Wrestling And The Dreyfus Brothers

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October 18, 2010 by David Gillaspie

Two questions:

When do you know you’ve learned something,


when do you know you’ve taught something?

The Dreyfus brothers, Stuart and Hubert, break it down in five steps.  For example, if you ride a bike you started as a beginner and got better.  Same with driving a car.

The five stages, from Novice to Advanced Beginner to Competent, then Proficient and Expert, are known as the Dreyfus Model Of Skill Acquisition.  It is the result of work the brothers did for the Air Force.

Author Patricia Brenner used the Dreyfus Model in nursing practice and education.

Instead of asking her to apply it to wrestling, I’ll take a shot.

1. Novice:

– wants to read a manual,

– be told what to do with no decisions making,

– doesn’t want to learn, wants to accomplish a goal,

– they follow rules and don’t feel responsible for the outcome; no previous experience.

The army calls these guys trainees.  I like novice better.

The novice wrestler goes to novice meets to wrestle other novice wrestlers.  If you’re a senior and a first year wrestler, you’re a novice.  At the novice meet you acquire the confidence that your coaches know what they’re talking about after you apply what you’ve drilled in practice to a live match.

With doubts erased on the mat, you can reflect on the experience.  Every novice has their make or break moment:  To wrestle, or not to wrestle.

The difference between the novice wrestler and every other athlete learning a new sport is that everyone has already had years of wrestling experience growing up.  All the Grandma hugs for hello and goodbye were Greco balance drills.

We’ve all had relatives dive in for the unexpected double under hook hug and had to regain our balance.  Memo to novice greco-guy: don’t trap your Granny’s elbows in her double under hook and sag on her; you might get a head-butt if you try and snap her down from there.

2. Advanced beginner:

– needs more freedom,

– wants information fast,

– starts trying tasks on their own,

– has difficulty troubleshooting,

– can place some advice in context required.

The five elements of the Advanced Beginner sound like a match introduction:  “Don Floyd comes out with a year of JV wrestling behind him.  Coach says Donny is a quick learner and works hard in practice.  Over the summer Floyd attended several camps to improve his skills.  This promises to be a match of unusual attacks and surprising escapes.  Your Don Floyd.”

An advanced beginner goes through the  growing pains of  seeing things happen, but they’re not quite able to do much about it yet.

Help them close the gap.

3. Competent

– wants the ability to make plans,

– create routines,

– choose among activities

– troubleshoots on their own

– seeks out expert advice

These are wrestlers you believe when they say they ran fifteen miles over the weekend.  These guys always make weight.  They are athletes good in other sports, but choose to put it all on wrestling.

If you are a leader in the room, be a competent leader.

4. Proficient

– uses pattern recognition arising from extensive experience to identify problems and analyzes rules for a solution.

– guided by maxims applied to the current situation,

– sees situations holistically,

– will self-correct based on previous performance,

– learns from the experience of others,

– frustrated by oversimplified information.

This is a college wrestler, guys who got recruited because they know how to win.  If the proficient attitude grew stronger in high school wrestling, it would be stronger everywhere else.  If wins and losses define sport to the average fan, how can you expect them to understand the effect of an extraordinary sport?

Be proficient when you talk about wrestling.

5. Expert

– writes the manual, doesn’t follow it,

– immediately sees “what” is happening and “how” to approach the situation,

– no longer relies on rules, guidelines, or maxims,

– works primarily from intuition,

– analytic approaches only used in novel situations or when problems occur,

– when forced to follow set rules, performance suffers .

We’ve all heard the expert.  He forces his voice down a little deeper than it should go.  He stands straighter when he talks and uses his hands in a way that looks like mirror practice is a regular habit.  When an expert answers a question, it usually drags on to other subjects so he can listen to his own voice.

That’s the expert in the room.

The expert on the mat is a wizard.  When two top guys face off, they each work within their bubble of skill acquisition, yet respect the other guy’s bubble.  They score when one bubble or the other pops.

Where ever you are in the Dreyfus Model, move up.  Take another look at the learning pyramid.  At the bottom it says practicing and teaching others is the greatest knowledge retention move.  Take some time to show the new guys what works best for you, then drill with them.  They’ll think you’re doing it for them, but it’s really for you.

Two questions:

When do you know you’ve learned something?

When do you know you’ve taught something?

Leave answers in the comment box.

Here’s mine: when your coach, or boss, or parent, or spouse takes the time to show you something and explain why it’s important in ways you didn’t realize, you are learning.

A crossface is both an attention getter and the first part of a tough cradle.

When you understand what is shown and explained to you well enough to see how it might benefit others, you are learning to teach.

“Hey Tom, how about some crossface practice.  I’ll go first.”

Either way, you’ve got that particular bit of information locked down so tight it feels like you were born with it.  That’s how wrestlers take the moves they learn to the mat, like they were born doing them.  Since we were all born fighting for air and making noise, why stop.


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