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Can you teach chutzpah?

post #1 of 23
Thread Starter 
Originally posted by nolo:
I think Sally needs to find her chutzpah.
This is from Ski and Golf's "Back to Basics" thread.
I think this really sums up a lot about skiing (or most any sport for that matter). Certainly all good teachers try to give their students confidence. This may not be any great revelation but unfortunately I think it is too often forgotten.

Ydnar's post in that same thread talked about going back to basics when he said "Give them an efficient movement pattern to work with and the "errors" will largely solve themselves and the "good" things they are doing will come to the forefront and fall into place in an overall more efficient movement pattern."

My own point of view is that once someone gets a feel for an effective movement they gain confidence (chutzpah). With confidence they can further commit to the effective movement pattern (not always easy when it involves sensations of falling downhill!). Once you get this cycle going you're on your way to expert skiing (or at least expert learning!).

That's why I think that sometimes movement analysis is taken too far. It's pretty easy to identify inefficient movement patterns. It's a very differnt thing to correct such flaws. Drills that try to focus on specific components of a movement are rarely successful in producing effective enough changes that someone gains substantial chutzpah (opinion). Like Ydnar implied, I think it is often more effective to rebuild movement paterns (the kinetic chain) starting with appropriate cues and "fundamental movements."

It's late so I'm not going to try to go any further on this but I would sure like to hear what others do to teach chutzpah.
post #2 of 23
I am still getting the giggles about the "Girl from Montana" using the term "chuzpah", while the "Girl from New York City" uses the terms "focus and commitment".

I guess I REALLY meant chuzpah, but I be darned if I'll so overtly display myself as a "city chic".

But whether you call it chuzpah, being braver in your body, or making the leap of faith, that sort of confidence comes from learning a decent set of skills, and REALIZING that you DO in fact know how to use them!
post #3 of 23
I clicked onto this to try and find out what the hell this chutzpah is! of my pet subjects. For me, when I'm teaching, especially beginners, a primary aim is to avoid Fear. I reckon that fear can be totally destructive of the chance for the guest to experience fun and achievement in skiing.

I thought this was a "given", until I observed other instructors taking their people into situations that could scare them...first timers being taken to the top of the carpet, or worse, the bunny chair. And some instructors would say things like "a bit of fear is good for them" and "I like to challenge them".

I just think this is totally wrong. The minute they experience fear (and/or failure), it takes their learning (and fun) back several steps. And if someone is terrified, you can forget them enjoying skiing for a long time to come.

Skiing's un=natural. It goes against every instinct we have (this is my speech I give first timers!). When walking to your car, if you feel yourself start to slide, that's a bad thing! You'll stiffen up, maybe lean backwards...but in skiing, you have to go against those instincts, in order to succeed and be safe.

I tell my people that I'd rather bore them than take them into a situation where they were frightened. At that point, it's usually the women who'll nod vigorously and say "great! We like that!". Some men will admit to fear, others won't, but their reactions when the skis start to do their thing will usually betray that they are fearful (stiffening up, jerking around, leaning backwards etc).

Another of my harangues is that 2 things are vital to learning to ski: Balance, and Confidence. And I keep reinforcing this through the lesson. And the minute Fear happens, bang goes the confidence, and no more learning (other than how to survive).

I strongly believe that if my guests experience fear in a lesson, to the point where they are really frightened, then I've stuffed up.
post #4 of 23
Neither a scuba diver nor a city girl, nor the grandchild of a Yiddish babushka, and yet I know something of chutzpah. It is what propelled me across my first high traverse. It is what made me jump off the cornice into the chute. It is what got me through my exams and through every clinic I have ever given. It is the most readily transferable aspect of skiing to life.

What is it? It is the belief that I am enough.

ant, perhaps you would consider that there is no such thing as FEAR. There are, instead, fears, which are neuroses that have been modeled for us by parents and caretakers. "Don't climb that tree! You might get hurt!" "Don't put that in your mouth!" "Don't talk to strangers!" Fears are the sum of the warnings that have been stuffed in our ears like beans by those who would protect us from ourselves and our crazy impulses.

Those voices, when they become internalized, make us distrust ourselves. Call it superego, call it internalized Other: it is the anti-chutzpah.

A fearful student is probably not responding to reality so much as to a preconceived idea. I have heard a thousand times, "I hope I don't break my leg." I say, "Well, I've been skiing my entire life and I have never been injured. The only time I broke a bone was when I tripped over a dog on the sidewalk."

