You Learn and You Learn

Written by Ben Ehrlich on Wednesday, January 11, 2017

        I love a good quote as much as anyone.  Much of my posting on Twitter revolves around quotes from athletes and coaches.  The hope is to do more than share the words in the quote but also to share the actions or deeper meaning reflected by those words.  In saying that, I also enjoy reading good quotes from others posting and really find it interesting to see what people gravitate towards.  There is a quote I've been seeing a lot saying, "I either win, or I learn."  People love the quote.  I hate it, and here's why.  Although I really like the idea of learning from failure, I think this particular quote is sending the wrong message.  The quote gives two options:  1. Win, 2. Learn.  It's saying the two options are separate.  You win and move on, or you lose and learn.  When we send or receive the message that I should learn only when we lose we're opening the door to panic after a performance.  Think about it from the standpoint of a hitter in baseball.  You go 2-4, 2-4, and 1-3 but don't take the time to understand why you got those results.  Then, you go 0-4.  "Oh man!  I better learn from that performance!"  Time to search for what's wrong.  Time to panic and overreact!  It's amazing how much this line of thinking has hitters quickly forget about those three solid performances.  As I search for what went wrong, the 0-4's start to pile up.  I continue to search and search and try to learn because I'm "or learning" and a slump happens.  I'll get to the alternative shortly, but first I'll tell you the other reason I don't like the saying.

        "I either win, or I learn."  Which would you rather do as a competitor?  I'll take winning, and my guess is you would too.  I'd also guess many of you reading this play or coach teams that win more often than you lose.  My challenge to you then is to think about how if you are only learning from losses, you're missing out on a lot of opportunities to learn.  Among other things, Draymond Green said a couple of nights ago he was glad the Warriors lost.  He said, "I'm kind of thrilled that we lost because you usually make corrections when you lose.  You know, most people don't look at wins and say 'Oh, we need to correct this,' so I think this is good for us."  Draymond is dead on with this statement.  Most people don't take time to think about corrections after wins.  Just because most people don't do it doesn't mean you shouldn't though.  This blog isn't for most people.  It's for you.  Process is a word getting thrown around a lot in the sports world, and I love it when it's truly about process.  If we're truly about the process, however, we are looking at quality of play well beyond the final score.  Process would lead to corrections being made, as necessary, regardless of final score.  Process means learning from every singular athletic experience we have.  When we do that, we become more self-aware both individually and as a team. 

         So far I've spent a couple of paragraphs stating my problems with the quote in question, but I haven't given you enough of a specific solution.  That's what we'll do here.  First, I want us to change the options from Win or Learn to Win and Learn or Lose and Learn.  How can you do that?  There's an approach I really like called the 3-2-1.  It's something I first heard Bernie Holliday talk about in one of Cindra Kamphoff's High Performance Mindset Podcasts (the podcasts are great and something I'd highly recommend checking out).  Holliday is the Director of Mental Conditioning for the Pittsburgh Pirates and has a great reputation within the field.  We used a variation of the approach in our reflection about sessions led over the summer at IMG Academy, and it was more productive than any feedback process I've ever experienced as a teacher...by far.  Anyway, back to what the 3-2-1 is.  The concept is that after every performance, or the Pirates I think use it after every series, the player takes time to reflect.  The player first comes up with 3 things that went well and the process that led them going well.  Going back to a hitter going 2-4.  They may want to say, "I got two hits" for what went well.  Okay, but why did you get two hits?  What did you DO that led to you getting the results you want?  This forces the hitter to go beyond that to, "I attacked fastballs early in the count," or "I stuck with my plan throughout each at-bat."  The idea is to produce something in the reflection that helps you moving forward.  It helps create the blueprint for your performance process and helps you get to know yourself a little better as an athlete.  The reflection also provides something you can come back to down the line if things start to go poorly.  After coming up with what went well, the player then thinks of 2 things that could have gone better and the process that led to it not going well.  Maybe that same hitter gave an at-bat away.  "Gave an at-bat away," isn't enough.  Why?  What led to that happening?  Maybe the hitter, "Tried to do too much because of wanting to drive runners in."  Then, the hitter can take that moving forward and "Stay within myself" in similar future situations.  Finally, what is 1 thing you can take moving forward?  In reality, the 3-2 part should give you plenty of options, but the 1 forces you to pick something to focus on.  Maybe that same hitter will work on situational rounds the next day in BP on staying within himself.  Then, he feels a little more prepared going into the game.  I love the 3-2-1 because it's simple and really forces the player to think about what he did.  This is something you can do to "Learn or Learn" after every performance.

        My challenge to you is to try learning from every time you compete.  Really, you could reflect after every single day of training or practice too.  Doing so will allow you to make what you do all the more purposeful.  You'll get to know yourself as an athlete and really take control of a defined process for performance and improvement.  The 3-2-1 Reflection could easily be used by teams as well.  My recommendation for a team would be to wait until the next day to allow for the emotion of a win or loss to fade a bit, and you can reflect a little more rationally.  As a coach, you may be reluctant to have your teams reflect individually because players might not be committed to writing so much.  Something one of my friends and colleagues, Zach Brandon, likes is to take advantage of the technology all of the athletes have.  You can easily reflect by talking into your phone and recording it.  There are a lot of options.  Either it's important enough to be as good as possible, or it isn't.  The point is the opportunity is there.  If we're going to preach process independent of results, let's make sure we are doing it on a consistent basis.  That's true process.  That's win now.

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