Top Athletes And Singers Have Coaches. Should You?

Getting better at something you’re decent at, isn’t as easy as it sounds. Consider driving. A skill you likely learned as a teenager. Within a few hundred hours under the wheel, you went from a petrified know nothing to a competent and predictable driver.

Let’s say you’re mid-30s now and you want to get better at driving. How would you do it?

The easiest way is to hire a back seat driver — someone to tell you that you’re taking the turns too sharply, or not coming to a complete stop. Basically, their job would be to point out all the little things you do that keep you from getting better.

Isn’t not hard to find this person. The hard part is putting your pride and reputation on the line.

We can’t do this for everything but we can do it for some things. The things that matter the most.

With that in mind, here is a wonderful essay by Atul Gawande in the New Yorker on whether we need a personal coach.

…I’d paid to have a kid just out of college look at my serve. So why did I find it inconceivable to pay someone to come into my operating room and coach me on my surgical technique?

…Élite performers, researchers say, must engage in “deliberate practice”—sustained, mindful efforts to develop the full range of abilities that success requires. You have to work at what you’re not good at. In theory, people can do this themselves. But most people do not know where to start or how to proceed. Expertise, as the formula goes, requires going from unconscious incompetence to conscious incompetence to conscious competence and finally to unconscious competence. The coach provides the outside eyes and ears, and makes you aware of where you’re falling short.

…Osteen watched, silent and blank-faced the entire time, taking notes. My cheeks burned; I was mortified. I wished I’d never asked him along. I tried to be rational about the situation—the patient did fine. But I had let Osteen see my judgment fail; I’d let him see that I may not be who I want to be.

This is why it will never be easy to submit to coaching, especially for those who are well along in their career. I’m ostensibly an expert. I’d finished long ago with the days of being tested and observed. I am supposed to be past needing such things. Why should I expose myself to scrutiny and fault-finding?

If you’re interested in learning more about effective coaching, check out Barbara Lourie Sand’s book “Teaching Genius,” which describes the methods of the legendary Juilliard violin instructor Dorothy DeLay. DeLay trained an amazing roster of late-twentieth-century virtuosos, including Itzhak Perlman, Nigel Kennedy, Midori, and Sarah Chang.