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Entries in school (22)

You Make the Call: Hold Back or Not?

This version of You Make the Call was sparked by a few recent coaching interactions, but has definitely been on my mind for a while. It centers around on what grade to put your kid in.

Scenario 1

Unsure about whether or not to enroll this year or next, you take your daughter to a Kindergarten open house at your local grade school. After sitting down with the teacher, it has been determined that your daughter is socially ready to go into the class this upcoming year, despite being almost a full year younger than some of the kids in the grade (though she is not the only one). So you send her through or do you wait to start school for another year?

Scenario 2

Your son is about to graduate the 8th grade at 13 years old (he's the youngest kid in the class) and is a very serious three-sport athlete: basketball, football, and baseball. He gets almost all A's in school, but his lack of physical maturity on the athletic fields is obvious. He's a major contributor on all of his teams, but is mismatched against the top-teir players, both on his team and opponents. Graduation is coming up and the option has been presented to move on to high school with his friends and continue on his education path, or repeat 8th grade and in hopes to level the athletic playing field. You want him to make the final choice, so what things do you tell him to consider? What would you like to see him do?

The Thing About Time Constraints

While brainstorming this post, I came up with three ideas for an intro and could not pick which one would fit best. So I’ll just do all three. Well, four if you include this one. But yeah, three from here on out. Use whichever one grabs your attention the most.

There are lots of bad things a teacher can say to you. “Can we talk after class?” is the universal bad news precursor. An unexpected, “Clear off your desk except for a pen,” means you should have been doing the homework readings. And, “Turn your card!” still brings back that horrible day in second grade when I accidentally went to the bathroom without permission. I cried.

Still, there is absolutely nothing in school, and maybe the world, worse than, “Now you all paid for a 4-hour class, so I want to make sure you get your money’s worth.”

GIVE ME CANCER NOW, GOD!

...........

Kanye West gave an interview back in the 808s & Heartbreak era where he said something along the lines of, “True art is something that can’t be subtracted from any more.” Fast forward almost a decade and he’s just released a string of 5 albums in 5 consecutive weeks for himself, Kid Cudi, Nas, Pusha T, and Teyana Taylor that might prove to be the most paradigm-shifting collective piece of work since Graduation. The new albums only have 7 songs each, and none of the individual songs follow the traditional 3 minutes and 30 seconds, 3-16s and 4 hooks format that gets radio play. Most songs are 2 minutes and some change. A few are 5-7 minutes. One doesn’t even have a hook, but just talks about him killing his wife, yet somehow sounds way more polite than when Eminem tried it in 2001.

Premeditated murder aside, all 5 albums are fantastic! There’s no filler tracks, no added parts on songs to make them radio-friendly, no extended intros, outros, or skits. Each song is done when it’s done; that is to say when the mood and message have been delivered. “All Mine” took 2:26 to do that, “REBORN” took 5:25 and is just the same hook over and over again. Yet these two, and every song on each album are not confined by anything. I would not quite call this collection “true art” based on Kanye’s definition, but maaaaaannnnn they are close.

...........

Dude, go back and reread On Elegance by Pat Sherwood.

...........

Teaching (and therefore coaching) is part mechanical and part artistry. The mechanics of it have to do with best practices, progressions, and management. The art of it comes when prescribing doses; exactly how much coaching does this person need at this exact moment? Trying to find that line and not go over it is the art of coaching, and each coach should be on a constant, relentless pursuit of subtracting unnecessary things out of their practice.

Scenario 1 – track practice

I am standing in front of a high school track team of 65 kids; complete mix of long distance, mid distance, and sprinters. Even a few throwers. We need to 1) get them something resembled to sweating before the workout and 2) keep on the reinforcement tip with technique, little piece by little piece every day. Their attention span is limited because everyone’s is, and some kids are only there because their friends are there, and have no desire to run at all. So going through my head, I need to figure out what would be the least amount of coaching in as few words as possible in order to get the things we need accomplished.

First we need to organize the layout in a way where the “good kids” – meaning ones who care, sometimes fast, sometimes not – can lead the drills and demos and everyone else can follow by example. So lines of 10(ish), starting at the 20-yard line and working our way back to the endzone, gradually progressing from good kids in front to shit kids in the back. As the front row kids demo, I walk from line to line making small, concise corrections to individual athletes.

