Coaching a Surgeon: What makes top performers better?

Very interesting piece from the New Yorker:

What we think of as coaching was, sports historians say, a distinctly American development. During the nineteenth century, Britain had the more avid sporting culture; its leisure classes went in for games like cricket, golf, and soccer. But the aristocratic origins produced an ethos of amateurism: you didn’t want to seem to be trying too hard. For the Brits, coaching, even practicing, was, well, unsporting. In America, a more competitive and entrepreneurial spirit took hold. In 1875, Harvard and Yale played one of the nation’s first American-rules football games. Yale soon employed a head coach for the team, the legendary Walter Camp. He established position coaches for individual player development, maintained detailed performance records for each player, and pre-planned every game. Harvard preferred the British approach to sports. In those first three decades, it beat Yale only four times.

The concept of a coach is slippery. Coaches are not teachers, but they teach. They’re not your boss—in professional tennis, golf, and skating, the athlete hires and fires the coach—but they can be bossy. They don’t even have to be good at the sport. The famous Olympic gymnastics coach Bela Karolyi couldn’t do a split if his life depended on it. Mainly, they observe, they judge, and they guide. . . .

The coaching model is different from the traditional conception of pedagogy, where there’s a presumption that, after a certain point, the student no longer needs instruction. You graduate. You’re done. You can go the rest of the way yourself. This is how élite musicians are taught. . . . They studied . . . for a number of years, and then they graduated, launched like ships leaving drydock. . . .

Coaching in pro sports proceeds from a starkly different premise: it considers the teaching model naïve about our human capacity for self-perfection. It holds that, no matter how well prepared people are in their formative years, few can achieve and maintain their best performance on their own. . . .

  • guest

    Just to clarify: it does goes onto say that musicians also have coaches which perform similar duties — critique from the outside. 

    awesome article
    -residential musician

  • guest

    too early to post. *resident musician. 

  • marco polo

    Of course, it is not just the rise of the coach that is different. 

    Teachers, teaching & modes of learning, in general, have changed radically since the days of Walter Camp, too.  And the disciplines that are taught are different, as well. It’s not just the infinitesimal that science studies, but the behavior of systems and the capacity to engage in predictive modeling on all levels.In particular, Taylorism, with its emphasis applying empirical observation on humans in all sorts of organizations–not just business ones–has spurred the idea of progress and making things better.I disagree with the assumption that “the coaching model is different from the traditional conception of pedagogy, where there’s a presumption that, after a certain point, the student no longer needs instruction.” Given the expansion of knowledge today, lifelong learning is central to the human experience, which may mean returning to teachers to learn many times in one’s life.