Could Luke Skywalker have learnt to use the Force just by reading a wookiepedia entry by Obi-Wan Kenobi? Could we all become the Karate Kid if we watched Mr Miyagi instructional videos on YouTube?
(TLDR version: Rather than blow all that cash on gear that you can’t fully utilise due to your lack of experience and/or expertise, why not make an investment in getting a coach to help develop and hone your skills first?)
What’s the first thing you do these days when you want to learn something? If you’re like most of the connected world, chances are you’d be googling for how-to’s, YouTube videos or some other free internet resource.
It’s mind-boggling what learning resources are available online, making learning just about anything possible for anyone with an internet connection. You can learn how to do that dreaded PPAP, or how to unclog a drain. I recently learnt to ride a scooter after watching two YouTube videos, before riding down the streets of Danang on a rented moped. I live to tell the tale.
Google may be your friend. But is it the best teacher?
If you’ve tried using Google Translate to learn or use a foreign language in its country of origin, you’ve probably gotten some strange looks from the locals. And hopefully strange looks were the worst thing you’ve received.
The thing about online learning is that while you’ll probably acquire some level of rudimentary expertise, technology hasn’t (yet) evolved to the stage where it can give you active feedback and convey the nuances of whatever skill you’re trying to learn. In the long run, these details can be the difference between being average and being pretty awesome, or in more dire circumstances, life and death.
Skydiving is not something you want to learn off a YouTube video
So what now, given you can (sort of) do what you set out to learn?
Option 1: Buy better gear
Some folks are perfectly happy with half-baked skills and try to compensate with better tools and equipment. Whether it’s a featherweight, carbon fibre bicycle or a state-of-the-art DSLR camera, newbies can be tempted to get the best gear possible to complement their basic skills. If they get poisoned by their fellow enthusiasts and slip down the slippery slope of "buy-buy-buy!", it’ll probably not be long before they start blaming their equipment instead of questioning their level of expertise. And this dear friends, is my beef.
Option 2: Get proper training / coaching [RECOMMENDED!!]
I’ve been lucky in my lifetime to have had several teachers who imparted skills to me. I was taught to respect and take care of my gear, but never becoming a slave to my equipment. My current triathlon mentor, Michael Lyons, makes the comparison between someone who buys $5,000 bike wheels to clock a 10 minute improvement on their personal best time, versus someone who signs up with a coach for $2,000 puts in the training, and scores a 25 minute improvement. (Coincidentally, that was my last improvement!)
I’m not saying that every coach is going to get you results, but if you are thinking of getting more serious about whatever it is you are interested in, improving your skills should be the priority. Not the equipment.
To do this, you’ll need more than just internet-based resources. You need a coach.
Things to Think About When Picking a Coach
- Peer recommendations - Some of your more experienced friends who are pursuing the same interests as you will probably know of some of the more popular coaches. Don’t be afraid to shop around, online and offline.
- Relevant experience - There are coaches with certificates, and there are coaches with real world experience. Just because they have either doesn’t mean they are going to be able to teach you. But if they have neither, then I’d be sceptical.
- Free trial - Don’t be shy. See if you can get a free session or two to see if you get along with the coach/teacher. Some coaches may be very set in their ways and if you’re fairly stubborn too, this may be a recipe for disaster.
- System - Ask for their teaching approach to see if they have a systematic plan in place. Someone who works on “feel” alone is a big gamble. Unless you’re talking about Yoda or Master Wugui.
- Flexibility - Given everyone’s hectic schedules, you’ll find that you’ll need to miss a session or two at some point. Ask how your coach will handle these situations in a way that is fair to both of you.
- Testimonials - See how other students who started in similar circumstances have progressed. Are you inspired? If so, it might be worth a shot!
- Now, hopefully you won’t blow that year-end bonus on new gear that’s beyond your ability.
[Is this your coach? If not, make sure he has a plan]
Julian works on social media for OCBC. He tries to train for and compete in triathlons, but is constantly foiled by good food in Singapore. Follow @julianlim on Instagram for more of his (mis)adventures.