The teacher has to intervene in the negative self-talk. Mermer Blakeslee pulls all the negative voices into a chorus she calls the Nag. The only way to deal with the Nag is to invent another persona to do point-counterpoint with it. The Nag says, "I think you have gone far enough." The Coach says, "I think you can go a bit farther." The Nag says, "I wouldn't trust yourself to do that." The Coach says, "Trust yourself. Your body knows what to do." Pretty soon the Nag has no one to talk to, because the Coach has all your attention.

Even a brand-new beginner's body knows what to do, if you can just get the mind to shut up with the negative self-talk. Know how to walk? Then you have the complement of skills to begin skiing. Know how to move from one foot to the next? Same as in skiing: move from one stance foot to the next. How do you move? Just the same as you do when walking: you let go of one foot while you move to the other. In walking, we don't leave the CM behind, and we don't have to concentrate on making it move with the feet. We simply go.

The job of the teacher is to simplify the complexity for the learner. A neophyte will come to the lesson somewhat shell-shocked from all the novelty she has experienced to that point. Everything seems slightly incomprehensible, confusing, complex. The great instructor gets inside that beginner's head and helps her make connections, see patterns, and sort the meaning from the noise. Out of complexity comes simplicity: rules, principles, concepts that can be applied across many situations with slight adaptations. Out of simplicity comes control. With one way I have a thousand variations. With ten ways I have ten thousand variations.

With that understanding comes chutzpah.
post #5 of 23
Confidence and Fear can't exist at the same time. And I think the fear people feel when their skis start to slide, or when looking down a steep run, is natural, it's our instinct. It's learned, too, as most little kids don't suffer from it...until they've had an experience that has taught them the consequences of crashing at speed, into something.

I guess it's different for everyone, but I'm terrified of heights. Steep runs scare me to bits. This season I skiied at Copper with a bunch from ski school (including a couple of posters here), and looking down that chute on Spauldings the first time, i wanted to take off my skis and walk back to the poma. I was almost petrified. A year ago I would've bailed for sure.

So when I see people stiffen and start to stare, I know what's going on! It's almost impossible to overcome. It can be dangerous, too. You can't reason people out of this kind of fear. Sure, you can tell them you've never hurt yourself, or that it's safe. But fear is not reasonable! You can absorb the info, and reason to yourself that you know what to do, but as you launch out to start, your brain goes "STOP!".
post #6 of 23
Alcohol helps greatly. For proof, see the "Girls Gone Wild" video series.
post #7 of 23
In skiing, I think chutzpah it that offensive aggression on the slopes. You'll never find a really good skier who skis defensively all the time. On particularly nasty slopes or, when I need to psych myself up so that I start the run very aggressively, I like to smack my poles together behind me (the way you clap with your poles) and vocalize a bit. Coming into really nasty terrain, I'll go as far as a primal scream. I'm not much for hucking myself, but if I'm about to launch a cornice, I'll need something like this to get me in the proper mindset.

When I've had students who were afriad of the terrain ahead (although able to ski it from a skills perspective), I try to find things like this that get them out of the defensive mode, and into an offensive mode.

Some of this is just a personality trait also. Like "getting back on the horse that just threw you". Many of us here have had knee injuries. When I blew out my ACL, I didn't give up skiing for the fear of getting hurt again. I used it as an excuse to work out even harder, and was able to recover and get back to an active lifestyle in half of the prescribed time. A lot of the people in my Physical therapy classes were all "it huurrts". A couple of the people I met, had hurt their knees skiing or snowboarding. They said that they were "done" skiing (or boarding). What kind of attitude is that? I think you can certianly try to encourage and motivate people to be more aggressive. So if that is teaching chutzpah, then yes, it can be taught. But you need to almost change a person's personality a bit to do it.
post #8 of 23

With chutzpah we enter the realm of sport psychology, certainly a critical knowledge base for upper level instructors, and one which we are pretty much left to our own devices to acquire.

I have a student who is bipolar. This student's chutzpah changes depending which pole holds sway on the given day. When it's the depressive pole, she usually calls to cancel. When she's governed by the manic pole, I need to make sure she doesn't hurt herself. She is like every student, only more so. When she is down on herself, she is way down. When she is full of herself, she is almost dangerous. My job is to mediate the two poles and help her find her center.

Students like this have skills. What they don't have that a teacher can help them acquire is a frame of mind that is conducive to both performance and learning.

However, most instructor training doesn't touch on matters of the mind or the spirit. We are trained body coaches.

It occurs to me that this may be a reason why conventional lessons are seen as irrelevant to upper level skiers unless they can address the head game.
post #9 of 23
Originally posted by nolo:
I have a student who is bipolar.

It occurs to me that this may be a reason why conventional lessons are seen as irrelevant to upper level skiers unless they can address the head game.

That HAS to be interesting!!!

I fully agree. A lot of "plateau-ing", IMHO, is due to mental barriers.
post #10 of 23
I believe we are ALL bipolar. It's the size of the swings that determine how bipolar we are.
post #11 of 23
chutzpah: Shamless audacity; gall

One who first kills their parents and then throws themselves on the mercy of the court because they are orphaned has chutzpah.

Sorry about being a bit pedantic here but chutzpah is such a wonderful word from a deep and rich ethnic culture that I hate to see it used in this context and equated to "having confidence". Sort of like hearing the "Sing Along With Mitch" version of "Blowing In the Wind".


[ May 17, 2002, 02:43 PM: Message edited by: Ydnar ]
post #12 of 23
Being a goy boy once married to a Jew, I agree with Ydnar. The yentas would not approve of this usage.
post #13 of 23
Okay, substitute "focus and commitment."

(Chutzpah is much more fun. I can see myself using it as a mantra for hop turns: chutz-pah!)

Edit: I checked my dictionary. It defines chutzpah as "supreme self-confidence." Okay?

[ May 17, 2002, 03:18 PM: Message edited by: nolo ]
post #14 of 23
Thread Starter 
OK I'll take the blame. I definitely know better as I've got the background and cultural heritage where I heard about other people's (as well as my own!) chutzpah all the time as I grew up (mostly in a negative context). However, I liked using it for this post because I thought it would attract a lot more attention. My profuse apology. I suppose I had a lot of chutzpah using chutzpah for my post when I knew better. [img]redface.gif[/img] [img]redface.gif[/img]
post #15 of 23

Interesting that the definition of this word has evolved to the point where it can be presented in such a positive light. Must have started when we goyim started to use the word and pronounced the c.


About the topic of this thread. What I see you asking is can we teach confidence? Can we teach a willingness to "go for it". Can we teach the "nerve" necessary to try a newly learned movement pattern in challenging situations? I don't know if I "teach" confidence but students leave my lessons being more confident than when they started. This increase in confidence might even be the definition of a successful lesson.

This change in confidence can manifest itself in many ways depending on the degree of natural confidence that the student might bring to the lesson. A beginner may come to the lesson thinking that they will be scared all the time when skiing and that falling will hurt. When they leave they know sliding on skis can be fun and that falling isn't necessarily painful, and they have the confidence to try it some more. Someone in a level 9 lesson already knows that skiing is fun and they have the confidence to launch themselves down just about everything, skiing with a powerful up move to allow them to start their turns with a pivot of the skis into the fall line. I show them the wonders of tipping and pointing the right foot right and the left foot left. Together we discover that this lets them ski the same terrain using less energy and they leave the lesson confident that they can ski harder longer and not have to back off at the end of the day because they're getting tired. On the other side of the coin I can show a student a new movement pattern or cue and have them practice the new move until they can perform it flawlessly but if I don't give them confidence in the move then they won't use it outside the lesson and so the lesson time was wasted.

Now I guess the next question is just how do I create this confidence? One way is to develop the students trust in me to the point where they just do whatever I say and expect it to work (this has something to do with teaching children who tend to trust you until you do something to lose that trust). Another way of creating this confidence is to have the student use a new move in lots of different situations and convince them that if they do A then B will be the outcome. For a few students a technical explanation of the why and how of the move might be the key. Maybe tomorrow's lesson will require a combination of these or something different yet. What I have to do is to establish a relationship with the student that will allow me to discover just what its going to take for this particular student to increase their confidence. This goes far beyond what is usually found in most "student centered" or "guest centered" teaching models which unfortunately tend to end up being a fairly rigid line of questioning followed by the instructor to discover the students motivations. While student or guest centered models are certainly a step up from the old "give ‘em what they need whether they want it or not" models they can't hold a candle to actually developing a relationship with a student and having some idea of what makes them tick.

Its late and I think I am wandering a bit here so I'll just post what I've written and see if I can't come back to this later with a fresh mind.

post #16 of 23
Originally posted by Ydnar:
Now I guess the next question is just how do I create this confidence? One way is to develop the students trust in me to the point where they just do whatever I say and expect it to work (this has something to do with teaching children who tend to trust you until you do something to lose that trust). Another way of creating this confidence is to have the student use a new move in lots of different situations and convince them that if they do A then B will be the outcome.
Very good points, ydnar. I'm not a teacher of anything, and I'm not good at teaching, but I hope I'm a learner.
Example: Some time ago I was skiing with a few friends. One day I went off with the male group, who were all better skiers than me. We came to a very steep powder section. They told me I could do it, but I bottled out. The next day I was in a very similar situation, but with my then girlfriend. She showed me how to ski it before we started down the run, then went ahead of me, stopped and encouraged me down, then let me go past her (even though it tracked the fresh powder for her) and made sure that I was doing it right, and encouraged me.

What was the difference?
1. She showed me before hand, and made sure I understood how and why.
2. She led me.
3. She watched me.
4. She encouraged me.
5. She waited for me.
6. She put my learning before her fun.
7. She cared for me.
8. She knew my ability and my limits/fears.
9. I trusted her implicitly. (and this was a two way thing)

So, what does this break down to?
OK, all instructors should be able to do 1-6.
7 is something you either have or you haven't. No amount of training courses or self help books can make you a caring person.
8 can be found by observation, and discussion on a 1 to 1 level.
9 has to be acheived by proving that you are trustworthy, not demanding trust & respect, but proving it.
And, 8 & 9 both require the instructor to give a little of themselves. Someone is more likely to open up to you & trust you, if you open up to them, and trust them.

Or am I being to naive?

post #17 of 23
So how you're not still with her? [img]tongue.gif[/img]
post #18 of 23
Thread Starter 
Yd and Fox Hat,

I really liked both of your posts and they bring up an important component of teaching confidence: Develop a belief system with your student/athlete. This is obviously seen at the level of professional coaching all the time. It's why I like the term coach/coaching vs. instructor/teaching. When you can combine effective changes in technique and accurate evaluation/understanding of an athlete's abilities (both physical and mental) with caring, encouragement, and belief you've got something that goes well beyond the limited tenets of guest centered teaching.
post #19 of 23
Not at all, Fox You just described (adroitly, I might add) what it is to have empathy for another person. It can't be taught but it can be modeled.

At the risk of being pedantic, I will tell you about Carl Rogers, the psychologist who bucked an establishment that had sorted itself into two camps: the Freudian analysts and the Skinnerian behaviorists. Rogers believed that psychology was following a hopeless path in centering research on the mentally ill. He thought it made more sense to study the mentally healthy if society wanted to learn about mental health.

In other words, he looked at people from the standpoint of growth and development rather than psychopathy and disease.

Empathy was the core of Rogers's client-centered therapy. PSIA's teaching model, thanks to Horst Abraham, adapted this as "student-centered teaching" and made it a cornerstone of its teaching philosophy.

Jim Meyer, Ph.D., who was one of my teachers, studied U.S. Ski Team coaching practices for his doctoral dissertation. He found that competition-level athletes perform better with an empathic approach than with abusive behaviors popularly associated with coaching (Bobby Knight comes to mind).

Meyer shares a poem written by Tom Crawford (1996), Director of Coaching at the USOC:

Impact of Coaches

I have come to a frightening conclusion.

I am the decisive element on the snow.

It is my personal approach that creates the climate.

It is my daily mood that makes the weather.

As a coach, I possess tremendous power to make

an athletes’ life miserable or joyous.

I can be the tool of torture or an instrument of inspiration.

I can humiliate or humor, hurt or heal.

In all situations it is my response that decides whether

a crisis will be escalated or de-escalated

and an athlete humanized or dehumanized.

A synopsis of Meyer's thesis can be found at:
post #20 of 23
wtfh: I think that all pros should have all nine of your elements. Nice analysis.

Nolo, the Meyer poem is perfect. We have a new coach in town for the ability class racers. His name is Paul Casey Puckett. And are we excited! I'm going to send him the comments, and the link. He seems really great: very comfortable that he really knows a lot about racing, but that he has some stuff to learn about coaching. This might be a good start for him.

