Don’t be clock watchers

A good coach of any sport has several motivating cliche’s ready in their coaching vocabulary. We call these coachisms, and any good coachism will motivate you to perform at your best not only in practice or a game, but in life, too. Ones like “focus on the little things” or “let’s take this one game at a time” are valuable, albeit generic, lessons—they lose their edge when you hear them a billion times over.

The five coachisms we are presenting in this series have stuck with us because they are not overused, thus zapped of their impact. These five life-skills we learned as student-athletes that have haunted us—err, guided us—in our athletic, academic, and now professional careers. We believe that you can apply these tips in your language-learning endeavors, too.

Our other coachisms

  1. If it’s meant to be, it’s up to me
  2. Do your work early
  3. If you’re on time, you’re late

Don’t get caught watching the clock

Ugh! This coachism was of a particular dread. Let me set the scene: you are in the middle of a grueling fitness drill—the kind where you feel like your lungs are going to explode and your legs are going to fall off. You look up at the clock and see that three minutes still remain, only then to be berated by coach for daring to look at the clock. This is followed by another five minutes being added to the exercise for your “clock watching”. 

This was the case many-a-times in college basketball. The only way we resolved this problem was for coach to stop putting the time up on the scoreboard. A saving grace, I suppose.

A few years later, I was reflecting on this phrase and I guess with some distance, perspective, and maturity, I could fully appreciate the true meaning behind this coachism.

Stop watching the minutes pass by; stop being physically present but mentally absent; and, most of all, stop coasting by. Be fully engaged!

I describe this absent-minded attitude as the “showing up mentality”, whereby you are physically present in a situation, yet you are mentally checked out. People—including me—often think that being physically present is enough to succeed. This couldn’t be further from the truth. In the sporting context, coach was asking us to perform the drill with our maximum effort and to be fully engaged in the activity, not mentally clocked out.

In a language-learning context, so often I hear students say, “yeah, I listen to YouTube or I watch Netflix” as methods of learning. Don’t get me wrong, these are wonderful tools to improving your skills. However, how mentally engaged are you when “learning” this way?

Do you write down new phrases or words you heard from the video? Do you reflect on what you’ve just listened to and think about what you learnt? Do you think about how you could use those new phrases in an everyday situation? Or, rather, do you have Professor Netflix on as “background” noise, staring at it like a zombie and not soaking in the content?

If you are going to invest your time to watch a video or listen to a podcast, don’t just be there—don’t just watch the clock. Takes notes as you watch Netflix shows. Summarise in your own words the conversation you heard on the talk radio show.

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