"It is difficult for young players to learn - because of the great emphasis on records - but, ideally, the joy and frustration of sport should come from the performance itself, not the score. While he is playing, the worst thing a player can think about in terms of concentration - and therefore of success - is losing. The next worst is winning.”
Legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden sums up nicely a concept that has taken hold of me and won’t let go. In my research for What Teachers Can Learn from Sports Coaches, I heard from a number of incredible coaches this same message: the worst thing a player can do is focus less on the process and more on the outcome, results or score.
Consider this analogy. A basketball player who steps to the free throw line and focuses on either making or missing the free throw has severely handicapped himself; his focus has shifted from shooting a free throw correctly to an outcome over which he has no control. In truth, even the greatest free throw shooter cannot control whether the basketball falls through the rim. What a player can control, however, is the process of shooting a free throw. Feet, knees, elbow, wrist, fingers, form, shot, follow-through, etc. A great coach teaches a player to remain focused on the process of shooting, not on makes and misses. A player can control the process, and in fact can trust in the process which he’s practiced, learned and perhaps mastered, but he cannot control the outcome.
The irony of focusing on the process rather than on the outcome or results is that the closer a player is to mastering the process, the greater the likelihood of the desired outcome becoming reality. There exists here a direct correlation to education. Because of the “great emphasis on records,” as Wooden says, or on scores, performances, grades and other quantitative so-called measures of learning, schools, teachers and students easily can lose sight of education’s true goal – mastery – and focus instead on outcomes and results.
Consider this analogy. An AP US History student spends the entire school year focused on earning a 4 or a 5, then on the day of the AP exam stresses about what her score will be. The student, focusing on an outcome over which she has no control, has handicapped herself heading into the exam. What the student could have controlled all year, however, is the process of mastering the AP US History content universe along with the reading, writing and critical thinking skills emphasized in the classroom by a great teacher. If this student focused and relied on the process, which she practiced, learned and perhaps mastered, she would put herself in the best possible position to achieve the desired outcome or results.
With the heavy emphasis on performance and scores in both athletics and in education, we have lost sight of the importance of mastery and the process. Wooden enjoyed more desirable outcomes – NCAA national championships – than any other NCAA basketball coach in history. He did so, though, by focusing on the process rather than on the outcomes or scores. Wooden's emphasis on the process played out on both a micro level (i.e. free throws) and a macro level (i.e. wins and championships) and his players reaped the benefits. Educators today should steal a page from Wooden’s playbook and consider the significance and potential benefits of focusing on the process and mastery rather than on results, performance and scores. Furthermore, to paraphrase Wooden, the "joy and frustration" of learning should come from the process, "not the score."
In my next post I will address Wooden's thought, "ideally, the joy and frustration of sport should come from the *performance itself, not the score."
*It is worth noting that Wooden uses the word performance in this quote to mean the game itself, not the final outcome of the game.