Better Trainer: Mr. Miyagi or Coach Norman Dale?

Better Educator - Both

Two of the best movies of all time, “The Karate Kid” and “Hoosiers“, featured plot lines involving strong leaders and the incredible transformation of their pupils. Mr. Miyagi, the aging, apartment complex handyman and Coach Norman Dale, the former NCAA Division III national champion basketball coach, had very different styles. From a learning and development perspective, which one of these immortal teachers was a more effective educator?

Previous Experience: While previous experience does not necessarily guarantee future success, it can offer an important data point for how an individual thinks and acts. Prior experience can also be a desirable foundation upon which someone can build when facing a new challenge.

  • Mr. Miyagi: No previous coaching or teaching experience.
  • Coach Dale: Ten years of experience, most recently having served as head coach of the Ithaca Warriors, where he won a national championship (before being fired for hitting one of his players).
  • Advantage: Coach Dale (as long as he’s able to learn from his mistakes)

Composure: In the heat of the moment, coaches and training professionals cannot give in to their emotions, or they risk losing their objectivity and big picture perspective. Losing objectivity could lead to a loss of credibility among some participants. Losing perspective could lead to a myopic focus and an incomplete picture.

  • Mr. Miyagi: Remains calm in all circumstances and even injects humor to diffuse tense situations.
  • Coach Dale: Was fired for striking one of his players at a previous job, and was ejected from at least three high school games for arguing with the referees. While his passion can be a strength, he’s definitely exhibit A of how an overused strength can quickly become a weakness.
  • Advantage: Mr. Miyagi

What’s In It For Me? At some point, every audience member will ask this question. While I believe that a well-placed surprise can aid in the learning process and allowing participants an opportunity to uncover information for themselves can be an essential instructional strategy, learners should always have an idea of why they’re doing what they’re doing.

  • Mr. Miyagi: His unconventional wax-on, wax-off strategy ultimately paid off, but it initially led to a lot of confusion and frustration among his pupil. Daniel spent a lot of time feeling like he was his teacher’s slave as opposed to a pupil learning skills that would be essential to his success.
  • Coach Dale: He may not have let his team run scrimmages in practice, but he let them know exactly why: “I’ve seen you can shoot, but there’s more to the game than shooting… there’s the fundamentals. And defense…. No team of mine will ever run out of steam before its opponents. With only five players we can’t afford to.”
  • Advantage: Coach Dale

Game Day Performance: Every trainer needs to bring their A-game to the day-of performance, regardless of whether it’s the first time they’ve delivered the session or the hundredth.

  • Mr. Miyagi: While he wasn’t much into pre-match pep talks (his biggest piece of advice to Daniel prior to his first match: “No get hit”), he remained a steady, calming presence throughout the All-Valley Karate Tournament, nodding when Daniel was searching for affirmation and even applying a bit of fast-acting physical therapy to an injured knee.
  • Coach Dale: Sports Guy Bill Simmons noted: “Maybe he wasn’t the best game coach, but nobody belted out those pregame speeches like Norman Dale.” And Coach Dale gave a helluva pregame pep talk. His pregame talks were stirring and inspirational and goose bump producing, but the pregame talks are a bit like a nice pre-training email or perhaps a fun icebreaking activity. The fact is that Coach Dale also began the season by implementing a rigid, no-questions-asked rule requiring his team to make four passes before they shot, and even in the biggest game of his tenure at Hickory High School, he suggested taking the ball out of his best player’s hand when the game was on the line.
  • Advantage: Mr. Miyagi

Results: One thing that can differentiate between flavor-of-the-month fad and effective methodology all comes down to this question: did it produce the intended results?

  • Mr. Miyagi: Ultimately, his student just wanted the bullying to stop. In order to accomplish this, Mr. Miyagi entered Daniel in a karate tournament and prepared him to succeed. Daniel won the tournament and the bullying stopped, with the lead bully (Johnny) putting his arm around Daniel at the end of the movie and proclaiming: “You’re all right!”
  • Coach Dale: Over the course of just a few months he was able to step in for a long-time, beloved coach, implement his own system and coach seven rag-tag teammates on a journey in which they triumphed over perennial powerhouse and defending state champion South Bend Central in the 1951 Indiana Boys’ State High School championship game.
  • Advantage: This is a tough one because they both seemed to achieve their goals. Initially I was leaning toward Coach Dale because he was able to produce championship results on a much larger stage, over a longer period of time. However, just like in the corporate training environment, Mr. Miyagi may have also been able to produce similar results if given an opportunity. The fact is, both accomplished what they set out to do.

According to this analysis, these two coaches had their own strengths and weaknesses, but were equally effective educators.

What might you use for a tie-breaker?

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