Monday, April 11, 2016

The Deer In The Headlights Look

I suspect that most of my friends who are involved in learning technology are not big golf fans.  So they probably missed The Masters golf tournament that was completed yesterday and especially the complete meltdown of Jordan Spieth, who had a one stroke lead going into the play on Sunday, built that lead up to 5 strokes with 4 consecutive birdies on the front nine, and then completely blew it after that, though he tried to rebound and partly made up the lost ground.

There are several things about this incident that are noteworthy for us in learning technology.  First, Spieth is 22 years old, the age of many college seniors, the bulk of whom are on the job market now.  When you learn about Spieth's meltdown, think of them.  Might something similar happen to some of them?  Second, he really is incredibly talented, especially with the putter, and he knows how good he is.  Third, he has become something of a marketing machine.  They kept running one commercial with him, his team, his family, Tony Romo of the Cowboys and a delivery guy who mispronounced Spieth.  So it's not been just the golf with him.

Then there was that his recent performance going into the Masters may not have been up to the high standards he had previously set for himself, so some doubt must have been creeping into his mind.  This showed up on Saturday with some errant play on the last two holes.  The final part of this is that he seemed completely oblivious to the possibility of a full meltdown ahead of time, so he likely inadvertently put added pressure on himself by doing all these TV interviews rather than protect himself by limiting the scope of activities during the tournament.

We don't talk enough about how to manage performance anxiety and what to do after the fact when we have failed, very badly, in a highly visible way.  My view of the latter is to treat it like a traumatic event we have been involved with, whether we were the cause of the trauma or not. When such trauma happens in a military setting, we have language to consider what happens and talk about PTSD.  We don't have analogous language to talk about trauma in other settings.  We need that.   Ten years ago this September I had a horrendous fall.  I recovered from that but there were psychological issues that followed.  The following March I wrote a post called The Damage That Scars Do to talk about post trauma consequences.  Healing takes quite a while.   In the process other issues that seem unrelated to the trauma tend to emerge.  The balance found after the healing has happened likely will be different in a substantial way from the purported balance ahead of time, which may have been out of whack in significant ways, but where the imbalance wasn't reckoned with ahead of time.

Trying to bring this discussion from the Jordan Spieth level back down to the ordinary college student circumstance, I believe the "right lesson" is in making small failures an integral part of learning and then letting experience serve as a teacher to make things better the next time around.  Our current system, with the heavy emphasis on grades, really doesn't do this and I believe makes the students more brittle, unwilling to take even small risks.  We seem to either get self-protection from all eventualities or cluelessness about real possible trauma risks.  Neither extreme is good.  How the sensible middle might be found is what we should be talking about. 

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