As practioners and coaches, teachers and students, we are constantly seeking out information to make us better at what we are trying to do. We stalk and search. If only we could see and know, then we could do. Despite our constant consumption, we are never quite satisfied.
Looking back on the multiple stages in my career(s), I didn’t start getting good until I began drawing my own conclusions. I was a personal trainer and/or movement therapist who started every assessment off with the Functional Movement Screen but didn’t know what to do with the results. I used progressions and regression given by Gray Cook and Charlie Weingroff, but if the script went awry I got stumped, quickly switching focuses and body parts and writing the client off as an outlier. Because I didn’t have a philosophy of my own, I was settling for being a second rate version of somebody else.
Similarly, when I started teaching high school Health and Physical Education, I did what those more established than me were doing. I ran the same warmups and copied formats. I kept pace with chapter reviews and vocabulary tests that were going on in other classrooms in the building. I was re-doing what seemed to work well enough. But none of what we were doing seemed useful. It felt wrote and disconnected. We were doing these things and nobody exercised the liberty to ask why.
I began lingering in topics the kids wanted to talk about. These discussions told me everything I wanted to know: what they were curious about, how they viewed themselves, and their place (or lack of) in this world. They could not become thinkers until they were valued for what they thought. These unique individuals became contributors to the same cause, and it allowed us to engage in creating something meaningful.
Like the personalities from class to class, I recognized that I was different from the football coach and the technology savvy gal who wanted to create medical-prep program. I was interested in pain and motor programming and identity and getting out of depression. Perhaps these kids who were trying to find their way could gain something from what I was passionate about. Maybe we could help each other be comfortable with who we are and what we could provide. At the very least, we’d both have another option to consider.
Little by little, I kept chipping away from what I inherited and replaced it with what I could envision. I started looking for gaps, what these kids kept asking for (either directly or indirectly), and where the needs were. Then I started making things to fill the gaps. Single lessons that were received well became in-depth projects. Thirteen years into this gig, as I look over the curriculum, I realize it’s all stuff I made up. It existed because I was willing to let them lead me where they wanted to go. It was successful because they were the topic of study.
Getting people to think about themselves is the best possible way to teach them.
I figured I could do the same with movement. I wanted to build a Physical Education program that revolved around feeling and mindfulness. It has been a long and taxing road, but I’d never take it back. Trial and error is part of the process. I dig into what they like and cut short what they don’t. I rethink and redirect. I let them lead me. For my pain patients at the clinic, I stopped pre-writing programs. I kept finding it was futile to chunk out the perfect hip session only to find their neck today is really what’s killing them. We simply have a conversation at the start. They prioritize what needs work and I use their input to organically develop the session. I let them lead me.
It is very strange to be considered a leader when all you really do is follow and assess needs. I am a product of my experience. Two words from a sixteen year old can shake your very existence. A client can come up with their own solution if only you would ask. It’s all made up stuff. Encourage as many people to throw their hat into the ring and the help you seek might be tossed right to you. You don’t need any qualifications in order to make the attempt:
Take a look around the room. You’re the only person in the entire universe who knows what you’re looking at. Furthermore, you’re the only being that can answer what you think about what you’re looking at. Neat, right? Taking it a step further, because you gave it that moment of time and attention, it became the most important thing in the world. We all have this power, and we can channel it anyway we wish, even at ourselves.
Making stuff up isn’t a sign of ignorance or lack of resources. It’s an action based on the belief that you can make something happen. Regardless of whether something is brand new or pieced together, it can be made fantastic by infusing it with your own connections. If a guy like Andreo Spina, brilliant creator of Functional Range Everything, can stand in front of a crowd and explain how “it’s all made up stuff”, be open enough to consider it true. Accept that theories and systems are all individual interpretations of the work that came before.
GUIDING QUESTIONS TO HELP PERSONALIZE YOUR PRACTICE:
- Does new information erase or alter old information?
- Is there a need that this new information is addressing or am I biased by my interest?
- What is most important to me?
- What does it look like for a problem to be solved?
- Do I know what my clients, students, or patients value most?
- Have I asked them what they want?
- What am I looking for and why am I looking for it?
- Do I ever stray from routine?
- Have I explored how this can be done differently?
- Would a blank slate frighten or excite me?
- Have I added or subtracted from what I was given?
- Would others who do what I do approach it the same way? (Am I OK with this answer?)
- What experience have I had that might lead me to look at this from another angle?