An Allegory

A former professional baseball player came into our facility the other day to sell us a piece of athletic equipment. After some time, he mentioned that he provides lessons to kids and was interested in teaching our players. This is a former major leaguers and this pedigree suggests that he can impart a high level of knowledge. However, I noted our philosophy: generally, we don’t believe in the traditional “lesson.” Confused – he followed: “What do you mean you don’t believe in lessons?” After briefly explaining (calmly) my objection to the contemporary athletic “teaching” environment; he grew exceedingly derisive and the subsequent scathing vitriol he espoused was unexpected.

After some reflection on our “conversation” (I’m taking liberties with the word as he spoke for 45 minutes straight and cut me off with “let me finish” if I gave him the impression I was going to speak), I thought of Plato.

Plato? Yeah it’s going to be one of those posts – you’ve been warned.

Plato, Steffens and Some Cave

I do not generally ascribe to many Platonic approaches; ironically however, Plato is the cause of and solution to the problems outlined in this post. In Plato’s “The Republic,” he writes the Allegory of the Cave. In the Allegory, a group of prisoners have been confined in a cave since birth with their backs to the cave’s opening. They can’t turn and see outside the cave – they can only see shadows on the wall created by outside passing objects. When they see a shadow – created by a passing human, animal, etc. – the prisoners name and classify these shadow entities. All they’ve known since birth are these shadows presented to them on the wall. That is their reality. Eventually, one of the prisoners gets freed and leaves the cave. Upon leaving the cave, he struggles to gain orientation and can’t believe that the shadows produced by objects are not actually entities. After a while, his eyes adjust to his new reality – the shadows are simply reflections of things that were real. He returns to the cave to share this real reality with the other prisoners. However, the prisoners believe the journey outside the cave changed the former prisoner and has made him blind. They violently reject him as he tries to free them and show them the outside reality.

Using the Allegory as background, Plato opines that: “Most people are not just comfortable in their ignorance, but hostile to anyone who points it out.” The prisoners only ever knew the shadows on the wall – and when someone came along to challenge their beliefs; they violently objected his assertions. The famous muckraker Lincoln Steffens paralleled Plato: “It is our knowledge — the things we are sure of — that makes the world go wrong and keeps us from seeing and learning.”

Plato and Steffens argued that we are blind to what we don’t know; but more importantly, we are unequivocally handcuffed by our celebrations of what we believe to be “known.”

“Kid’s are supposed to teach themselves? What a joke.”

In my aforementioned conversation, the former player was resolute in his opinions. He could not fathom a system that countered his own. After a while of listening to him, he emphatically questioned me multiple times: “Who teaches these boys if you don’t do lessons?” Again, he did not allow me a chance to answer so I tried pointing him to our previous blog posts – he obviously was not one of the 10 people that read them. Unfortunately, he was strong in his conviction and ultimately suggested: “Nobody is being taught by you!” Which he would go on to say a few times. Our “conversation” ended harmoniously: “Kid’s are supposed to teach themselves? What a joke!” Thanks for stopping in!

Ironically, I was in complete agreement with him. My goal is not to teach anyone. For in that context, the pupil is conceding power and accountability to the teacher. Moreover, using the Allegory and Steffens as pretense, power is not in the knowledge I can impart; but in the knowledge that I can get others to find themselves! As a former athlete, I find it insulting to student-athletes that I should be the knowledge center of their universe. What I want to do is facilitate learning; to allow student’s to be accountable for their learning, their growth, the information they consume. So the man was completely correct, because what we are doing is something wholly different than his view of “teaching.”

We Overvalue Our Own Knowledge

In my experience, we overvalue our own knowledge. This former player was so disenfranchised by my system because he so thoroughly believed his way of doing things was the correct way. I would have loved to have discussed his philosophies and why he felt they were the best and my years and years of research and video analysis. I never got that chance. He noted several times: “If nobody’s teaching these kids – how will they know to stay inside the baseball, how will they know how to squish the bug, that they have to keep the front shoulder in, that they can’t cast and have to throw the hands?” Misunderstanding while mocking my approach: “Oh I forgot, they teach that to themselves, right?”

