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Experience - What Does it Mean?

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I've battled this topic for many years, as a young ambitious coach who has been fortunate enough to spend time learning from great coaches and athletes, and in some truly high performance environments. 

I'm not sure I ever really appreciated the value that experience plays whilst coaching. Until now, that is. I was of the opinion that knowledge was crucial, but 'experience' was just a loose term thrown around relating to anybody who has coached for long periods of time.

I still don't believe that duration of years coaching and experience are the same thing. I believe that huge levels of experience can be gained and compressed into intense (and short) durations. I'm sure there aren't many people that would argue against a 17 year soldier having life experience following a 6 month tour on the front line. The same can be said for coaching in certain high performance environments. 

On the flip side of the coin, coaches who have spent just a few hours a week in low performance environments for long periods of time would have vastly different amounts of knowledge and experience in comparison to a new coach working as an assistant to a high performing sports team. Time does not reflect experience. Action does. 

Here's the thing, knowledge is nothing. You can be 'drowning in information, but starving for wisdom' (Tony Robbins.) 

Knowledge is no different than the 7 year old athlete that walks through the doors for the first time. You know, the kid that can already do 10 chin ups and 15 leg lifts? It's just potential, and potential is nothing unless it's implemented and acted upon. 

I like to think that experience is like a long drive without the need for GPS. It's driving a route that I have driven 100's of times before. I would be totally familiar with the surroundings, my schedule, my route etc. I can hit traffic, or even face a diversion and I will still reach my destination. Better yet, previous experience of the journey even allows me to anticipate problems, and avoid them by taking alternative roads. All the signs are in place and easy for me to read. 

My inexperienced drive would have me totally reliant on the GPS. Traffic and diversions would completely throw me. I would be driving down unfamiliar territory, where I couldn't interpret the signs or directions clearly. I would find myself driving in the wrong lane by accident, or even get caught speeding due to a lack of awareness of the limits. 

Can you see the similarities between these journeys and coaching?

Have you ever copied a baking recipe from a cook book word-for-word, yet the end product looks nothing like the photo in the book? Not even similar? Not even edible?!

How can that happen? Even with clear instruction every step of the way, in conjunction with the right tools and the right ingredients, experience remains a fundamental asset to coaching (or cooking!), and shouldn't be disregarded.

Experience is just one asset of the performance puzzle. In my opinion, there is no substitute for PASSION, HARD WORK and PERSEVERANCE. You can't teach experience, it just happens. I've come to accept that, and instead now choose to concentrate on areas of my coaching that I can influence by placing myself in uncomfortable situations where lessons will be learnt. After all, 'experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.'

Nick Ruddock

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Comments (5)

   
LawrieOK
Enjoyed your take on EXPERIENCE Nick Ruddock; experience clearly has had a significant impact on your coaching life.

For me 'experience' is doing something new/different from what was done last time/last year. That new road travelled becomes an experience as the journey is completed, and you have had an opportunity to reflect on it.

Each new Team, new League, or different gender to be coached, provides me with experience. If I was to coach the same team year after year in the same League, that could be one year's experience times the number of years completed - probably enjoyable, but not giving me any development. However any new players in the Squad, plus any new Opponents in the League, may throw up new experiences for me the Coach and my Team.

So in my book, experience is not a one off incident, but is something that is occurring all the time, and can be variable in intensity as well as frequency in any given timeframe.

Tackling challenges, whether the outcome was successful or not, in themselves ensure that experience is gained, BUT if we regularly achieve the same unsuccessful outcomes it suggests we are not learning from the experience we are being exposed to.
11/12/15
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Richard2591
Good article, it's not what you say you do, it's what you do...
12/12/15
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CoachFeedback
Interesting topic Nick.
Being from outside the UK I'm interested in hearing as to whether clubs in the UK tend to appoint experienced coaches or persons with "profile" with little or minimum coaching experience?
12/12/15
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Coach_Browning
Reading something like this makes me realise I really need to really get into the theories of learning...But my immediate reaction to this would be to say that experience, for me, would be termed as "reflected learning".

By this I mean that, as has been mentioned here, you can have all the knowledge in the world but no real experience. So for me, in a similar way to the above comment, that knowledge becomes experience when you have sat down and reflected upon it. Usually asking yourself a lot of "why" questions in the process.

So in your journey analogy, you could ride that same road millions of time and never gained experience, simply by not reflecting on what happened when you did certain actions. Did you notice that the traffic was heavier when you left 10mins later? Is it better to take the short cut at that time of the day? In these scenarios, you have given yourself a question to which you apply the results of different actions. So you left 10mins later and compared the result. You took the short cut and saw whether it actually saved you time or not. Again, there was reflection in both cases on the basis of an analysis of the outcome against a question.

It is the same in coaching. We have a question - "If I do X will it provide me with a benefit". We assign parameters to which it will be measured and undertake the action (this could be long term or short term). At a set point we then reflect on that action. Did it or did it not give me an added benefit over where I originally was? If yes, then we have not only gained knowledge but also experience. If no, then we also have gained experience - the experience that it doesn't work!

If we never seek to analyse our actions, and measure them against something then we can never truly gain experience at what we are doing. We would just have a series of unrelated knowledge that we can't use as we don't understand it.

To conclude, the logical end point for me here is that experience doesn't necessarily mean that you always have to be doing something new per se. It is fine to do the same thing as last year - as long as you understand why. So it becomes a tweaking of what you do as you look to develop elements of current activity rather than reinventing your way of working each time.
14/12/15
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NickRuddock
Great contribution Simon, thanks for your input!
27/12/15
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mickb
Does experience automatically come with age or how many times you have to deal with a similar situation? If you are old does that mean you necessarily have experience? Food for thought maybe?
11/06/16
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