The instructions are like this for a reason. But are they?

Have you ever tried to learn the piano, or tennis for that matter (or any such thing) in a school—and found yourself in a situation with a teacher (a trainer, teacher, tutor, mentor, master, guru, coach, instructor) right up in your face?

And while you tried to learn, explore and enjoy yourself, did that teacher lecture you? “Just do as I say,” “There’s a reason why it’s taught like that,” “You think too much,”  “Everyone follows the rules, why don’t you?” … or any such phrases?

Well- it looks like most students don’t call their teachers out on that. They do their drills, put in the hours, and some rise to be the world’s best performers in their fields. And I don’t even need to consider teacher’s wisdom, I’m able to quote a proper psychologist: Julian Jaynes, who’s been a professor at Yale and Princeton for 25 years:

“In the learning of skills, consciousness is indeed like a helpless spectator, having little to do. Consciousness takes you into the task, giving you the goal to be reached. But from then on, it is as if the learning is done for you. Let the learning go on without your being too conscious of it, and it is all done more smoothly and efficiently.”

it’s all settled.
Shut up,
do your drills
and it all
will work out
just fine.

Except for me. I’m not the kind of person to accept such an attitude, and also not that kind of learner. “Coach, I disagree!” and I have Trevor Bauer’s sliders and curveballs as my argument, my vindication.

Trevor Bauer, the major league baseball pitcher, has extraordinary many ways to throw a baseball, and might used to be one of the best at that. With a background in engineering Trevor Bauer is highly unusual for his knowledge of the physics of baseball. Two-fingered fastball, four-fingered fastball, slider, curve, cutter, knuckleball, he studied them all in detail, and then some. In an interview he said that most pitchers don’t think about the physics of their pitches. He said that through looking at the physics and understanding the principles of a new grip, doing that deliberately and consciously so to speak, it took him (and his father) six hours to develop that new grip instead of perhaps 20 years of experimentation and fiddling.

To bring my argument home, here’s an excerpt from an article in Popular Science, “The physics of throwing a perfect baseball pitch”:

“Bauer is unusual in Major League Baseball for knowing the physics behind his pitches, Nathan says. Most players don’t think about it. Bauer thinks there’s a good reason for that; Analyzing the physics of the game makes it harder to perform if you don’t know how to switch back into a performance mindset. He says he’s lucky that he had enough time in the minors to figure out how to do that, but most players aren’t given that luxury. And he doesn’t think aspiring pitchers should try to emulate his methods. He actually suggests young players should rely on good coaches instead of investigating the physics.”

Concluding from that paragraph, it seems like Trevor Bauer might be at odds with himself. It almost seems to be a major step, a (r)evolutionary step for humans to allow themselves to become more conscious, to allow themselves to consciously look at how they learn and do things. And even if someone had great success doing so, like Trevor Bauer, the pitcher, they still might feel like they’ve been an outlier, or were in a unique position, or were unusually fortunate; and if they would tell their students to do what they did they might feel like putting their students at risk of failing, or they might even feel like they’d be betraying their peers, their coaches, their professional ethics, maybe even their own species.

But not I. I made that choice long ago. I started down this lonely road, too, and allowed myself to grow increasingly more conscious, just that  I am not uncertain. You can learn and improve a movement through, for example, rote drills, or through strategies that make you more conscious (for example somatic movement sequences, or biofeedback, or video analysis). And you can learn to thoroughly and skilfully switch back and forth between those two opposites. Or maybe even learn to adjust your level of consciousness as easily as a volume slider on your smartphone.

Times are changing. What was a lonely road before seems to be less deserted and more populated by the day. And what do we know, maybe one day learning through increasing consciousness will be a regular way of learning?