Thursday, May 28, 2015

#46 The Argument for Socrates In Your Program

True wisdom comes to each of us when we realize how little we understand about life, ourselves, and the world around us.

Over Memorial Day weekend, I had the pleasure of spending a number of hours with my new neighbor who happens to be a PhD Professor of Medical Ethics at a very prestigious university in Colorado.  We spent a good three hours talking about how to get students and future professionals to learn how to think on their own...and maybe more importantly, how to be able to consistently adapt to conflict, change, newness, etc. when life throws them curve balls.

The longer we talked, the more we came back to the ideas of a philosopher who lived 1600 years ago: Socrates.  Whether we are talking about teaching future doctors medical ethics or teaching the pick and roll to basketball players, the Socratic Method is one that all coaches/teachers should consider making a bigger part of their day to day lesson planning. Maybe a better thought would be using the Socratic Method to train yourself to be less of a coach and more of a sharer of knowledge.

For those of you not familiar with the Socratic Method, it is the simple idea of two (or more) people asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas.  So, how does this work in coaching?  Here is a good example of utilizing the Socratic Method in your coaching:

  • Your player asks you "Coach, how many shots should I get up this summer to become a better shooter?"  
  • The coach believes the premise of this player's question not to be true, and says "Repetition is a fine thing, but could repetition alone also make you a worse shooter?"
  • The player then reflects and says, "I guess, yes, if I don't shoot game shots with proper technique and consistent speed.  What should my repetitions look like then?"
  • With both you and your player coming to the same conclusion through asking questions to stimulate each other's thinking, the coach can now present simple guidance and challenges to make that players repetitions more significant.

You might be thinking, "That is really quite elementary.  I already use the Socratic Method in my coaching."  The real truth is that you probably think you do, but if someone surveyed your players, would they agree?  I think most coaches would have simply given an arbitrary number. For example, "I would like to see you shoot 200 shots per day as often as possible.  Shoot 50 free throws, 50 3-pointers, and 100 shots off the dribble from all parts of the floor."  This is far from a bad answer, but did it make that player see how to develop himself better?

While choosing to have Socrates as your assistant or mental guide, you are choosing to be a coach who doesn't just tell his/her players how to play the game in one scenario.  You instead are teaching your players how to think and react no matter the scenario.  There's an old proverb that goes something like this that most people have heard dozens of times, "You can give a man a fish and feed him for a day or you can teach him how to fish, so he knows how to feed himself forever."  I'm not sure Socrates, the coach, would have argued that line of thinking.

Ask questions.  Expect questions in return.  In the scenario above, the coach made the player better by leading him to find a path to make himself better.  Are you putting yourself in a position for your players to lead you to becoming a better coach?

Put 10 minutes into researching Socrates and his "method", and you may find that you have only just begun to unleash the wisdom that lays dormant in your program.
Have a great day!

Coach Matt Rogers
Twitter:  @madcoachdiaryEmail:  coachrogers12@gmail.comLinkedin:

Matt Rogers is an 18-year high school and college coach veteran.  He has led two teams to the NCAA National Tournament and one team to High School State Championship.  His teams hold numerous school and one NCAA record. He has mentored and coached players at every level while serving as an athletics administrator at the high school and NCAA levels for 9 years. He has helped numerous players continue their careers at the professional level. He currently is the Head National Scout for NCSA Athletic Recruiting where he has helped hundreds of young men and women from around the world achieve their dreams of playing at the college level.  Coach presently lives in the Denver, CO area with his wife of 17 years and his two children. 

To request Coach Rogers to speak at your school or event, you can reach him through any of his contact information above.