Next is finding exactly what stuff to cover for technique. The entire team follows Pose (which is art, by the way, as it cannot be reduced) and as I watch the drills, I try to decide which specific area of Pose needs to be emphasized. I notice it’s one of those days where it’s all bad, but still I pick 1, and I pick the Number-4 position – the one thing all runners go through whether they want to or not. They don’t seem to have a desire to run fast, so a falling emphasis would not be the way to go, and since the pulling is designed to reclaim the Number-4 Runner’s Pose anyway, let’s just keep it simple and keep our attention on that.

As the practice progresses, I constantly look for ways to refine what will be taught, and only let words out of my mouth that need to be said and can’t be communicated any other way. I save most of my words for important post-practice discussions like who is hot among the rappists on Soundcloud.

Scenario 2 – 60 burpees for time in August

We follow crossfit.com at the Champions Club, and instead of doing 50 bar muscle-ups for time, on this horrible August day we decided to do 60 burpees for time instead. Our 9 am session has 15 people: a few high school kids, a few college kids, and even a Mrs. Kroll sighting. Our warmup had couple exercises listed on the board, and after the first hollow rock everyone was in a full sweat. But we carried on knowing what was coming soon. Then we did a mobility for the hips to help the landing position, went over the bowing technique on the burpee with feet together, translate it to feet apart, then do one more shoulder mobility to prep for all the push-ups. 7 minutes later everyone was flat on the ground and we saw great scores across the board. I looked up at the time and it was 9:40.

“All right kids, that’s about it,” I said. “Get a little cool-down walk or something; I’ll be here for another 20 minutes if anyone needs anything. Otherwise once you get your stuff on the board and walk, you’re all good!”

Scenario 3 – Max effort back squats

Workout of the Day: Back squat 3-3-3-3-3-3-3 reps

At the 4:30 pm session, we get an unexpected influx of 13 people – which is a big session for us.

Everyone has pretty good form, but it’s just a little chaotic. I let the warmup drag on a bit too long because everyone was socializing, and it took a little extra time to decide how to split up our 5 squat racks.

Then in the middle of it, I found a session-wide thing that we needed to improve on. So I stopped the lifting for a bit to address it. Next thing I know it’s 5:20 and we still need to get more lifts in. I go from rack to rack, instructing to either go up, down, or keep the weight the same. Avery finally got it! She kept her arches on the transition between down and up, and doesn’t even have to look at her feet to do so! We can finally start moving up past 65-lbs. I look up and the clock says 5:28.

“5:30 kids, we’re probably going to start a little bit late, so hang tight”

I know Avery is not going to be able to work up to a true 3 rep max on the spot, but I do want her to experience lifting a few sets that would actually seem heavy for three reps. A one-hour time constraint is not going to stop this from happening.

...........

Exact time keeping is important in certain areas of life (track and field, marines, Super Mario, etc.) but for the most part the hours and minute hands are there on a clock as a general point of reference. When someone says, “I’ll be there in 5 minutes,” you are assuming they’ll be arriving soon enough, so don't take care of your business. If your little cousin’s birthday party starts at 11 am, you are not going to blow through a red light just to avoid getting there at 11:02.

In the professional world, this also varies from place to place. If you scheduled a half hour consultation with a potential client, you would not cut off mid-sentence when clock beeps for 30-minutes. On the other hand, if your teacher is going to mark you tardy for having half your body outside the class when the bell rings, then by all means push over anyone necessary to avoid detention. In the world of being a CrossFit coach, I think it is fair to make yourself available for an hour at each session, and a one-hour session is a good, general timeframe to advertise. We just have to know not to be slaves to that one hour. Above all else, we should strive to never put out a crappy product. When we are trying to fill time at the end, or cram stuff in, it usually turns out like crap. So don’t do that! Let things be done when they’re done.

You Make the Call: Better Off Without Them?

One of the things I've always wondered is if you dread seeing someone, why does it make sense to keep them around? The following scenarios have to do with the "toxic" people - as Shakes calls them - and whether or not you can allow their negative vibe ruin everyone else's time.

...........

Scenario 1

You are in the middle of a basketball season and your team has great chemistry and plays well together except for one player: Paul. Paul is physically one of your best players and is very talented, but doesn't take direction well at all and does not work hard. More than anything, he's one of those kids that sucks up a lot of your energy and you end up dreading practice because of him.

