Many people are occupying jobs and it seems, because they have a job title, they make the assumption that they are competent when they often are not. Is this competence delusion?  I have come across several sports coaches that have the job of a coach but their formal training to be a coach took about a week. In these cases their competence has been built on their experiential learning as a sport participant, their ex-coaches role modelling and the conventional wisdom they garnered over time about coaching i.e. what they have seen, heard and read to inform them. 

It is my contention that the job of a coach, and most other jobs, is too complex to rely on the above for competency. In order to do the job well one needs more than a combination of a one week course, conventional wisdom and experiential learning. 

It’s unbelievable how much you don’t know about the game you have been playing all your life

For more on the subject of going beyond conventional wisdom in coaching you could search the World Wide Web and read about sabermetrics and the baseball writer, historian and statistician Bill James. The book, Moneyball, by Michael Lewis, is linked to James’s approach and explains how Oakland’s Athletics’ coach Billy Beane, who had a very limited budget, went beyond the conventional wisdom of a player’s current performance. He identified the less obvious success factors and competencies of a winning team through an in depth study of the statistics. The opening quote in the movie, Moneyball, gives an indication: “It’s unbelievable how much you don’t know about the game you have been playing all your life”. In my view this insightful quote applies to the workplace and relationships as well. 

Naturally, experiential learning and conventional wisdom are valuable but they are only two of many possible inputs. In addition one needs the competence gained from academic learning, practical learning, researching, critically reflecting and being assessed against learning outcomes that are aligned with world class standards. At this stage, with some practice you are in a better position to achieve competence. 

Dunning-Kruger effect

Take the Idols competition where aspirant pop stars enter to parade their singing talent and hope to win top honours. But, if you watch this show, you will notice how many people enter despite not having singing talent and therefore not the remotest chance of winning. What is fascinating for me is the realisation that several of these poor performers are deluded about their talent. They genuinely think they are competent. This assumption of competence is akin to the Dunning-Kruger effect . I have spent a lot of time in the sport industry and this assumption of competence certainly applies to some coaches – they are deluded about their abilities.

The greatest enemy of knowledge is not ignorance; it is the illusion of knowledge     Stephen W. Hawking

 Develop awareness of competence problems

Have the management of the South African national football team been deluded about their team’s competence?  Reflect on the achievements of Bafana-Bafana. Whilst at times they flatter to deceive, their competence problems both on and off the field have persisted for at least a decade. When considering their problems I am reminded of the saying: If the problems you are having now are the same as the problems you have had previously, then the chances are you are the problem. Look no further than yourself for the root of the problem. 

Clearly, we all have competence problems to varying degrees. This does not mean we are incompetent; it does mean that we could know a lot more and could do a lot better. If we do not have the awareness or are in denial about the problems that drive a lack of competence then it’s unlikely that we will solve these problems. 

The knowledge and skills that have brought you to this point will not be enough for the future

Some time ago I heard the catchy saying; the learners will inherit the earth; the learned will find they are equipped for a world that no longer exists. Put in another way; your rate of learning must exceed the rate of change in your domain. This means you may have been competent in the past but a lack of on-going learning has left you behind. 

As an example of keeping up to the changing competence levels in your environment you could reflect on the South African swimming’s awesome foursome – namely Ryk Neethling, Roland Schoeman, Lyndon Ferns and Darrian Townsen. They won gold in the 2004 Olympics and broke a world record. The same four swum in the 2008 Olympics and were placed eighth by four seconds. Why, what went wrong? In their defence it’s worth noting that the time they recorded in the 2008 Olympics would have won the World Championships the year before. This means that the team that took first place honours accelerated past the South Africans to the tune of four seconds in one year. That is the measure of the changing competence in their environment. This incident also reminds me of another catchy saying; the knowledge and skills that have brought you to this point will not be enough for the future. You need to continually update, you need to commit to never ending improvement. 

Do sport coaches suffer from competence delusion? It’s unbelievable how much you don’t know about the game you have been playing all your life, Dunning-Kruger effect, Develop awareness of competence problems, the knowledge and skills that have brought you to this point will not be enough for the future

Dr Steve Harris – Mind Doctor