Education or Experience?

edu or exp

Any idiot can learn how to squat and then learn how to teach someone how to squat. Really, YouTube, a recording device, some patience and self-awareness are about all you need to learn and perfect your own squat. Figure out how to concisely verbalize those lessons to a new person, and bam, you have just become a personal trainer.

Ok, all joking aside, I certainly don’t mean to discredit the years and years that people put into their craft to effectively help people achieve their goals. All I am saying is that the barrier to entry is low and it really isn’t all that difficult. This will make sense and come full circle, don’t worry.

On this journey, you’ll basically identify that there are more or less two foundational squat mechanics. That which you might call the “Olympic” squat where you are squatting with a narrower stance, as upright as possible, with a full range of motion in order to accommodate the lowest squat possible (for catching a clean/snatch, as an end game for the movement) versus a box squat or a powerlifting squat, which is wider, just breaking parallel and more flexion at the hip; more geared towards moving as much weight as humanly possible through a defined squat parameter (past parallel to full hip lockout).  Yes, there are variations, supplementary movements, and so on, but this represents the two foundational squats out there.

Two squats, two purposes. One is not better than the other, it all depends on what you want (surprise, no reason you can’t train both!). One is more quad dominant, one is more glute dominant. You can figure out, without too much trouble, that this is basically how the big squats are accomplished. And, why lookey there, I just did exactly what I proposed and have come to these conclusions! I can now teach someone how to squat!

By analogy, I can go online and find out what is legal and illegal. I can, as a consequence, not break the law. To keep it nice and simple, I can avoid penalty by simply not punching people in the face. I can also advise people and say, “you cannot punch people in the face, it against the law.”

However, to go back to our squat, if someone were to come to me and say, “my hip really hurts when I do this, what should I do?” this becomes a lot more tricky.

Now, if you have 20 years experience, there is a strong chance you have seen something similar and have a solution. But, there is another component too – education. The educational process is not to learn HOW to do things, in most cases. It is learning, theories, precepts and principles so you have the tool kit to critically evaluate a given set of data (because nothing will ever reflect the neatness of a text book example) and parse through the available solutions for the best one.

I’m not sitting here trying to make an argument that education is more important than experience. Let me repeat that, I am not making the claim that education is more important than experience.

I am making the argument that all of the people out there discussing why one is more important than the other (saw some content on Facebook that I can no longer find) are completely missing the whole goddamn point. They are both equally important. They are complementary in every way.

By analogy, without law school training, I would be fundamentally ill-prepared to evaluate legal documents, comb the literature and present the best case for a client with an adept understanding on how laws are written and interact. The educational background gives you the tools to evaluate the landscape; the practical experience gives you the ammunition to present your case in the most effective way possible. You don’t learn how to prosecute in school. You don’t learn how to evaluate the law by practicing your persuasive delivery.

You cannot eschew or neglect one for the other. If you are seeking advice, you want a coach or trainer who doggedly follows the latest and greatest in the academic field and is constantly honing his craft out on the gym floor. What is the possible downside of a coach with 20 years of experience and an educational background that is constantly refined and evolved to match the best current understanding of the physical human condition?

We are so persistent in “making a case” or “taking a side” that we lose sight that if we are truly to be professionals, we have to stay abreast of the current trends of knowledge. Just like a lawyer keeps abreast of the current laws and statutes and a structural engineer keeps abreast of the current codes and guidelines within their jurisdiction. There is no substitute for being a polymath in your discipline. You should know it all. Further, you should know how to apply everything you know.

Is this not clear? Why are all of these people coming out saying that they learned nothing in a Bachelor’s Degree program and learned more in a 2-day seminar hosted by CrossFit?

That’s fucking absurd.  Well, maybe they did.  But, that is a crazy thing to say with the thrust of the point being that  CFL1 is somehow, by implication, more important to your career as a coach than an educational background. I have no bachelors degree, practiced my craft in the gym for a few years on my own, went to the CFL1 and learned NOTHING. I suspect the bachelor’s degree would present a host of information I am completely naive to. Isn’t this scenario simply representative of where our knowledge lacks? If you have no practical knowledge, a CFL1 is probably immensely helpful in practicing your hands on abilities to coach and program – you could argue that is what it is specifically designed to do.

Let’s put it this way. If you are looking at a coach and he says, “education doesn’t matter.” Run the other way. If you are looking at a coach that says, “I have all the degrees and knowledge, my experience doesn’t matter” (probably much less likely, lol) run the other way.

If you find a coach that says, “I have lots of experience and also continually educate myself within my field” you have found a coach that is worth the money. Don’t let this super polarizing bullshit sway your decision making. You want someone who takes ALL aspects of their profession seriously, not just the parts they favor the most.

If you are an aspiring coach, take this to heart. You cannot spend all day in a library learning how to coach and program just like you cannot spend all day on the gym floor and expect to have an in depth understanding of anatomy. Do it both, ladies and gentlemen, every other professional worth a damn is doing the same.


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