Stefy

March 15, 2021

No. 3 — Games

Even before the first concrete of block was added to the house's construction, my dad managed to transport tons of sand from the beach to build a beach volleyball court. That's how enthusiastic he's always been about sports. First the court, next the house.

Just as families invite close friends to be part of their own family rituals (cooking, hiking, or watching football games), every single guest in our house has to play beach volleyball. It is not a matter of wether you'd like to try it our or not. It's not even a question. There are the fatty uncles, the young cousins, the new-to-the-family boyfriends, some acquaintances, and people we've just met. A peculiar parade of talents and personalities that have all gotten their feet in the sand.

I've always wondered about my dad's persuasive powers because when I say everyone plays, I mean everyone. But most importantly, in our house's recorded history, there hasn't been a single person who doesn't want to play again.

Here's what I've learned:

  1. People who learn the fastest are the ones who're not afraid to make a fool of themselves
  2. Great learners learn the fundamentals
  3. 90% of the time is not about how you play, but how good you are at receiving feedback 
  4. A great coach prepares a space that allows for all of the above

Let's tackle one by one.


1. People who learn the fastest are the ones who're not afraid to make a fool of themselves

A friend went to our house some weeks ago. She wasn't a big sports fans, she didn't looked very athletic, and she had never played volleyball before. Still, I noticed that she didn't cared if she looked ridiculous in her many attempts to serve. She didn't cared if she ended up all covered up with sand after an attempt to dig a ball. She didn't cared if she strike the air as opposed to actually hit the ball.

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And here's the important part: it didn't mattered. She was learning! Learning is supposed to be hard. You will eat some sand at first, but after repetition and incremental improvements, you will start getting better. My friend understood this (as most of the people who plays at our house), and she ended up being quite good in just a couple of days.

When you stop being self-conscious about your flaws and what others might think, and you focus only on the task at hand, you'll have more fun, and you'll learn faster.


2. Great learners learn the fundamentals

Let's be real: a weekend trip to the beach won't turn you into a volleyball master. If you have limited time, you have to be smart about what you learn and how you learn it. My dad has never given anyone a lecture on beach volleyball, but he always takes 5 minutes to share some fundamentals.

One of the things that surprised me the most when I got my dream job working with my childhood hero, three-time Olympic Gold Medalist Kerri Walsh Jennings, is that she focuses a lot on the fundamentals. I always imagined her practice sessions to be complex choreographies and impossible feats, but that's not the case. Most of the time, she even practices without a ball! This helps her make sure that she's focusing on her footwork (again, fundamentals).

When you focus on the fundamentals, everything else falls in the right place.


3. 90% of the time is not about how you play, but how good you are at receiving feedback

Ok, I admit my dad was sometimes impatient when we has first teaching me how to play almost 20 years ago (holly cow). But in the midst of it all, he always told me what I was doing wrong and how I could do it better. The prolonged sights or awkward silences were always accompanied by feedback. Honest, direct, and frequent feedback.

Same thing happens with my cousins, uncles, and friends when they're learning how to play. Move your feet faster. Get your body behind the ball. Knees bent. Huge hands.

When you see feedback as an opportunity to learn and grow as opposed to as an embarrassing moment in front of everyone else, you'll turn your weaknesses into strengths faster. And most importantly, when you actually pay attention to that feedback and focus on executing differently next time, you'll slowly but steadily begin to improve.


4. A great coach prepares a space that allows for all of the above

So what drives people to feel ok about making mistakes, inspired to learn the fundamentals, open to receive feedback, and willing to play again tomorrow?


Great coaches are great facilitators

1) If someone's going to make a fool of themselves, they need to be part of an atmosphere that's both playful and serious. Great facilitators know how to do this by first creating a culture of vulnerability and trust. If you are going to teach someone to learn something new, you have to let them fail, but you also have to give them the tools to rise up again. Learning is hard. Mistakes should be cherished.

2) Great facilitators teach the fundamentals and open up spaces for students to learn how to learn. Here, it's important that as a facilitator, you show and don't tell. My dad talks very little but he is always doing a lot. Others can easily learn from his example.

3) I've always considered my dad very critical and realistic, but he also thinks everyone has potential, and he's willing to help the worst and the best players with the same amount of dedication. That's what great facilitators do. They take the time to provide honest feedback regardless of who you are (and what potential you may or may not have). 

And lastly, high spirits are key. People love to learn how to play beach volleyball with my dad because it's fun. And when something is fun (even while it's hard), you want to do it all over again. 

Same with facilitation. If you manage to keep the energy high and to sense and respond, people will be more engaged. Learning is hard. But it's also supposed to be fun. 

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I'm Stefy. I write a newsletter about designing and facilitating learning experiences. Have some thoughts on this? I’d love to hear from you – drop me a note.