And do I mind your use of chutzpah? No. But my ex-mother in law would. Hey! That means I should start using it like you do!
post #21 of 23
Originally posted by nolo:
I believe we are ALL bipolar. It's the size of the swings that determine how bipolar we are.
Exactly true, I think. But then sometimes I don't think so.

Holding the polarity--holding the dynamic tension between interdependant and opposing imperatives--has been my main mission for some time now.

On chutzpah:
Ernie Blake, the wonderful and colorful founder of Taos, invented the concept of a martini tree. At the top of various runs in Taos he would plant a huge carafe of martinis under the snow in secret spots. He called it a medical experiment, and suggested that the student have a sip of martini before descending into the trail. It was really fun, because the guests were so surprised when they discovered the mythological martini was real.

The amazing thing was that it worked. Not because of the alcohol, but because of the event. I understood it as a diversion that brought them back to present time awareness. There was something here that was fun and compelling that would distract them into the present moment where fear doesn't live. Where fear doesn't live you may find the chutzpah you speak of. Although for me, it's more of a question of being centered and fully aware.

I don't know if they still have the martini tree. When I left Taos, many years ago, it had become more of a tourist trap/tip generator than it was at the beginning.

There may also be a relationship between adrenalin and chutzpah. Chutzpah, then, may be an altered biochemical performance state.

Can we teach it then? Probably not. Can we teach a student how to find it, arouse it, tap into it? Of course.

[ May 18, 2002, 07:31 AM: Message edited by: weems ]
post #22 of 23
Originally posted by weems:
The amazing thing was that it worked. Not because of the alcohol, but because of the event. I understood it as a diversion that brought them back to present time awareness.
hmmm, yeah! When I take newbies to the top for the first time, I get the impression that although they are excited, they are also nervous. So we stop, I orientate them on teh hill (trail map can be useful too), name the mountains, show them Breck and Lake Dillon, the Summit House, north peak...I guess this helps to calm them down, and hopefully their experience is a bit fuller, it's not just about struggling with this skiing thing, but they combine it with the scenery, air, exhileration of being 'up there', the whole package.

Likewise on the bunny hill! I'd try and take time out, visit the water barrel (if it was there), maybe just take their skis off and stretch out their legs (being in skis for the first time can really cramp up the quads and calfs), take photos (someone always had one of those throw away cameras), I suppose just reminding them that there's more to this thing than struggling with the skis. Letting the mind unravel a bit. It was always effective.

These martinis remind me of the kid's features resorts have (we had mines and forts). The kids *love* them, and I found adults enjoyed the hidden mines, too. Something unexpected and almost magical.
post #23 of 23
In my previous post I remarked that making a positive change in a students confidence is one of the things that make for a successful lesson. Along these lines I have been thinking about lessons that have poor outcomes and what happens to the students level of confidence.

A student is taken to terrain that they are not ready for. They struggle and ski the run poorly and know that they skied it poorly. Confidence goes down and the lesson is a failure.

A student is given a task to perform and the whole lesson is focused on working on that task. By the end of the lesson the student still hasn't mastered the task and feels that they don't have the physical skill to learn this new and important part of skiing. Confidence is lost and the lesson is a failure.

A student is given a drill and they master it within a short period of time. When the move taught by the drill is used in their "normal" skiing the outcome is not what they were led to believe it would be or hoped it would be. Despite much positive instructor feedback about their mastering the drill the student has no increased confidence that the new move will improve their day to day skiing and the lesson is a failure.

A student leaves a lesson feeling that they have made progress because their instructor has given them positive feedback of a general sort (nice turns). They ski with friends and one of them makes the remark that their skiing looks just the same as before the lesson. Confidence that was higher at the end of the lesson drops and the lesson becomes less of a success.

A student is given precise feedback about a positive change in their skiing but they are unable to feel any difference between the old and the new. They leave the lesson feeling confused and there is no change in their confidence level and the lesson is less successful than it could be.

A student has a very successful lesson, feeling positive changes in their skiing and having an increased confidence level in their ability to ski challenging terrain. In an attempt to bring the student back for more lessons the instructor gives the student a drill for the "next step". The student struggles with the move or doesn't understand it and how it fits in with what went before. They lose confidence and what was a very positive lesson loses some of its effectiveness.

What is unfortunate about many of the above scenarios is that the instructor may very well have the feeling that the lesson went well and that they accomplished their goal.

Comments anyone,
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