Saturday, May 12, 2018

Coaching By FEEL

Shigeo Nagashima is one of the greatest Japanese professional baseball players of all time. He became a very successful manager of the Tokyo Giants after his playing career ended. He is famous for many Yogi Berra-esque anecdotes and quotes. One of the many stories about him center around his teaching of batting form to young players: While guest coaching at a youth clinic, he reportedly said:
"The ball's going come in like zooot! There you gotta get your stance like hrrrummph and then go VOOM with the hips! After that, you hit it like BAH-BOOOOM!
「球がこうスッとくるだろ!」、「そこをグゥーっと構えて腰をガッとするんだ!」、「あとはバァッといってガーンと打つんだ」- From
If the story is anything close to true, Nagashima was probably a very gifted athlete who could not (at least at the time) articulate how he developed one of the most devastating swings in Japanese baseball history. This scene from the 2015 anime hit, The Boy and The Beast, is likely based off of that same story. In the clip, Kumatetsu (the bear) is giving his first instructions in the way of the sword to his pupil, Kyuta.

It's interesting, but we all know great athletes that turned out to be (relative) duds as coaches. Probably not surprising that athletes that "get it" very early do not understand "not getting it". They see a novice struggle and think the problem lies in a lack of motivation or aptitude, rather than in a lack of proper instruction and progression. Admonishments like "You've got to feel it in your soul!", or "Just DO IT!" will not be enough for your athletes unless you are working with the truly gifted .

In today's era of information overload, approaches like Nagashima's (and Kumatetsu's) can be refreshing and, at times, revelatory. But for the analytical athlete, an approach based on "woo-woo" can be frustrating. A good coach can vary instructional method and tasks to suit the needs of the athlete and (relative) complexity of the task.

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