His commentary was amusing – upon my reflection – because all of those things he taught were what I was taught as a player. I was taught how to swing using those cliches. Unfortunately, I never learned how to swing. I didn’t learn the mechanical efficiencies that made Albert Pujols and Miguel Cabrera the hitters they are. I didn’t learn the mechanical efficiencies that would make me successful. Maybe “squishing the bug” is the right thing to learn, maybe it’s not (I don’t believe it is); but I definitely didn’t learn it. I listened to some guru teach me to keep my back elbow up, to “stay inside the baseball.” But never learned why. How athletically limiting. How intellectually disappointing.

The fatal flaw; however, is all of these things that I “knew” were simply silhouettes in my athletic cave. I was a prisoner being presented a false reality. This man is a prisoner confined to his own reality. As a player, I was un-coachable because I had a flawed confidence in my perceived knowledge. As an educator, this man is limited because of his unwavering resolution in his orientation. How sad for the both of us.

Steffens Challenges You

We had a substitute teacher the other day. Random bookwork was assigned. Some kids did it. Some kids didn’t. Nobody learned. A teacher wrote a few graphs on the board, “taught” FDR and the New Deal, “taught” linear algebra – everyone wrote it down in their notebooks. Nobody learned.

It’s unfortunate to think of how many kids go for lessons and are “taught.” It’s unfortunate to think about how many students show up to classrooms and are “taught” by a teacher; how many teachers and coaches believe that they are the center of a student-athlete’s intellectual universe; how many students believe that just by showing up to a class they are “learning”; how many athletes who think just showing up to a practice, they are developing.

SHOWING UP, BEING “TAUGHT,” THAT’S NOT LEARNING. Learning – and by extension education – is the development of intellect, growth of social faculties, the celebration of ideas – one’s that you agree with and one’s that you disagree with. It is not sitting in a classroom or on a field and getting spoon fed information. It is not standing in a cage and getting fed baseballs and told what to do, how to swing, how to throw. Rather, it is a constant dialogue, a constant growth process. An obsession of both the learner and the teacher to grow, to develop, to advance. At the Compete Academy, we want to serve as a comprehensive source of knowledge. We want to expand our student’s horizons, impart the knowledge we have after years of studying and years of historical success – but we want the student to find their own way through it because not everyone is Jose Bautista, Bryce Harper, Mike Trout, Miguel Cabrera, Robinson Cano, etc. In fact, nobody is! Because ultimately, the journey that Bautista/Harper/etc. took to find their swings is diametrically opposed to the journey that our student-athletes will take. That’s the beauty of baseball (and sports). We all have different mechanical patterns based on efficient muscle movements. Ultimately, as coaches and educators, we are a vehicle to student-athlete growth, not the path.

So a challenge to you: In a world of an infinite amount of intelligent resources; be your own engine of intellectual growth. Listen to the advice and expertise of others. Try your hardest to understand and appreciate what people are trying to impart, what they believe in and why they believe in it. Care less about what you know and more about what you don’t know. Then, research – both academically and physically. Analyze videos, read blog posts (cough:cough), feel the advice in your own mechanics. Analyze the biomechanical efficiencies of the advice, look at what the best in the world do and assess whether it all makes sense for you. Recognize the fact that power is not in what you know to be true, but in what you don’t know or potentially can learn! So do not blindly follow shadows on the wall; rather, step outside the cave and question your “knowledge” to expand your orientations. Try new things, be intellectually curious, appreciate various ideologies, push yourself to open your mind, try to add value to others, continually add value to yourself, be accountable for your growth and ALWAYS COMPETE to reach levels of greatness that you didn’t think possible while being confined in a cave!

Comments 1

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *