What if Everything You Learned is Wrong?

Cory Dobbs, Ed.D.

Founder, The Academy for Sport Leadership

I want the truth!

You can’t handle the truth!

So goes the memorable dynamic exchange between Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in the 1992 movie A Few Good Men.  We, at least most of us, sympathize with Cruise’s character as he pushes relentlessly, risking his reputation and career in, pursuit of the truth.  But do we really want the truth?

The Galileo Effect.   Aristotle was smart.  Considered by most historians to be a genius.  But he was wrong about one thing.  He taught that that heavier objects fall faster than lighter ones.  Galileo proved that wrong.  We now know that the equivalence principle proves all objects fall at the same rate in a gravitational field.  A-dog was big time wrong.  Galileo also challenged the Catholic Church.  Yes, he dared to contest the church’s position of a geocentric world.  He too proved that to be wrong.

What about the team captain principle?  You know, appoint or assign several players to the role of team captain and you’ll have your internal leadership problem solved.  Or, at least somewhat solved.

Dead wrong.  Those, coaches and leadership educators that cling to the team captain model are on the wrong end of the 21st Century practice of peer leadership.  Dead wrong.  Some educators are compelled to defend their models built in the 20th Century.  But today we know soooo much more.

Today, we know that everyone can, and will, become a leader; even if it’s simply in their own household as a parent.  Simple example, but if you feel the need to put down the idea of everyone learning to lead you are dead wrong.  And I’m willing to deal with the backlash.

Let me reply by saying that modern science—neuroscience—proves that peer-to-peer interactions produce higher quality solutions to problems than  alone or even peer-to-superior relations.  And get this; the solutions are produced at a quicker rate than when the challenge is taken on by a lone wolf.  Oh, let’s not forget that anxiety inhibits learning.  And our studies show anxiety is greater when people don’t know how others will respond to their leadership.  Yes, a leader in every locker solves this.

That said…

Mankind has proven resistant to change, regardless of the evidence.  We favor “facts” that conform to our views, even in the face of conflicting information or outright contradiction.  Genuine challenges to established wisdom cause turmoil, because they impeach the establishment and its undeniable “truths.”  So in a world of constant change, we paradoxically find a recalcitrant world.  The traditional practice of team captains marches on.

A leader in every locker (see www.aleaderineverylocker.com) is heresy.  I’ve presented my findings and suggestions to many coaches, and audiences are quick to hark on the past.  “If it worked for Bob Knight, it’ll work for me.”  But what if everything you learned is wrong?

Remember, when Galileo and his telescope publicly challenged the geocentric view of the universe—established and accepted as Catholic dogma—the outcry was fanatical.  He was eventually arrested, tried, and imprisoned for this act.  Heresy said the masses.  Sadly, he died while under house arrest.

Fortunately, objecting to poor theory or unfounded knowledge is far less dangerous today.  My research findings are clear; a leader in every locker trumps a few leaders in a few lockers.  However, this only happens when the coach takes responsibility for creating a learning environment in which every student-athlete feels accepted in their leadership role.

But have we really overcome our tendency to condemn those who challenge a new view of the world.  The unfortunate reality is that even with overwhelming evidence to the contrary, there are many who perpetually lay faith in existing truths—which are no longer, in fact, supported by scientific investigation.  My guess is it will be about another decade before the mainstream coach is ready to accept the role of leadership educator and educate every student-athlete to become a leader.

To find out more about and order Sport Leadership Books authored by Dr. Dobbs including Coaching for Leadership, click this link: The Academy for Sport Leadership Books
About the Author

A former basketball coach, Cory’s coaching background includes experience at the NCAA DII, NJCAA, and high school levels of competition. While coaching, he researched and developed the transformative Becoming a Team Leader program for student-athletes. Cory has worked with professional athletes, collegiate athletic programs and high schools teaching leadership as a part of the sports experience and education process. Cory cut his teeth as a corporate leader with Fortune 500 member, The Dial Corp. As a consultant and trainer Dr. Dobbs has worked with such organizations as American Express, Honeywell, and Avnet.

Cory has taught a variety of courses on leadership and change for the following universities:

Northern Arizona University (Graduate Schools of Business and Education)

Ohio University (Graduate School of Education / Management and Leadership in Sport)

Grand Canyon University (Sports Marketing and Sports Management in the Colangelo School of Sports Business)

Visit www.corydobbs.com to read Cory’s leadership blog.


3 comments for “What if Everything You Learned is Wrong?

  1. June 11, 2016 at 4:30 am

    This is another form of Decentralized Command. Creating a team of independent thinkers, who are all striving for the same cause, IS the way to go.

  2. Dan Stalteri
    December 13, 2016 at 9:22 am

    I coach at both the College and High School level. At the College level we named Captains against our better judgement. The entire concept imploded on us at the College World Series. Yes, of all places, but it was an entire season of leadership debacles. At the High school level, I did not name Captains for the first time in my tenure as head coach. This team had such little drama that is was a non issue. I asked all players to be leaders. I saw my Seniors work together with all of their teammates to problem solve on and off field issues. Nothing ever became to big. Most of all “no resentment”. This team over achieved finishing second in the league. My Captain filled college team finished second in the country and underachieved. Total responsibility rest with me and the coaching staff for not getting that right. I’m in total agreement with the Author of this article. Whether it’s science or good old live and learn experiences. Coaches are teachers, and we should be teaching leadership to every player.

    • bwiliams@coachingtoolbox.net
      December 13, 2016 at 9:31 am

      I appreciate you sharing your experience Coach!

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