As the kids walk in for Sunday's practice you see one by one come out of the locker room, but no Paul. After a few minutes have passed, you get a text from Paul saying he's sick and won't be at practice. The following hour and a half proceeds to be the best 90 minutes of basketball your team has spent all season and the energy felt great.

What do you do next?

Scenario 2

You are a high school history teacher. Your class is full of 23 kids who range from very interested in history to not-really-interested-but-I'll-be-good-cause-dad-will-whoop-me. And then there's two little "shit kids" that make productive teaching nearly impossible. Andrew and Ellis are their names, and they're thick as thieves. Disruptive talking, public disagreements with assignments, and constantly bringing down the overall class GPA. Worst of all, they are professional punks; they know exactly how much to say and do that is disruptive but are clever never to do anything blatantly inappropriate. Most R-rated comments are hidden in inuendo.

As your 4th hour rolls in you notice both seats absent usually occupied by Andrew and Ellis, and you immediately change plans to do an interactive lesson you would be hard pressed to get away with were they present.

Considering it's only the 3rd week of classes for the fall semester, what do you do next?

Thinking Out Loud: Productive Thoughts from Unproductive Seminars

by, VJ Tocco

Each Monday at 4 PM, our department invites a speaker from another university to deliver a seminar presentation about his or her research. Most of these people are brilliant, much smarter than I will ever hope to be. Yet, every presentation, roughly one-third of the way through, I become physically ill with boredom. I do anything I can to entertain myself, including crossword puzzles, doodling, and reciting rap lyrics silently in my head. The time slowly creeps by as the speaker drones on and on until the conclusions slide finally appears on the screen, mercifully signaling the end of the talk.

This weekly ritual is deeply tragic because companies and government agencies spend an absurd amount of money to fund research projects, and yet nobody in the audience learns anything. I can’t speak for my colleagues, but the percentage of noses buried in phones or papers during the presentation gives me a hint.  The reality is that even the best research cannot be perceived as interesting if the presentation is horrible.  During a particularly painful seminar a few weeks ago, I did some meta-thinking about why seminars are unbearable week after week. This treatise is the product of that seminar.

In my first year of attending these lectures, I struggled with lacking the intellectual capacity to digest the material. I had always been able to follow any lecture in school if I put forth the effort, but try as I might to focus on every data point and conclusion of the seminar talks, none of them ever clicked. Only during my thinking session did I realize that my intelligence was not the problem; it was the communication skills of the presenter that were lacking. The thoughts contained in these seminars are often disorganized and difficult to follow. Many of my friends that don’t share my technical background sometimes lament they aren’t smart enough to understand what scientists do. I wholeheartedly disagree; I think they just haven’t had technical subject material presented appropriately to them.

So why can’t scientists just keep it simple and communicate their research effectively to a broad audience? I came up with several reasons. Some scientists are pretentious egomaniacs and intentionally confuse the audience to make their work seem profound. Other scientists are simply negligent in considering exactly what the audience knows or does not know. A third class of scientists have discussed their specific area of research in so much depth with other experts that they have difficulty taking a step back to look at their work from a broader perspective.  But perhaps the biggest reason why scientists struggle to communicate is because scientists rarely put conscious effort into organizing their thoughts.

Communication and thought organization fall under the umbrella term soft skills, which includes other desirable non-technical attributes such as teamwork, work ethic, and professionalism.  I personally find the absence of these topics in the curriculum (at every level of education) deplorable. I've heard some faculty members use the term "soft skills" pejoratively, insinuating that soft skills are trivial when compared to hard-core chemical engineering topics like fugacity, the Navier-Stokes equations, and transfer phenomena. Isn't that asinine? Over the past few months, I've taken my soft skills education into my own hands, researching, experimenting, and practicing different techniques to improve. I've been proud of my progress, but frustrated that I've had to discover these topics on my own.

One might argue that everyone learns how to communicate and organize thoughts in high school, but I personally became an engineer because I hated the abstract essays that my English teachers used to assign about the literary prose du jour. I was never any good at speculating on the author’s intentions in flowery literature. Those assignments taught me how to complete an assignment, but they did not teach me how to think. Perhaps the actual process of learning how to think must come from within (I hate those types of abstract cliches, but I think that one plays here), not an assigned topic.

