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Skinning A Cat

nick ruddock Aug 28, 2016

How many times have you heard the saying ‘there are more ways than one to skin a cat?’

Perhaps, like me, you hear it ALL the time within your sport, and also like me, you hate the saying.

Now don’t get me wrong, there is merit and rationale behind the phrase, and I am not against its principle, HOWEVER, I often find it is incorrectly used and taken out of context.

The saying, derived way back in the 1850’s suggests there is more than one way to do something. That is clear, and can’t really be argued.

Here’s my main annoyance with it, linking it to it’s prolific use within gymnastics; just because there are 10 different ways of teaching a skill, doesn’t mean you should use them all. In fact, using them all is often counter productive! There is not a more complicated way of trying to teach an athlete a skill than teaching it multiple ways simultaneously. 

It’s admirable to be knowledgable enough to be able to use multiple methods to approach the teaching of a skill, and I would advise coaches to know as many different approaches to teach something as possible. The problem however, exists when coaches move from method to method without allowing one to run its course, or simply giving enough time for an athlete to understand and learn a concept. 

I’ve witnessed coaches attempt to teach a skill multiple ways within a single session, looking to be convinced that the athlete can pick one up. This can happen in training camp environments when several coaches working within a group all attempt to teach an athlete ‘their method,’ often ending up in a Feedback Frenzy.

An early indication of an athlete performing a drill well isn’t always an indication that they can master the entire skill using that method. We must also remember that early adoption of skill learning can be detrimental to the learning process, keeping in mind that there are few shortcuts in skill learning worth taking in gymnastics. 

Sticking to a single method in which you have conviction and confidence is NOT CLOSED MINDED, assuming that you have considered alternative approaches and remain mindful that there may always be a better, faster, safer, more accurate way to teaching a skill.

If for example, you’d been coaching at a high performance level for a decade, and taught a particular skill multiple times, to multiple athletes at an international standard, then I would imagine you would have great confidence in your approach and not wish to move to alternative methods just because you can or because another coach tells you to. That’s not being closed minded, that’s having expertise and conviction in your current method.

BIG DIFFERENCE.

There are more ways to skin a cat, YES, but that shouldn’t mean you skin the cat 5 different ways at the same time. 

How many cats did you skin this week?

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