A back flip.
I wanted to flip, flip hard, and flip now. Gymnastics became the medium through which I understood the world. Raw strength and flexibility tranlated into drills and progressions that evolved into mind-bending skills, which comprise the elite gymnasts’ routines that google your eyes every Olympics. Practice, practice, practice and win medals, so I learned. I loved winning medals as a young gymnast. Winning meant my more popular peers harassed me less (to my face at least) for doing a “girl’s sport.” Boys played football and basketball. They had no idea--I really had no idea--what astounding life-lessons were transmitted through my everyday training. Free weekends were a thing of the past until I was 22. The sensation of ribbon-dropped weighted medals slung around my neck provided endless security and stability to a boy at a vulnerable age. And when I didn't win medals, coaches taught me how to re-channel frustration into constructive training habits.
The word gymnastics conjures very different mental images and emotions in people's minds. Training, at the highest levels, is similar to raging a graceful civil war against self. Rare it is that a subset of humankind is so compulsively compelled to repeatedly push the anatomic fault lines and contort their perception of what is humanly (sometimes inhumanely) possible.
The truly undervalued assets in gymnastics are coaches. Like any sport, good coaches are invaluable to a young person's development. Gymnastics coaches, even more so. To teach a nine-year-old to flip is an amazing feat. To coach a nine-year-old to perform a back flip on a 4-inch piece of leather-covered wood, while being judged? You can only imagine. Some parents can't get that same child to brush her teeth each night at 8 pm. Coaching any competitive gymnast is a game of mental chess requiring trust, accountability, selflessness, and a strategic patience.
Gymnastics is perhaps the safest, high-risk sport out there. Difficult skills amount to the accumulation of repeated processes. Skills compound. Gymnasts' abilities to acquire certain "styles" of new skills increases. Coaches understand how a particular gymnast's body moves, reacts, and activates upon take-off and landing. Gymnastics is applied physics and human mechanics at its finest. And, technical know-how? That's the bottom-most rung in your Maslow-esque ascent to your highest level of coaching incompetency.
A coach dares to venture beyond simple motivational forces. Coaching is a next-level commitment that begins when a coach, an athlete, a team--fully understanding each players' roles and responsibilities--begin documenting performance, tracking metrics, and holding one another responsible. Coaches, like William and Mary’s Men’s Gymnastics coach, Cliff Gauthier, understand that a tipping point of accountability or "buy-in" from all parties is necessary. Coaches' moods fluctuate, just like athletes’. Great coaches are not infallible, but maintain perspective. A seasoned coach understands how to hack into an athlete's psychology when it's needed most and when to let her navigate her path alone. These are life lessons. Mentors are often absolved from the burdens of accountability. Coaches are tethered--hook, line, and sinker. Coaches hold vested options in the stock performance of his/her athletes.
I began taking training methodologies from gymnastics and applying them to academics. Pay attention in class (basic strength and flexibility) and do homework (drills and progressions) in order to perform well on quizzes and graded assignment (skills). Suddenly school made sense. I created a gymnastics-based algorithm to compete in school (perform routines) and earn good grades (win medals). When I received good grades, my family (a blessing for which I am ever-thankful) made no mention that my long hours in the gym were affecting my academic performance. The equivalent joy of clanking medals in gymnastics transmuted into the silence of naysayers and bullies in school.
But was I actively learning in school? Had I simply stumbled upon a work-around solution to a system unfit for my learning "style?" Gymnastics was my lens of understanding, but I didn't have the language to communicate that dynamic to my teachers. At 16, I came across Howard’s Multiple Intelligences: The Theory In Practice (MI). It provided context for a problem with which I had struggled with my entire life: Why school (sans gymnastics) never "worked" for me. The day I picked up MI was the day I began consciously learning how I learn. It was a Eureka insight into my personal learning style.
Since sharing this story with friends and colleagues, it is clear that everyone has their personal “gymnastics.” In fact, I venture to say this is a rule, not an exception, especially for my generation. The traditional classroom is quickly becoming an artifact of yesteryear. Gen Y, not only in the U.S., but globally, envision classrooms to be learning laboratories--mental gymnastics facilities where teachers are real coaches. Utopian, perhaps, but inevitable, nonetheless.
Dr. Gardner, How Do Humans Learn (Anything) Faster?
This is The Question that, oddly enough, I enrolled in Babson's MBA program to answer. From achieving fluency in a new language, internalizing the intricacies of complexity theory, launching a successful business, or stepping out of one’s comfort zone to learn a new dance craze—how do we, as humans, improve our learning condition?
This topic is a loaded gun with a sensitive trigger. I suspect there exist as many right, wrong, and to-be-determined answers as there are opinions and conflicting research. I'm convinced entrepreneurship--or at least the mobilization of resources that lead to the creation of something original, of value, to benefit society--might have something to do with it.
Needless to say, it is The Question that the StartUp Scramble team is dedicated to advancing for Gen Y and the Net Generation. I do not anticipate attaining educational Nirvana on the third sip of latte while conversing with Dr. Gardner. Rather, I hope to depart on a firm handshake, armed with an arsenal of more difficult questions; more of the same difficult questions that drive my personal exploration deeper into the quest to find answers to The Question.
Everything Comes Full-Circle
StartUp Scrambles incorporate all of our insights gained along this journey. We're a human learning technology team. Scrambles turn the extended university campus into experiential laboratories for students and teaches mentors how to be better coaches. Herein lies the program’s true raison d'être. Reinforcing the urge to contribute your unique flavor to your community, via startup ventures (whether through StartUp Scrambles, Startup Weekend, Compass Partners, or the many other wonderful entrepreneurship-focused programs matriculating into college campus curricula) is awesome.
Participants should realize that startups are a means of the program, rarely the end. Startups are a sleek finish to your sweet car’s exterior. Programs must pop-open your hood to expose the engineering of your ideas and ambitions, then give you (the driver) the tools, resources, and racetrack to super-charge your performance. The goal, and a large component of StartUp Scramble's MO, is planted three layers inception-deep: (1) To learn how to learn (2) how to teach each successive generation to learn (3) how to learn, better, faster, stronger. And, exhale.
In the future, how will you learn things faster? One thing I know for sure: Our current education system is staring in awe at a back-flipping future and desperately needs real coaches.