Why Poker Coaching Sometimes Doesn't Work

One of the big concepts we discuss in The Mental Game of Poker is the learning process. A lot of mental game issues in poker are caused by people not understanding the nature of learning. Most poker players assume they have mastered certain concepts too early, or try and learn too much at once. Failure is often treated as a sign you should give up trying, rather than a natural and important part of improving.

If you get the book you will see some great advice on how to correct some of these incorrect assumptions. The whole process of writing the book has made me think long and hard about poker coaching. It is big business in the industry, I myself have been coached/sweated by 3 or 4 different coaches, some of them very high profile ones. Knowing what I know now, I realise how important understanding the learning process is for any coach, and from my own experience it is vastly overlooked.

First of all, I will say that one on one coaching is probably the most beneficial way anyone will learn poker (or anything else) – your game is exposed, stripped bare, and critiqued. You also will find a friend and role model if the coach is good. However, if the coach/student does not understand the learning process, it can actually be a frustrating experience.

I once had some sessions with Jay ‘KRANTZ’ Rosenkrantz, a sick sick player, but the difference between us was massive. A big blind for him was a buy-in for me, and he didn’t really cater his teaching style for the level I was at, rather he spoke to me like I was a nosebleed player – it may as well have been a foreign language I was hearing and I actually think the experience may have held me back, rather than helped me. The best coaching I ever had was from a great guy called Stuart ‘Balloo’ Menzies, who actually didn’t play games much bigger than myself, but he understood where I was as a player and coached accordingly.

The biggest single issue I have encountered from poker coaches is they try and teach too much, too soon. They will sweat a session, or study a series of hands, and overwhelm their student with all manner of technical information. Most of us poker students are just as much to blame, because we are just as keen to immerse ourselves in as much higher level literature as we can (I think everyone who has ever purchases a subscription to a poker training site has tried to watch all the videos back to back because of the sheer enthusiasm of having joined).

This is not how the learning process works; it is much more gradual and requires a lot of repetition. When we overload ourselves with information, or our coaches do, it only serves to create frustration when we are not able to execute that information when we are at the tables. Which in turn can lead us to question our ability and feel like a failure, because we don’t realise the learning process is supposed to be like this. (There is also a phenomenon called Decision Paralysis whereby the more information you have in front of you, the harder it is to make a decision and you are more likely to make a bad one, well worth reading up on).

If you are a coach or you have a coach, or even if you are just teaching yourself, it is vital you know that the learning process is much more gradual and you cannot just expect to know something because you have been told it.

Before embarking on coaching, the coach and student should agree between them what the 3 or 4 biggest areas they need to work on are (Whether they are leaks, or developing new skills) and frame the coaching around those issues. If the student’s biggest areas for improvement is 3-betting and playing in multi-way pots, don’t overwhelm them with 4-betting, G Buck calculations, playing the turn and metagame, it is just too much to take in (Obviously these scenarios will come up, and do address them as they do, but keep it simple and mark it as a future topic for discussion).

Don’t move onto something new until the student is proving they have learned the lesson over a large sample. Don’t assume because they showed they understood something in a sweat session they have learned the lesson to the point where it will show up every time. They need to consistently prove it when they are not being watched before it can be considered mastered. If they can prove they have learned something while under extreme pressure, like a big downswing, then you know they have it mastered and are ready to move on to the next lesson.

One on one coaching or discussing hands with friends is definitely the most valuable learning experience in poker, because you not only learn about the game, you learn about yourself. Just make sure everyone involved knows what learning looks like, because you can actually hinder progress if they don’t.

Learn more about Learning in The Mental Game of Poker.


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