Hey Coaches and Teachers: Quit Being Calm, and Start Getting Messy


If you’re like most people, you grow up instinctively believing that the best learning takes place in an orderly, calm environment. We want well-groomed sports fields, tidy classrooms, and customized high-tech equipment. We want our teachers and coaches to be wise authorities, standing in front of the group and smoothly delivering all the answers.

The problem, as master coach George Whitfield Jr. so vividly shows us here, is that our instincts are exactly wrong. Click the video to see why.

  • Instead of a clean, orderly field, he heads for the soft, tricky sands of the beach. (Or, in some cases, into the water.)
  • Instead of lecturing, he uses a series of short, informative, vivid soundbites: “GPS,” “Sandwich,” “Battery,” “Pull the reins,” and so on.
  • Instead of fancy equipment, he uses rakes, shovels, and beanbags, seeking out ways to replicate the chaotic, everchanging environment they’ll face in a game.
  • Instead of having an established system, he constantly innovates, creating new games and drills that are both useful and fun. (Check out how the players describe — and show — how much fun they’re having with him.)

One reason George succeeds, I think, is that he understands a basic truth: calm, orderly, authoritarian environments create passive learners. So he approaches learning as an active collaboration — a messy, stressful, individualized construction process.

In short, he approaches his job like a hacker, ignoring conventional wisdom and instead asking the simple question: what do I need to do right now, with the stuff I’ve got on hand, to make this person perform better?

Which makes me wonder: do you have any other similar examples of teacher/coach hacking that might be worth sharing?

(Big thanks to reader Trevor Parent for the heads-up)