I urge anyone who wants to increase their communication or thought organization skills to 1) teach yourself how to write and 2) write as much as you can. Write on something you know. Write about anything you see going on in the world that interests you. Formulate unique opinions and craft them into an essay. I’ve learned that almost everybody has something unique to say about something. Or a unique perspective shaped by their experiences. Yet, few people have the ability or courage to communicate those thoughts. My high school basketball teammate Chris Sinagoga is a great example.  He was never interested in literature class, but man, can he write an essay about Lupe Fiasco's wordplay. The thought process that goes into crafting an argument is independent of the subject matter. Don't be like our seminar speakers. Do what I’m trying to do.  Find a topic you’re passionate about, write about it, and publish it somewhere on the internet. You will be surprised by how quickly your communication skills develop.

You're Internet's Not Working Gerald!!!!

With the crazy winds we got on Wednesday, I've heard a lot about schools closing, power going out, and internet going down. Naturally, it made me think of one of my favorite South Park episodes, Over Logging.

It's always interesting to see how much things go to crap when we lose our technology. And thankfully South Park is always there to make fun of us when it happens.

It goes without saying sessions will carry on as normal this weekend regardless of a power outage.

Parent-Teacher Poll

Man, few things brought terror into my mind like Parent-Teacher Conferences. In 1st grade I found out Mrs. Clark would be meeting with my mom and dad and I just about lost it similar to Mr. Carey when he finds out there's push-ups in a workout. Fast forward to middle school and for the first time I was required to sit in as Mrs. Hicks tried to make some connection between my dedication to math and shooting a free throw. Finally, I can't remember if my parents went to conferences when I got to high school, but I know I didn't.

I know a lot of your schools had the first conferences this past week or two and considering the diversity of our group I'd be interested to hear any funny stories you may have. No doubt Mama V has some good ones to share.

But the main question is, Would you rather be there for Parent-Teacher Conferences or would you rather be at home knowing you're being talked about? This can be from a student, parent, or teacher's perspective.

The Flaw in the Grade Scale

In school, 60 percent should be an A. Maybe an A+, if they still give those out.

When dealing with a conflict, it seems to me that everyone’s first assumption is that they are correct and the other person/thing is wrong.

Mom: “You’re coming home too late”
Our thoughts: No I’m not. Moms be trippin’

Coach: “We’re going to cut you from the team”
Our thoughts: The coach sucks

Lumbergh: “Yeah… I’m going to need you to go ahead and move all your stuff to Storage B
Milton: “Okay… I’ll set the building on fire”

While it is true that people can say and do things that the majority would conclude are wrong, their mind tells the opposite story. To them, they are right and we are the ones who are frustratingly wrong. In other words, they are thinking the exact same thing we are! What make us so special to judge quickly? Still, our reflex is to deflect responsibility and refuse to accept that maybe we were out late, or didn’t practice hard enough, or were too obsessed with squirrels and Swingline Staplers. I think a main reason for this habit comes from our history of being penalized for being wrong in the place we spend most of our developmental years: the classroom.

I know I’m not the most credible in this area but I think the grading scale I grew up with, and many of you are familiar with now, is totally unrealistic. If I recall correctly, 100-90 is an A, 89-80 is a B, and so on until you get to 60 and below being an F. The further you rise up the academic ladder, the more emphasis is placed on top marks. So getting a C, which is supposed to mean average (despite being right 3 out of 4 times!), is the often the bottom of the barrel. But don’t worry; for some of the difficult classes, you get a boost to a 5-point scale. And if that isn’t enough, teachers will give you partial credit when you are sorta right.

In other words, we are pampered.

No other area of life demands the success rate present in school (especially high school). Think of all the decisions a lawyer, entrepreneur, engineer, or teacher has to make throughout the day – both little things that go under the radar and big things that will affect themselves and their subjects. I would be willing to bet that most good professionals are about 60/40 on their decision making. In other professions, being correct is even less common. A defensive coordinator calling for a blitz on 30 plays in a game would be ecstatic if it resulted in 4 sacks and a few hurries. A decade of succeeding 3 out of 10 times at the plate gets you a statue in Cooperstown. And guess the correct weather once every month or so and they’ll put you on TV.

