Earn your own bread
Don't give away your freedom
“All human knowledge is uncertain, approximate, and liable to error. It is only by seeking the truth in our mistakes that we can hope to approach it at all.”
Before putting the pasta in the boiling water, I always face the same doubt: follow the exact time that the package recipe says —being a clock-watcher— or trust my tasting skills to decide the best time to remove the pasta from the fire.
In the court, training, I face the same situation: Decide —as Tim Urban says— being a chef that invents recipes or a cook that follows them, two extremes of a big and dynamic spectrum. The former understands the main principles such as ingredients properties, cooking styles, tastes… and works using her experience, gut feelings and knowledge; she takes core facts and observations and uses them to puzzle together a conclusion, a recipe. The latter is like a catalog of recipes, uses versions of that what has been done already by other chefs.
During each training session I am immersed in a flow of new scenarios with an absence of certainties. Every day there are new situations on the court, new problems that the players and I face. What works for one player, it doesn’t work with another one. Every player has different personalities, bodies, strengths and limitations. I, the coach, have a specific way of being and leading, a certain teaching style… that might favorable to Marie but not to John… and so on. Moreover, many conditions such as fatigue, the emotional state, or the opponent’s strategies… constantly change, making what was working yesterday no longer works today. All of this creates a challenge that I have to satisfy: I want to provide the best to the customers of my restaurant and I can decide to do it as a chef or as a cook. A strategy based on recipes is fragile. Pursuing criterion achievement, I will be antifragile benefiting from stress and change like the Hydra of Heracles that every time a head was cut off, it generated two new ones. The cook with recipes when is overwhelmed by the situation, fails, she has no tools to satisfy it. The chef with criterion has the skills to adapt to a customer with different tastes and needs creating something functional, new and unique. Harrington Emerson explains it much better:
“As to methods there may be a million and then some, but principles are few. The man who grasps principles can successfully select his own methods. The man who tries methods, ignoring principles, is sure to have trouble.”
Training as a cook would mean that I would look for recipes —that worked in specific situations— to apply. Basically, look at what other coaches have done before and copying it. Addressing it as a chef I would force myself to pay attention to the characteristics of each client and create a recipe to meet their needs… what I call “Coaching with blood”. Successful recipes from another chefs worked well… in a context with customers with certain tastes, wishes and needs. Choosing to use one of them, I am guessing what worked in that particular place will work for me in the place I am now and it may be harmful. I run the risk of offering meat to a vegetarian customer. If the scenario changes, it makes more sense to create a new recipe; or at least, adapt an existing one. Success in the uncertain training process is determined by criteria that characterizes a chef, not by skill at finding and executing recipes —as AI does—.
I still haven’t found anyone anywhere who tells me what to do, the best method or a universal recipe that works for everyone... In fact, assuming the existence of perfect recipes we accept that there are perfect and decontextualized realities or ideal states that teams must reach. Recipes are contextual issues, that depend on the moment in which the chef or the cook is immersed. The only absolute truth I have found is that everyone has to find their own.
I am not anti-cooks, in fact, it would be counter-productive not to use all the knowledge that other chefs, before me, have achieved. I would lose tons of information from others chefs that may be useful for me in order to find my owns. But… I am completely against tasteless cooks: those that not questioning, doubting, or considering different perspectives... Totally against doing things just because “the recipe said so” or “that is how it has always been done”, totally against of being monkeys.
This is the biggest risk of assuming that the success lies on following recipes from the best chefs: becoming dependent individuals without the ability to create, to adapt, to find solutions in our restaurants. If I cling to recipes as a way of working, I run the risk of the recipes becoming less and less helpful. Sometimes the more we know the less we see, encountering with our knowledge, not the thing itself. We end up adapting reality to our model, instead of adapting to what reality requires: we impose our recipe on the customer, instead of adapting it to her.
A recipe can be the "technique" that as a coach you think the player must achieve. Following the technical recipe instead of approaching the situation with criterion can make you see the trees and not the forest. If things don’t work, use criterion and stop following the recipe: Don’t ask yourself if the elbow is right, if the footwork is “ideal”... ask yourself what is wrong, why it doesn’t work and create your own recipe for her.
A recipe can be the methodology you think is most suitable for training, such as a linear stimulus-response approach or a Constraints-Led Approach, among many others. CLA’s ecological recipe can help us survive better and adapt the recipe to different contexts. However, the map is not the territory. Possession in football is a means to an end: more chances to win. The same happens with recipes, they are means to be created/used in order to achieve a meaningful learning process of the teams we lead.
“All models are wrong, but some are useful.”
—George Edward Pelham Box
In this world of blacks and whites, of polarization, of immediacy, of the search for answers... that we live in today, it is very easy to fall into the trap. Accustomed to being sold the secrets of coaching, the 5 steps to achieve the “ideal physique”, the training methodology of the best team in the world... the apprentice coach who dreams of reaching the top sees a shortcut in all these recipes. Faced with the social fear of uncertainty, we find much more comfort in the external orders of a recipe than in not to marry anything and get along with everything… but the illusion of having everything under control in the long run it can end up playing a trick on us. Idealizing recipes causes that we adapt the training to them, to what they tell us... Therefore, the criterion is more necessary than ever: to understand how the recipes work, to adapt them to what the moment needs and to be able to create your own.
Every time we consider that the way we train depends on imitating others, why do we tell ourselves what to do... we are more cooks. Every time we, indirectly, give up on finding our own recipes and put faith on copying or adapting what has already been created... we are less chefs. How many things do we miss out of pride, to be faithful, to be consistent... with specific recipes that we don’t let go of? We think that our map is the actual territory and it is just a representation of it that we have think, not reality.
Don’t take it as advice, I’m not forcing you to do anything. I just encourage you to decide what place you want to have in the Culinary Spectrum, to decide what price you are willing to pay. The chef adapts to the restaurant, the type of customers, the season of the year, the ingredients available, tries different cooking styles, new combinations... and, along the way, fails. The cook applies what a chef once created with less investment of effort, energy and time. To talk about technique in an original way will make you a cook with unique style or innovations. To pursue functionality stoping to look at technique will make you a good chef. Now it’s up to you to choose how you want to face the uncertain challenges of the training world: memorizing formulas or understanding principles. Through closed recipes and methods, or with a broad criterion that allows you to create your owns.
Not long ago... I sent a message to my mentor asking her for advice, what to do. Her words showed me that I am still much more of a cook than I would like to be… Words I would paint on the wall of every school classroom:
“Being told what to do is always easier... and this is the trap we easily fall into. Without realizing that it is what makes us lose our freedom, the most precious good. Unfortunately, it’s not just a sports problem, society invites us to this abandonment and waste of our incredible biological intelligence. It doesn’t make any sense, or it only makes sense to a few power-sick people. More than ever, education must make an effort to counter these trends with which we will have to fight even knowing that we will not be able to win.”
Martí Cañellas | Fosbury Flop
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