Involve Each Aikidoka In Goal Setting
Every once in a while the question, “What makes a good sensei?” comes up for discussion. There are many valid answers for this question but this post is going to take a different approach to the standard responses. This month will continue the series looking at what makes a good training session. Since the sensei runs the session, a good training session requires a good sensei. The inference being that if you do these things then you will improve as a sensei. This post will be considering that the session should involve each student in goal setting.
Before we get too far into this it’s important to have some background. Studies have been carried out into elite athletes to discover what, precisely, they look for in an effective coach. Rushall (1995, Think And Act Like a Champion) observed that, “There is a group of overt and covert behaviours that are common to sporting champions”. Of particular interest is that he claimed this list was unchanging. Rushall researched the behaviours of 155 champions and record-holders over a 20 year period. What he discovered was that there were no differences between the old champions and today’s. The basic core values remained the same. Of the items identified by Rushall as being the habits of champions, 10 of them are under the direct control of the coach. The seventh of these is that excellent coaching sessions involve each student in goal setting.
This could mean either for the session itself, or in a more long term sense. Here, more than any other concept raised in this series so far, is a difficulty of purpose. The research this draws from was conducted on, and the results targeted at, elite athletes. People at the top of their game. While a sensei should view their students as having that potential, we must acknowledge that for most aikidoka this is a hobby. We are not elite athletes. This doesn’t mean these principles for excellent coaching sessions are invalid. Simply that you should take account of the nature of what you are applying them to.
The Power Of Goals
Setting a goal can be an incredibly motivating thing. Back in late 2006 I had just completed a nidan grading under Alan Ruddock. I was sitting at home after this and thinking to myself, “What now?”
As I sat in my chair with a pot of tea, I looked to my future in aikido and came to a decision. I set myself a goal, and a time frame. I decided I would reach godan by 2020. For over 13 years I worked towards that goal, driving myself through injury and tiredness, the desire to walk away from it all. I picked up scars, travelled to foreign countries to train with people that could help me. I taught courses and graded people both at home and overseas. I took over teaching in one dojo and started another. I radically altered the method I use to pass on the art. I published a book. I found strength, power, and compassion in unexpected places, both within myself and others.
I waxed and waned but I never lost sight of my goal. I never gave up despite knowing my journey would be at least a decade long. 13 years later, with a mere 4 months left, I achieved that goal. I was awarded my Godan.
I would never have reached that point without having a clear goal in mind. Although I didn’t know it at the time I had created a ‘SMART’ objective, which helped.
Individuals In A Group
Unless your dojo is very small, or you have a lot of time, it’s going to be very difficult to engage each aikidoka in goal setting for a specific session.
Part of the issue is aikido is a group activity. You can go a very long way training alone, but at some point you need a partner. Although it is a group activity, it’s also an individual activity. Aikidoka don’t from into a team like a rowing crew. A student’s performance isn’t really dependant on anyone else. There are several options to deal with this and how you do will depend on many factors specific to your own circumstances.
Before going into the details though it’s important to realise something. The instant you agree a goal with one aikidoka that is different from another, you commit to individualising their training. For most sensei that’s going to challenge them in a way they’ve never come across before. It will force us to up our game.
Think Long Term
This easiest solution might be to have a long term goal for each aikidoka. Sit down over a coffee and have an honest and frank discussion about what they want to achieve in the next year. Discuss the reality of that with them, what it would take to obtain that, and develop a plan to help them achieve it. You should absolutely write this down. Make detailed notes of what you agree to, otherwise you simply won’t remember, and your student will feel let down.
You can do this on a rolling basis. That way you can establish a long term goal for each student without clashing deadlines. You won’t have to work towards everything on the same day.
What Should It Look Like
As bizarre as this may sound, in the world of management there are numerous ways to set a sensible goal. I’d suggest you use one of those. I mentioned ‘SMART’ objectives above. That’s a fairly common one and we’ll use my personal goal above as an example:
The goal should be:
- Specific – a definite target has been identified, in this case it was reach the level of godan.
- Measurable – the outcome/progress can be measured in some way. Here, it was progression through the grades.
- Achievable – what you’re aiming to do must be achievable. Don’t set yourself up for failure. Achieving godan was ambitious, but it was also possible, provided I was going to do the work.
- Relevant – the goal has to be valuable to what you are doing. I wanted to make substantial progress in aikido, this target would keep me on the mats and drive me forwards for at least a decade.
- Time bound – a goal cannot run for ever. A deadline keeps you focused on achieving it. For mine, I assumed 3 years to sandan, 4 years to yondan, then 5 years to godan. A total of 12 years bringing me to 2018. Since it was long timeframe in a physical activity I added an extra 2 years for illness, injury, and other life events. Total time allowed then was 14 years.
A SMART objective can be a really good way to set a goal. There are, naturally, other ways to do it. Find one that will work for you and your students and start using it.
When you begin goal setting with your students you may discover that their natural talent complicates things. One student’s ability will not match that of another. Their abilities may also fall in different areas, one may be great at ukemi while another excels at weapons. As the saying goes, ‘we are all unique’. Progression towards a specific goal will therefore vary between the students. Some can have a more ambitious goal than others, which is why individualisation becomes important for them. What one student can achieve may be very different than another.
Something that is important to realise is that it is pointless setting a goal if the sensei is not involved. The students can set goals all day long, but without the means to work towards the goal it’s doomed to failure. If the sensei is unaware of the goal then they cannot tailor training to help the student achieve it. It’s entirely possible that they will actively hinder it without even knowing they are.
Being involved means that the sensei can ensure the appropriate focus is in place. The focus and attention should not be on the goal, but the training required to achieve it. For example, in my progress towards godan there were times when I would be up for 22 hours, most of that travelling, just to sit on a grading panel in another country. I wasn’t training, I was watching other people train. I certainly didn’t have to do it. I chose to for several reasons.
The first is that as a yudansha in my organisation it was the right thing to do. It let me meet friends that I haven’t seen in years. But it also demonstrated my commitment to the art, and that I was actively contributing back into the community that has given me so much. There comes a point after yondan when contribution to aikido is as much a part of your grade as your ability. Some say that’s a bad thing, but it’s still true in most federations.
Goal setting will result in numerous things happening in your dojo. Beneficial things, but it will certainly cause a few changes.
Students will likely become more engaged. They’ll have a clear view of where their training is heading, and know that it’s heading in a direction they want it to go. Their commitment to the training will probably go up.
The focus of teaching may change. Corrections will likely need to become more tailored to each student to progress them towards their own goal.
Lesson planning becomes more important. Each lesson will need to become structured to progress at least one student towards their goal. Ideally though it should be able to move several further along.
Your teaching style may have to change completely as a degree of individualisation in each lesson will be required. Each student will need something different as their goals will be different.
All of those are good things, but they will move the dojo towards a more modern style of coaching and away from the traditional teaching method. A lot aikidoka will not want to do that, which is a completely valid point of view. Many of us consider the training method, etiquette, etc. to be an integral part of the art, taking some of it away would no longer make it aikido for them. This is why it’s important to consider carefully how you go about setting goals for each aikidoka. It is worth doing though, because the benefits far outweigh the negatives.
Involving each aikidoka in goal setting should be an important part of any dojo training programme. It will let you get the best from your students, and help them to become more engaged with the dojo, the training, and the journey they have undertaken with you.
If you can afford it, and would like to help out,
consider donating some brain fuel!
Also, if you enjoyed this post you can find further insights in this book.