In real life success comes, sometimes, occasionally, after a lot of hard work and luck. But they are not mutually dependent. Often times, hard work and dedication just don’t produce the results you want. That is why many people see sports as a great learning environment and why a lot of employers look for former athletes to hire; their ability to deal with an unprecedented occurrence of failure is very valuable in any area. On the other end of the extreme, when success taken for granted, you get parents complaining to teachers about their precious child getting that weird minus sign by the A.

In my subjective/anecdotal view, I have noticed a correlation between someone’s GPA and their willingness to admit being wrong. For instance, Murley and Aly had outstanding grades in high school – which is even more impressive considering they each played multiple sports. Coincidently they both struggle dealing with failure (in my opinion) because they experienced so little of it in school. On the flipside people like Matt Fecht, and Jack Trastevere – not the brightest of students – don’t appear hesitant about putting themselves in failure’s way and consistently hold their own. Matt is a lifelong hockey/baseball player who is hell-bent on running for a profession, while Cap’s Jack is an unathletic pudgeball who insists on doing 2:43 rx’d Frans and risking his life longboarding a death hill. There are counter examples, obviously. VJ Tocco, my former teammate, comes to mind – as he was Murley/Aly-level smart yet was consistently the first to admit when he was wrong. And I’m pretty sure JZ got grades similar to Jack and Fecht and still argues with brick walls in his spare time (I’m officially making that a tag). But in my experience, it seems likely that people with a 4.0+ generally don’t take being wrong very well. Again, I think the problem is not with those students, but rather how they are graded.

There is no way I should have received an A in anything other than gym class. I am a B-level writer (above average) and D-level anything else. But I also don’t think I should be penalized for that. Some people are outstanding at math, some people are outstanding at sports, some people are outstanding at science, and nobody is outstanding in everything. If they expect to be, then they have probably been pampered as well. I think the grading scale needs to reflect students’ true strength and weakness.

I know performing a complete overhaul is not realistic. But one of the things Kelly Starrett talks about is this concept of “mutually accommodating systems” – meaning all correct systems have the same principles. So spotting outliers is usually a sign that either there is a misunderstanding, or something is not correct. The fact that being “perfect” is so common in school and so rare everywhere else makes me think that there is a flaw somewhere in the grading scale – in the same way I believe there to be a flaw in the Endurance Base. There are a few adjustments that I think could be incorporated from K-12 to make the results more realistic.

  • Make the questions harder
  • Less leniency with what actually determines a correct answer
  • Less time to prepare for some assignments/tests
  • No 5.0
  • Adjust the difficulty so the class average is a C
  • Keep things as pass/fail
  • Make straight A’s a national newsworthy accomplishment

I have heard classmates say, in the exact words, “I have to be perfect.” In school, this may be realistic for the time being. But if this mentality translates into other areas of life, then problems arise. Expecting one hundred percent on things sets people up for unreasonable expectations and can make them not try things that they could fail. If that becomes the case, then you are missing out.

You don’t generally get smarter/better from being right. If anything, you are just reaffirming that you are as smart/good as you thought you were. Instead, you should strive to be wrong. When you learn why you were wrong, you become smarter. That seems to be generally how intelligence works.

I think Aaron Sabal has this figured out pretty well. He started off as a bad student, changed to a really good student, and is now in Doctor School. He is also very slow to judge. He listens carefully, asks questions, and then presents his understanding if he still thinks he’s right. This kind of delivery, as opposed to the examples at the start of this post, is usually the difference in getting things accomplished.

Our brain is a muscle and it thrives off challenges same as hamstrings and abs. Settling for “being right” does very little to challenge ourselves. Instead, throw yourself to the wolves. Have a conversation with someone that isn’t a yes-man, find a pick-up game with the players everyone considers the best, take on the project that you think is over your head. Start off asking, “Am I wrong?” And give it sincere thought, knowing that if you, in fact, are wrong, it isn’t a bad thing. You aren’t being graded. Rather, it means there’s an opportunity for improvement. And when in doubt, trust Dumbledore:

“Perfection is beyond the reach of humankind, beyond the reach of magic. In every shining moment of happiness is that drop of poison; knowing that pain will come again. Be honest to those you love, show your pain. To suffer is as human as is to breathe.”

Or any of the other Quote of the Week people:

They’re not wrong. Probably.