I’ve had that coach, and you may have too. The one whose way is the ONE TRUE WAY (OTW). Or maybe it wasn’t a coach, but a school teacher, a parent, or any other authority figure.
No matter, this is the person for whom it is vital that everyone know there is OTW, and that studying with them is the only way to achieve it. This is the coach who disparages other coaches’ methods, who is not able to be flexible for the needs of different bodies, and who rigidly refuses to integrate new or different ideas into their teaching.
This may also be the coach who has a cult of personality, a devoted following of students who have bought in to the OTW, and who have been told they are superior due to their adherence to this coach’s personal method.
In my journey as a student, I have experienced the warm glow that comes from having the approval of the OTW coach. I have walked the line, eschewed the idea of there being multiple “right ways” or “schools of thought”.
And I have suffered for it.
It made me closed off to learning from others. It made me overly proud, not of my skills, but of my affiliation. Most concerning of all, it robbed me of personal ownership of my craft. The OTW coach often feels and behaves as though they own their students’ work, and students can begin to believe it too.
Now keep in mind, the OTW coach is probably a very good technician, and their students probably learn excellent skills. This is in no way intended to say the OTW coach is a bad teacher. The OTW coach, at some point in their life, has learned that the only way to be taken seriously, to be seen as an authority, or to get work, is to be 100% right all the time and never waver. This coach has learned that humility is vulnerability (true) and that vulnerability means you get hurt (sadly, often, also true). They have not learned that vulnerability, hurt, and being proven wrong are opportunities to learn and grow. This speaks volumes to the environment in which this coach was trained, and the attitude of the people they worked with. It’s a symptom of a systemic problem - a culture that takes advantage of uncertainty and vulnerability, and that rewards dogmatic thinking.
In my journey as a coach, I have heard the siren call of the OTW: It’s simple, it confers a feeling of solidity and superiority. But I know that’s not the coach I want to be.
For me, it comes down to valuing and practicing humility and openness. It comes down to accepting that the field is always changing, and that there are multiple “right ways” to train and to execute particular skills.
My class and my teaching are not free-for-alls without standards. But I do express curiosity when a student pipes up “I learned it a different way”. I encourage my students to explore, to try a couple different techniques and see what fits their body best. I elaborate upon safety and alignment when necessary to be sure students aren’t training themselves to injury. I correct myself when I learn something better than what I’ve been doing. At the end of the day, I can only teach what I know. I can only take my students as far as I, myself have gone. If I stop learning, so will they. If I become locked into a way of being that doesn’t allow for adjustment or growth, I will lock my students in with me. I want my students to learn safely, with excellent technique, and I want them to learn that they own their skills, have control over their learning, and deserve a coach who is also devoted to improving right along with them.