The most coachable wrestler is the most flexible

Updated: December 27, 2010

By Kyle Klingman

Two people are standing in opposite directions (pause to think), and yet they can see each other. How is that possible?

The answer may determine if you are coachable … or not coachable.

Chuck Patten

In 1974, Chuck Patten, then the head wrestling coach at the University of Northern Iowa from 1965 through 1982, wanted to tell the difference between a coachable athlete and an uncoachable athlete. A chance meeting on an airplane with Dave Whitsett — a psychology professor at Northern Iowa — led to a conversation about the subject.

Whitsett, unfamiliar with sports at the time, was unsure how to differentiate between the two. He was, however, willing to help Patten find out.

A coachable athlete — as Patten explained it to Whitsett — is someone who takes a coach’s advice and makes the necessary change. The non-coachable athlete — receiving the same advice — does not make the adjustment.

For example, a wrestler uses a move four or five times in a match and it is clearly not working. During a break the coach tells his wrestler, “The single leg is not working, here is what I want you to do.”

Both athletes — the coachable and the non-coachable — say, “I got it coach.” The coachable athlete makes the adjustment; the non-coachable athlete does not. Or, the coachable athlete shifts his behavior; the non-coachable athlete behaves in the same way.

Dave Whitsett

“We figured out that coachable kids are more cognitively flexible than uncoachable kids,” said Whitsett. “Uncoachable kids have what we call cognitive sets. What that means is once they have a certain way of doing something they are unable to switch to a new way.

“Coachable people do it for themselves actually. They’ll try a solution to a problem and if it doesn’t work they’ll figure out what to do that’s new.”

So how did Patten and Whitsett figure out the difference between coachable and non-coachable?

Whitsett asked Patten to pick three wrestlers on his team that were defined as coachable, and three wrestlers on his team that were defined as non-coachable. Whitsett, not knowing the coachability of any of the six, gave the wrestlers tests to see if he could tell the difference.

Following the tests, Whitsett provided Patten his answers.

The result? Psychology prevailed. Whitsett could tell which wrestlers were coachable and which were not.

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