Teachable Moments

-Bumped. BN Eds.

[The subject of teachable moments is a Las Vegas-sized buffet of ideas. It's nearly impossible to choose which aspect to "eat," and even more difficult, which aspects not to eat. In writing this post, I found it difficult to limit myself to one main topic (teaching), and to limit myself to two examples. This may be the first part of a multi-part sequence on teachable moments. I did not label this post "part 1," giving myself an out :-), but leaving open the possibility of exploring other aspects of teachable moments in the future.]

I'm a sucker for underdog sports movies. Rudy, Hoosiers, Miracle, all of 'em. I'll watch one or two, for the umpteenth time, every year. I'll empathize with the underdog. I'll fear the overwhelming opponent. I'll hope that the underdog isn't embarrassed or humiliated. I'll ride the roller coaster of hardships and dismal odds, sprinkled with pinches of inspiration. I'll cheer when the underdog gets off the mat/field/court. I'll feel the energy surge within him. After getting hammered all game, I'll feel the underdog realize, perhaps for the first time, "Hey, I can do this." Then, I'll bask in the glow of his accomplishment, if not victory. I swell with teary pride every time I see movies like this. I fall for it every time.

I haven't played a lot of competitive sports, and nothing beyond high school outside of tennis and softball, but I have played enough to recognize that competitive sports are about a lot more than skills and playbooks and plays. Another, often under-appreciated aspect is will and desire. Another is the value of a good teacher, that is, a good coach.

A good teacher teaches lessons. A great teacher teaches lessons and inspires. Inspired players develop will and desire that leads them to play at a level beyond what they, or anyone else, thought they were capable of previously. A great coach recognizes hidden talent, and presses the right button at exactly the right time to nourish this hidden talent and cause it to sprout. At least, this is the way it works in the movies.

Nestor's post, Guerrero's Latest Hapless Spin on UCLA Basketball, mentions Dan Guerrero's use of the words "teachable moment" to describe a tough loss against Stanford. "Teachable moment" is one of those trendy, over-used catch-phrases making the rounds lately. "Going viral," "it is what it is," and "repurposing" are among many others. In Dan Guerrero's case, talking about a teachable moment following a tough loss is just one more way of saying "we will turn a corner." It deflects attention away from the reality, and hints at a prosperous future. But, it does nothing to help realize that prosperity.

Teachable moments, you see, are generally not announced affairs. There is no build-up, no fan-fare, no "get ready; here it comes" warning. They just happen. And, once they happen, either they are seized or they are not.

When they are seized, teachable moments become teaching moments. In their aftermath, they become taught moments. More often, though, teachable moments come and go without a ripple. Further, once teachable moments are gone, they usually stay gone. Teachable moments have very short shelf lives. They don't wait around for someone to act on them. If they occur and no one seizes them, they pass into oblivion with no guarantee whether or when they or any others like them will come around again.

This is what makes great coaches so special. Great coaches recognize teachable moments, and seize them, at least occasionally. Though, no one bats 1.000 with teachable moments.

But, back to sports movies. In my sappy love of underdog sports movies, there is a common thread, aside from the David vs. Goliath theme. It is that each of these movies contains one or more teachable moments that are seized courageously, without hesitation, and are forcefully planted in the, often unwilling, students. I love this. In my very limited experience with high school football, even I came to appreciate a Drill Instructor-type coach who would be a hard-ass 99% of the time, but every now and then would say or do something that would open his players' eyes, and help them rise above their current limitations.

I'm going to give two examples of teachable moments. The first is from a movie (Hoosiers), the main story of which was based on reality. The second could be a movie, though it happened in real life.

In a scene from the movie Hoosiers, the star player (Jimmy Chitwood) for Gene Hackman's character (Chitwood's coach) was the only player on the bench. Although he was the team's best player, the coach had yanked him out of the game earlier for having violated his coach's principles of team play. This, on its own, was a teachable moment. You don't play my way, you sit. But, Hackman's character had not yet begun to teach.

The game was in the closing minutes. Close game. Every second mattered. The whistle blew. Foul, the fifth on one of Hackman's players. The dejected player ambles to the bench. The only remaining player, Chitwood, gets off the bench, preparing to go into the game. This is where the clip picks up.

[Note: The publisher of this video clip has not allowed the clip to be embedded in this post. To play the clip, either click on this link, or, under Windows, right-click the image below, and select Watch on YouTube.]

My team is on the (via ckhaynes79)

The next example is from Coach Bob Knight, by way of author John Feinstein. I'll apologize in advance for the shoddy, third-hand reporting of this example. I have not (yet) read Feinstein's book (One on One), which I presume consists of multiple chapters, each of which relates stories about Feinstein's personal experiences with and observations of particular athletes and coaches.

Feinstein was a guest on the Jim Rome show, to which I do not have a subscription, so I cannot get the quotes right. My "reporting" of this anecdote is a product of my own, quite-fallible memory. Therefore, I will not use quotation marks, indicating that this reportage is a very rough paraphrasing, meant to capture the gist of this anecdote.

Another disclaimer: I may have the facts wrong. The entire team had recently been over to someone's house for, I think, Thanksgiving dinner. I think that the house was Coach Knight's, and I think the preparer of the meal was his wife. I might be wrong about these details, but the gist remains.

In the interview, Feinstein describes a scene of Coach Knight, in the locker room with his Indiana team following a November or December practice. Coach Knight was exasperated. All practice, he had tried in vain to get his players to do what he wanted. The players had probably been trying hard, but they hadn't satisfied Knight. So, he addressed his team.

Knight: You cannot be good basketball players if you are selfish people. I'm not talking being selfish players. I'm not talking about making an extra pass, or setting a screen, or helping on defense. I'm talking about being selfish people. A week ago, all of you came to my house for dinner. You probably don't know it, but Mrs. Knight had spent four days preparing that meal. She selected and bought groceries. She cleaned the house. She planned dinner so that it all came out at the right time. She cooked the dinner. She served you.

Knight, after a lengthy pause: Now, let me see a show of hands for those who took the time to send Mrs. Knight some flowers, or wrote her a note, or called her to thank her for going to all that trouble for you.

Team: Complete silence; no hands raised.

Knight: That's what I thought. (pauses) You cannot be good basketball players if you are selfish people.

Feinstein: And, with that, Knight turned and left the dressing room. The players stared after him in silence.

Feinstein, pausing several seconds to let that sink in: Now, THAT is coaching.

This is a FanPost and does not necessarily reflect the views of BruinsNation's (BN) editors. It does reflect the views of this particular fan though, which is as important as the views of BN's editors.