© 2020 by Nat Ballenberg

Balance: Part 2 - Learning

I think a lot about balance because I'm not good at it. In Balance: Part 1 I touched on avoiding burnout while following passions.


In this post we'll discuss how to balance being a consumer of information with being a distributor of information, and how this can enhance learning.


Most people don’t know how to learn. They fall victim to the idea that if they read something, they’ve learned something. This is rarely true.


For learning to occur, the information has to be readily accessible for deployment in real world situations. Just because I read Frans Bosch doesn’t mean I understand the concepts he espouses. (I don’t)


Like many, I find myself falling into the trap of reading book after book, taking notes, applying a new concept or two every once in awhile, and telling myself I’ve gotten much better. But I haven’t. All I’ve done is exposed myself to great ideas. I’ve only gotten a little better. I am only better by the degree to which I’ve thought about what I’ve read and actively dismissed or applied the concepts.


Instead, real learning comes from an active process of thinking about newly acquired information, letting it swill around in the mind, and then testing out the concepts that resonate.


During my first few years coaching in college, my own development felt fast and the drills, cues, and techniques I used with my pitchers changed constantly. Looking back I both applaud myself and cringe. While reading something, instantly testing it on myself, and then quickly implementing it with my staff allowed us to fail fast and iterate quickly, the constant change certainly impeded the development of a lot of guys.


But realizing the value of a steady system shouldn't be the reason to stop rapidly implementing small changes on an individual level. Failing fast is necessary for anyone to reach their potential, and being slow to implement new ideas I've come across in the past few years has certainly led to less personal growth, less learning, and less success than could have been achieved had I remembered this: If you don't pass along the information you've taken in, you're just a memory stick. And those things are worth about two bucks.



So, as I see it, here are the necessary steps to really learn a new movement concept, drill, exercise, or coaching technique:



  1. Encounter new information.

  2. Swill it around in your head.

  3. Do further research if necessary.

  4. Write it down in your own words or explain it succinctly to someone else without looking at your notes.

  5. Test it out on yourself.

  6. Implement it!



This should all happen as quickly as possible, or the thing you learned becomes just another thing you've heard about.



A similar method comes into play when learning something conceptual. Instead of just reading a book and trying to memorize facts, actual learning comes from internalizing the information.


So first, take a break! Breaks are really important. Time spent not thinking about new material actually allows your brain to make new connections and internalize it.


Odd. I know. Here's a quick explanation:


Your brain has two modes: The Focused mode and the Diffuse mode.


The Focused mode is when you're locked in and thinking hard to understand something new.


The Diffuse mode is when you stop thinking so hard and let your brain relax. You get a workout. You take a nap. You talk to your friend about that time in 4th grade you got sent to the principal's office for allegedly firing a spitball at Noah Skillen. (I didn't! I swear!)


And the crazy thing is, it's in this mode where the true learning happens. No, it can't happen without the Focused mode, but the real magic happens in Diffuse mode when your mind is working in the background trying to make sense of the new material.


It turns out that the steps for learning complex information are similar to those I just laid out for learning new coaching methods. They are as follows:



  1. Focus hard on new material (no more than 25 minutes).

  2. Go do something else. Allow your mind to wander.

  3. Test yourself on what you've learned.

  4. Repeat.



So the next time you're reading Bosch or something else similarly difficult, set a timer for 25 minutes, put your phone away, and lock in. Then get up and do something else for awhile. When you come back, try to summarize what you've learned.



So, what have you learned from this short post?


I'd love to read your version of my thoughts...but not until after you go do something else for a bit.


Enjoy your nap!




PS - For more thoughts on this topic check out this very short post on trying new things, this longer one on taking time to rest and recover, and this entirely free online course called Learning How to Learn.