Those Who Can’t Play, Coach.

‘Those who can’t play, coach.’

This was the version of a quote or should I say misquote that a parent said to me one day while we were discussing my former playing career and why I became a coach.

‘Those who can’t do, teach.’ was the way I remembered hearing that saying as I assume many of you reading this have.

There are variations of this quote that have been attributed to George Bernard Shaw and his play Man and Superman in which the line is ‘He who can, does. He who cannot, teaches.’ No, I did not know that was the origin of the quote until I looked it up and then skimmed the Cliff notes.

Gotta love google.

I wanted to make sure I had the correct quote before I decided to write about it in personal experience. More importantly to avoid any embarrassing tongue lashings from you Shaw disciples or dedicated playwrights correcting me in the comments section.

That parent’s choice of words may have been a little different than the intended quote, but the message was clear. It sounded like a backhanded compliment to me. It isn’t meant to be as negative as it sounds. I remember it stinging a bit. I also remember being offended by it at first. I rarely get offended by anything. It felt like an insult to my ability as a player. Why? What did he know? He had never seen me play.

‘Those who can’t play, coach.’ Seriously?

Yeah, I guess I was a little bit more than miffed. Maybe a tad ‘chippy.’ I am sure he didn’t mean anything negative or hurtful, which is why I was having trouble understanding why he said it at all. What was I misinterpreting? I gaffed it off with a shrug and a smirk agreeing with him at the moment.

Internally I was boiling in my ignorance and feeling pretty perplexed and rattled. As days and weeks went by I would find myself revisiting those words in my head trying to turn the negative translation in my head into a positive feeling.

What was the true meaning?

Why did this guy say that?

Was I never good at any of the skills required to excel in baseball?

I started to pick apart my physical and mental weaknesses and shine a bright light on what I thought were the reasons I never made it further in the sport.

Was it my ability? Was he right?

Could I really not do?

It wasn’t until I deeply thought about what the true meaning was in that quote. It started to become more clear the more I coached and taught. The things I was learning from other coaches was helping me understand.

Right or wrong my interpretation of those words came to this: only a handful of gifted people in an area of expertise have the incredible ability to achieve the highest level. Translation: they can do. Better yet, they can do extremely well.

Conversely, in my quest for the true meaning, I discovered years later that in several instances those that can do, cannot teach.

Aha. What was that?

Think about it. When it comes to baseball have you ever witnessed a gifted player try to explain hitting, pitching or anything else to a young player? Ever realize how they struggle to simplify the basic fundamental instruction? It is remarkable how well they know exactly what to do and yet a lot of them have no idea how they do it. They just do it. Freaks of nature I like to call them.

Some of you reading this may disagree because you watched an MLB player on TV explain how they achieve launch angle or maximum exit velocity. They must know. They are the best, right? This thrilled me to no end. I realized some time ago that I wasn’t put on this Earth to be a player at the highest level but rather put here to teach and help mold others to reach their highest level.

If you do not possess that elite level of skill or natural talent that doesn’t mean that you cannot teach it. If you continue to learn more about a particular subject and understand what is involved to progress, you can teach it. The key is the ability to communicate and pass on that information to those who stand in front you seeking answers.

Not everyone can be rock stars, Nobel Prize winners, Oscar-worthy actors, world-famous architects, or Hall of Fame athletes. The world needs people to help those who are still learning how to raise their game. Students and players need to be taught how to decipher information that is given to them. They need help to get more out of themselves when they feel that there is nothing left. The world needs teachers, coaches, and mentors to assist in the learning process of those who are destined to reach the pinnacle of their journey and attain their greatness. This helps future teachers and coaches to be inspired and pushed to do the same for the next generation.

Think of all the best or most successful coaches in the world of sports. I can’t think of nor could I find in my research any Hall of Fame players that were also Hall of Fame (HoF) coaches. I did find a lot of HoF players that went on to be good coaches. I also found a lot of HoF coaches that were merely average players. I could not find anyone that accomplished HoF status as both a player and a coach.

Yep, googled that too.

Let that sink in. What does that tell us?

You can do and teach at the same time. Some are great at doing and some are great at teaching. It takes hours of trial and error to acquire the ability to take information, absorb it completely, analyze it from every angle and then present it to the student in a way that they can understand it more clearly and easily. All the while keeping in mind that every student is unique; they all learn differently. Figuring out how he or she learns best so that you can adapt to them is key.

A favorite quote of mine by Albert Einstein, ‘If you can’t explain it simply, you don’t understand it well enough.’

It is a never-ending schooling process for us as the teacher or coach. We should always continue to learn more, to sharpen our skills in our ability and our advancement towards superior teaching and coaching. If you are not on board with extending your learning capacity or operating from a growth mindset then you are doing a disservice to yourself, other teachers and coaches and more harmfully, to your students.

A note to all you coaches and teachers out there that did not achieve your playing goals or reach your desired level of excellence in sport or otherwise. Remember, it is your decision to believe in whether you can or cannot do anything. Whichever you choose to believe, either way, you are correct.

The great John Wooden said, ‘You have not taught until they have learned.’ He was pretty good at doing, teaching and coaching.

Keep doing.

Continue teaching.

Never stop learning.