Tie Your Shoes

No serious basketball player would ever step onto the court without first properly tying his shoes. Sure Chris, but how is this related to academics?

Well, doing basic, boring things correctly is fundamental to all performance, from the NBA to the classroom. For example, not showing your work on a math test is like not tying your shoelaces before a basketball game. Sure, you’ve saved a little time, but at what cost?

John Wooden, the great UCLA basketball coach, understood the importance of getting the fundamentals right. The very first thing he taught his players was how to properly put on their socks. That’s right, Wooden taught Kareem Abdul-Jabbar how to put on his socks. Why? Because he didn’t want anyone getting a blister from a wrinkle in their sock because that could cause them to miss practice. Wooden led the Bruins to ten NCAA championships during the 12 years he was their coach.1

Success in school starts with similarly basic, boring things. The fundamentals of brain health – nutrition, exercise, and sleep – form the foundation on which our ability to learn rests. In a tech-happy world full of iPads and fancy educational apps, we need to remember that old-school studying – using the textbook, taking notes, asking questions, and making flashcards – are still very effective. It doesn’t have to be shiny and new and exciting to be valuable.

Brainstorming and making an outline is still the most reliable way to begin the writing process. Routine practice of math facts helps support students’ success as they ascend math’s upside-down pyramid. Showing your work on a math problem greatly reduces the likelihood of errors because it effectively manages cognitive load.

These things are as basic and boring as tying your shoes – and just as essential. None of these simple techniques are below you. Even professional basketball players have to put on their socks properly. No one gets to ignore the fundamentals.

So please, tie your shoes.

1 Wooden, John. Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court. Contemporary Books, 1997.

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