people (raising my hand here), have trouble balancing long term goals and planning with short term needs. Especially people who are not coaches or coached.
Good coaches, strength, track, powerlifting, whatever, are well versed in taking an athlete through a long process of progression. Years not weeks. (Well not fitness coaches. Those guys seem to think in 6 week blocks.) They take people through definite stages – beginner, intermediate, advanced – they understand that to get from level X to level Z you need to do this – and that the progress is not going to be linear.
Regular people, like me, have trouble establishing long term goals and sketching out multi year plans to meet them. Let alone sticking with anything more than six weeks. We get bored – we're stupid...
I think it's a little more complex than that. I mean, not that we're not bored and stupid; of course we are. But I bolded a few phrases above, because I think they point out something. Most of us have no idea what "advanced" entails, to the extent that we don't even know what we don't know.
Those of us involved in martial arts have an advantage in this regard. Traditional martial arts like karate or judo have belt levels. You can take karate or judo for ~6 months or whatever, get your yellow belt, and you know
where you are on the spectrum. There are green and blue belts ahead of you, somewhere beyond them are black belts, and there are more senior black belts, third degrees and up. You don't really "know" precisely what the brown belts or the senior black belts are doing, but you can tell they're playing a completely different game from you. And they're giving you a playbook for getting there; plus from conversations with other students you can get a sense of timeline. The playbook has "chapters" for where you are now; and you know that there are other "chapters" you haven't gotten to yet, that you'll get to next year or the year after.
This is one reason I'm so comfortable with my judo instructor. I can tell that he knows what I should be working on now – and what I should not be working on (yet). I asked him something at class the other day, about grappling, saying "I don't know what to do next when I get blah-blah-blah." And he paused a second, then said "Well for right now what you should be working on is x, y and z. Later we can add blah-blah-blah. But for right now, get good at x, y and z, especially x." He's "chunking" for me. He's decided on a challenging-but-achievable "chunk" for me to master first (or he's agreed with a handed-down syllabus, whatever); and then LATER he will teach me other things.
The advantage to traditional martial arts is that the student knows there is stuff he hasn't even seen yet, that he will learn at some point in the future. Not saying that TMA are the be-all and end-all; just saying that in regard to training with a "long attention span" (over years), this is an advantage. You always know there is a "next chapter" or "next unit" or "next belt" with fairly specific requirements and fairly specific content. I might choose not to stick around or train hard enough for "the next level"; but it least I know it's there.
Most other things are less structured. If I decided to take up jogging, or Tai Bo, or step aerobics or Zumba, or Nautilus at the gym, or mountain biking or hiking or racquetball; I could do any of those for six months, achieve a nice basic level of accomplishment – and then what do I do? How do I even know if there is a "next level" to go for? If I do Crossfit, I could go for 6-9 mos, get visible abs and a tribal tattoo, get my Fran time down to x mins and fuck AllisonNYC; but then what? What does "advanced" even mean?
There's a point I'm trying to get to, but I'm not sure how to hit it. Let me try with two stories.
I was a huge fan of the Maryland Terrapins basketball team during the years Gary Williams was head coach, 1989 to 2011. In the 90s he had a couple players who became NBA lottery picks, Joe Smith (1995) and Steve Francis (1999). If we think about an individual basketball player having developmental goals, obviously getting picked in the NBA lottery is a milestone. But 99%+ of players, even D1 players, have no chance of an NBA career. How do they know there is a "next level" for them to develop to? Gary had a bunch of teams that seemed to get to a certain level and peak: thru 2000 he had never advanced beyond the Sweet 16 in the NCAA Tournament. But then for one short period he had a particular group of guys who stayed together for a few seasons and really jelled as a team. They weren't super "talented", from the standard measuring sticks we use for college hoops teams: zero McDonalds All-Americans, only one NBA lottery pick (Chris Wilcox 2002), and one other guy who played for a long time in the NBA (Stevie Blake, 2003-1016). But they went to two Final Fours and won the 2002 national championship. They were able to do this because they were reall damn good at playing basketball.
That looks like just about the stupidest thing ever posted on this board. Really, the players on the national champion were really good at basketball? You don't say. But what I mean is, they were noticeably more skilled than Gary's other teams, at both the individual level (dribble-pass-shoot) and at the team level (team defense, team offense). Some of that is luck, in the sense of a group of players who fit together extraordinarily well. Gary coached for 33 years and never had another team quite like that one. But I want to flip it around and look at it from the player side. In the 1999-2000 season, none of the primary core of players who would win the championship 2+ years later (mostly Juan Dixon, Lonny Baxer, Stevie Blake) could have seen how good it was possible for them to get. They were not heralded as recruits, and didn't possess ideal size (except Blake) or speed (except Dixon). They were hungry, no doubt. Very focused motherfuckers. But they couldn't have seen exactly how their talents could meld together into the unit they became. That took vision and perspective. Gary molded those guys (and the rest of them) into a team playing a certain system to a certain level. Obviously the players are the ones who did the actual work: but they couldn't have known how to get "there", or where "there" was, without the coach.
I started playing Bridge in high school, hanging out with all the other nerds. We were mostly self-taught, except I looked at a couple books. I picked it up again in college, when I walked past a group playing it in the rec lounge. So I've played socially over the years, every once in a while. Sometimes online.
One year the ACBL hosted a tournament in DC, at the Sheraton. I went down there and entered the lowest-rated amateur "open" part of it, the part for walk-ups to pay a few bucks and play a few hands, and get a rating. Obviously I got destroyed. Annihilated. So what's interesting here is, I had played this game randomly and socially for years, and I had (still have) absolutely no idea how good it was possible to get. There are people who consistently compete for world championships in that game, and I have absolutely no idea how they do it. I'm aware that it's a game of skill, and I have some rudiments of that skill. But I have no idea where "the next level" is or what it could possibly consist of. Card counting and strategy, and – what? I love the game, but it's a complete mystery to me. At least Chess mastery I can understand: superior calculating ability, a lot of book knowledge of openings, and good solid intuition for promising lines. I don't have it, but I can imagine what it (probably) consists of. But Bridge? How the fuck do the great players do what they do?
So, the point I'm groping for is not that we are too stupid to execute the things it takes to get from level a to level c. We are completely ignorant that level c even exists. I mean, we know about Michael Jordan and Lebron James or Tom Brady or Andy Bolton or Cristiano Ronaldo or Fedor Emelianenko or Lance Armstrong. Or Omar Shariff or Gary Kasparov. But those guys are so far at the other end of the spectrum that they kind of don't count. They are level Z. Genetics and chemistry and top-level coaching etc etc etc for the sports guys; genius for Omar and Kasparov, I guess – who even knows. So those guys are level Z.
But a dedicated amateur can maybe get to level m, or at least level j. Sometimes the reason we stop at level b is not just that we are too lazy or too short-sighted to do what needs to be done. It's that we have no idea that levels j and m and q and v even exist. We have no idea what the secret depths are, what skills contribute to it. We get to level B and we think, "Ok I've learned that thing. Do I want to keep doing it, or find a different challenge to master?" We think we've got it!
Sometimes it takes a coach to know there even *IS* an "advanced level", or what's possible.
Does that make any sense at all?
War is the remedy that our enemies have chosen, and I say let us give them all they want.
– William Tecumseh Sherman