We’ve already discussed that chasing your curiosity isn’t always going to result in candy and funny stories. Sometimes it’s going to result in nothing and sometimes it’s going to dust up uncomfortable emotions and hard truths. All but the most curious coaches will want to turn-heel and run. But that’s what I’m talking about when I say curiosity is an unconditional passion for learning. It is:
- Making progress regardless of ease or difficulty.
- Searching for ignorance, utility, and truth.
- Finding the unknown and exploring it.
- Trying new things just to see what happens.
- Freely straying from the herd of copycats in pursuit of more useful actions.
If you foster and follow your curiosity long enough, eventually you will innovate better ways. If you don’t, other coaches and athletes will. Sports evolve on their own. Either you evolve with them, or get left behind. Curiosity is your engine for evolution, and it runs on your ignorance.
Once you realize that for every piece of ignorance you find within yourself, wed to it is an opportunity. You stop judging yourself and instead are excited by what you are about to learn. To a curious mind, ignorance is gold — and you don’t care if it comes on a silver platter or like a corn kernel lodged into a pile of life-shit thrown in your face.
- If you learn why athletes got hurt in your sessions, fewer athletes will in the future.
- If you learn why your practices resulted in losses, more wins will come.
- If you learn why your relationship didn’t workout, you’ll have better ones.
- If you learn why your work got you fired, you’ll be proactive in your next job.
- If you learn what obstacles are unnecessary, your life will be smoother.
- If you learn how wasteful grinding is, you’ll find more success.
When you commit to learning regardless of the situation, you maximize your potential. As you increase your expertise, danger looms. Hubris thwarts curiosity and leaves you nearly back where you started — making assumptions. They’re now high-brow, more learned assumptions, but assumptions nonetheless. Humility fosters curiosity. You know some stuff, and you know you could be wrong, so you keep wondering if what you do is useful and ensure that it is.
Now doesn’t it make sense how curious people are more intelligent and creative? They learn and explore more than incurious ones. They do not wear the costume of a coach. They do not act like a coach. They do not repeat practices and drills like perpetual motion machines. They actually coach — meaning, they make athletes better and keep them healthy. And they have evidence for it. Anything less is a sham.
Curiosity, at its purest, has no boundaries. You don’t just wonder about your profession, you wonder about purpose, philosophy, beliefs, words, actions, emotions, partners, and friends. You wonder why you create certain emotions and certain reactions. You wonder why and how you create your own suffering. Or how you are complicit in the suffering of others. You. Wonder.
That’s being a curious coach.
You, the coach, must create curious athletes, and here’s why: More than ever, athletes need to be curious and investigate their ignorances. Countless athletes look to social media or the Internet and ingest anything without question. If a pro athlete does it, they do it. If it is laden with claims and promises to make them better, they do it. If it’s hard, they do it. What they need is good guidance — from you.
Today’s athletes are bred into incuriosity. They are rewarded and praised for doing as they are told. They waste their finite time and energy on useless activities. But doing what everyone else does is a surefire way to stay accepted and claim innocence when things inevitably go awry. Athletes need you to be curious and lead them to better choices so they learn.
Curious coaches create curious athletes, and curious athletes win and explore what’s possible. They solve problems in new and different ways. They stay healthy and they adapt. It’s nearly impossible for athletes to maintain their curiosity under the dominion of an incurious coach.
This is how you create curious athletes: First be aware of your assumptions, then learn about them. Then repeat that process with your athletes, look for their assumptions, then help them learn. Instead of lecturing athletes, ask them questions. Lead them to discover their ignorance. Then, invite them to figure out the truth with an exciting drill or movement or something. It’s not that hard.
Beware the moments when your eyes glaze over while watching normalities — when the traditions of practice and training have lulled you to sleep — because there’s an opportunity to be curious, learn, and innovate.
Curiosity is not “on-brand” with today’s athletic culture but it should be. It is that itch that sends you down a rabbit hole and allows you to realize what you needed to know. It’s the spark that invites athletes to innovate and explore their potential. Curiosity is the antecedent to evolution.
- Loewenstein, George. “The psychology of curiosity: A review and reinterpretation.” Psychological bulletin 116, no. 1 (1994): 75.
- Burda, Yuri, Harri Edwards, Deepak Pathak, Amos Storkey, Trevor Darrell, and Alexei A. Efros. “Large-scale study of curiosity-driven learning.” arXiv preprint arXiv:1808.04355 (2018).
- Berlyne, Daniel E. “Curiosity and Exploration: Animals spend much of their time seeking stimuli whose significance raises problems for psychology.” Science 153, no. 3731 (1966): 25–33.
- Schutte, Nicola S., and John M. Malouff. “Connections between curiosity, flow and creativity.” Personality and Individual Differences 152 (2020): 109555.
- Liu, Lu, Nima Dehmamy, Jillian Chown, C. Lee Giles, and Dashun Wang. “Understanding the onset of hot streaks across artistic, cultural, and scientific careers.” Nature communications 12, no. 1 (2021): 1–10.
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