Everyone else was ok. No worries, unless you were a male homosexual. In 1985, TIME's story was that homosexuals, male and female were at risk. No one else need worry.

In 1986, TIME said there was evidence that it was spread through the blood. (and the blood supply for those who had transfusions. No one not homosexual or in need a transfusion need worry.

Then they added that well, maybe a few heterosexuals might have IT also. Then they finally noted that well, yes, it did appear that it was sexually transmitted, as well as blood borne. Now, you note, AIDS is the scourge of the century, with no cure in sight. But in 1980, we KNEW that only black male homosexuals could get it. No worries. Scary. Now, remember, they are absolutely sure that mosquitoes can't carry aids. I'm reassured. How about you?

What does this have to do with swimming?
A lot. One thing that most of us have in common when we start to coach, is that we want to do a good job. To do a good job, we are convinced we have to KNOW something. I read Doc Counsilman's early books, and was absolutely certain that I KNEW that action-reaction was what produced forward propulsion, and anything other than that was a waste of time. And I vigorously fought for that stroke with my swimmers, and with my assistant coaches. Then I met an engineer who talked about funny things like "lift" and Bernoulli's Principle and things...and I thought he was crazy and kept on teaching what I KNEW as correct.

Five years later, Doc and many other people decided that LIFT and Mr. Bernoulli and his principle was the main thing. (And Doc told us, repeatedly, to "QUESTION EVERYTHING", and we thought he was just being modest.) So I learned and KNEW that the new paradigm of lift was "the Answer". Now I am reading material that says that at certain speeds, the Action/Reaction Drag force is the only way to move fast enought. Hmmm....
Yet many of us insist on "knowing" something. And once we have that "perception" of "knowledge", it becomes deeply a part of each of us. We defend what we know with vigor, enthusiasm, and a touch of....desperation? Why? Because we value, and we hope others value, something called knowledge. If we actually "know" less, we are therefore, worth less. (or worthless?)

When I was a young coach, with no achievements behind me, and a very challenging world in front of me, my "knowledge" was all I had. The same is true for many coaches today. Yet that very knowledge, so precious to us, keeps us from doing the very best job we can do as coaches. That's what makes Knowledge dangerous. Coaches are good salespeople. We sell ideas to our swimmer and parents daily. We are selling our "knowledge". (Gulp)

Because its not really KNOWLEDGE in the sense we think of it. Its not TRUTH. Not permanent. Not inerasable. Its changeable. Its a product of perception. A product of what we see, hear, sense, "hold", smell and taste. To KNOW is simply to PERCEIVE. And perception, by definition is faulty.

How do we think we acquire KNOWLEDGE? By Education. Does this put Education in a bad light? Not if the Educational process presents its material in the correct light. What is the correct light? Its INFORMATION. Its what we perceive about a subject right now. As we get a bigger and better microscope, we get more information about the real size and scope of the whale. If we turn around we see a city, rather than a metal lady standing in a bay. We hear Jesse Jackson as well as Eddie Murphy, we read liberals as well as Rush, we watch Matt Biondi and Popov as well as Janet Evans. We get our science from ICAR, from Universities, as well as from the Chinese and East Germans. We want information from many sources.

In short, we gather INFORMATION. And we put it into our coaching TOOLBOX. One of my favorite expressions is "If you only have a hammer, everything looks like a nail." No one tool can address every project or problem. Anyone who builds can tell you that having the right tool is 90% of doing the job the best way possible, with the best result.
Our task as coaches is to build our toolbox. Without getting married to our saw, or our planer, or our chisel. No one idea, no one coaching method, no one stroke mechanic principle is "the tool" for everyone or every problem. We have to gain the set of tools necessary to do the job in each situation which we face. And that takes time, and experience.

The same materials go into your coaches Toolbox, as into your KNOWLEDGE, but you recognize that everything is simply information, and it can ALL be useful. Its up to you to apply the information that you acquire. And you don't learn ONE WAY of solving a problem, decide that you KNOW how to solve that problem from now on, and never look for new tools. There is no one way to build a team, win a national championship, teach a stroke, or a start or turn, plan a workout, plan a season, recruit a swimmer. There are many ways for every task, and they will all work well for someone, in some situation.

First, clear your mind of "Knowledge", then, fill it with information. The information forms your toolbox, and your experience will tell you what tool to use to solve each problem.

The older I've gotten the less I know. But the more experiences I've had, and more information I've touched...maybe not "held" exactly, but touched.
Doc Counsilman was right. Question Everything.

And I'll add, Put It In Your Toolbox.
And expand your toolbox at every opportunity.

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