“The uncomfortable experience of being a beginner” is a Zen saying. Learning something from zero is awkward and scratchy. Whether driving a car, playing an instrument, cooking a meal or speaking a foreign language, you fumble through it, getting things wrong more often than getting them right.
Put in a different way, you begin a new skill in unconscious competence. You have no idea of just how much you don’t know. You then, with a few lessons move to conscious incompetence. Meaning, you now begin to understand what you’ve let yourself in for – just how much learning you have ahead of you. Conscious competence follows after a lot of practice – you can do the new skill, but only if you really think about it. And finally, unconscious competence – “Well, I can’t explain how, you just do it…”
How many times do you hear riders, athletes or trainers yelling at their pupils – just make it happen. Make the horse rounder. Make the horse more collected or more elevated. And when asked how, they say, just make it happen. Unconscious incompetence. They don’t know what they know.
The problem comes in when an instructor doesn’t understand this.
Many years ago, I was working with a young instructor. He was a talented rider but hadn’t taught much. I was watching him teach a group of beginner kids one day, and he was saying – it’s just trotting, all you have to do is go up and down – come on now, it’s not complicated, it’s just trotting, up and down.
This was a problem. No beginner at anything is going to progress by being told that it’s JUST A, B, C, and that they should be able to… So, we came up with a plan, and took this young coach roller blading. He’d never tried it before. Once he’d hopped into his shoes, stood up and uh – fallen over, there were a couple of us yelling, come on, get up, what are you lying on the floor for? It’s just standing on wheels, it’s easy, look, you just do it like this…
It didn’t take him long to get our point. A few days later, I was watching him working with a group of young riders, and there he was, patiently explaining, this is what I want you to do, and this is how we are going to achieve it. Lesson done.
We can never lose sight of how uncomfortable and difficult it is to be a beginner. It’s awkward and challenging, and it’s a time when we coaches need to be patient and explain, not be yelling, Just Get on With it, it’s EASY. I try, all the time, to keep doing things that are new or challenging. By learning new skills all the time, I keep the learning space in my brain open, and remember to be patient with novices.
When was the last time you tried something for the first time?