Just back from my annual trek to Palm Springs to help out with Tony Robbins’ Date With Destiny, a 6 day long seminar ┬ádesigned to help us discover the values and rules we live by, and install more empowering ones. There is a whole day on relationships, which is worth the price of admission all by itself. I highly recommend this seminar, if you are not living your life at a high level.

As a part of the leadership track at the seminar, we get to have some extra information, mostly from other leaders, but some from Tony as well. This year, something that had an impact on me was a discussion about the difference between coaches and mentors. In simple terms, a mentor has usually been where you want to go, and can help you through the steps and provide valuable insight. A coach, on the other hand, usually has not been where you want to go, and cannot help you with your business or goals, but instead can help you with your attitudes, with who you might need to become to reach your goals, how to manage your time and your state better, and similar. If you adhere to Mr. Robbins’ principals, psychology is 80% of your success, while mechanics is a mere 20%. So it is more likely that a coach can be useful, as compared to a mentor.

At the seminar this year, a group of us were waiting for some other folks to arrive, and the group leader was asking for someone with a talent or skill to demonstrate or talk about, while we waited for them to arrive. On a silly whim, I offered to demonstrate a very special skill called a “cartwheel.” Now I was just joking around, but as it happens, I am uniquely qualified to teach this skill, as I only learned it when I was more than 30 years old. Why is that important?

When we teach gymnastics, we are usually teaching pretty young kids, maybe 8ish to 15 years old. The younger ones can pick up skills (like a cartwheel) very easily, all you need to is demonstrate it a couple times and they will get it. Sure, there are some little nuances and some style choices that usually need tweaking, but pretty much a little kid can see and copy a simple gymnastics skill. So mostly there is no need to describe the detailed mechanics.

Not so much for adults. If you never were very athletic and never really got into dance or anything like that, and you are more than 6 feet tall and weigh upwards of 240 pounds, then just copying someone doing a cartwheel really does not work. Now comes the real rub — most coaches do not actually know how to perform the skills they coach. The people who taught me to do a cartwheel (and then a front handspring and then a back extension roll and ultimately a whole floor routine complete with back handsprings and flips) did not know how to do them. Sure, they _could_ do them, and demonstrated them ad nauseum, but they were speechless when asked to describe the technique step by step.

So I watched carefully, and read books, and slowly figured out the important elements of various skills. I can tell you that at over 30 and not being in the best shape, psychology was well more than 80% of these skills. Know that one of my coaches was a national champion gymnast, two were Olympic medalists (a long time ago), and one was head of a major university’s gymnastics program and a top gymnast in his own right. And these folks, since they had been doing this stuff since they were able to crawl, really has no idea what was required to make a technique work.

There are several really important things required when teaching an adult to do a cartwheel. First, it is vital to draw a line on the floor so we know where to put our hands and feet. Most coaches get this one right. Then, it is important to know that the trick starts with your shoulders square to the line (not sideways), and that it ends the same way, square. Most coaches know this, too. Next, the trick goes through the handstand position in the middle, and it needs to be a nice, straight handstand. About 1/3 of coaches teach this.

Finally, when you go to put your hands on the floor at the start of the trick, you must put your hands as far in front of you as is reasonably comfortable. Put them too close to your feet, and you don’t develop the power needed. Most coaches know about where hands should go, but most do not know why.

A back extension roll is harder. This is a trick where you do a backwards summersault, and when upside down, pop up into a handstand. I have yet to meet a coach who really understands how this trick really works. I was told that I didn’t have enough upper body strength, that it was timing, that I just needed to do it over and over until I figured it out… lots of advice, all bad. I had one coach perform the trick in front of me about 20 times until I noticed something: As he popped up into a handstand, his hands actually left the ground. I know he was strong, but there is no way he was THAT strong. Clearly the energy was not coming from his “upper body strength”. And indeed, the secret to the trick is that the power comes from your legs, it is what gymnasts call a kip, a way of kicking your feet out to generate momentum that pulls your entire body in the direction your feet are going. As soon as I realized what was happening, I nailed the technique. It is very easy, and it is not about timing, although timing is important; and it is not about upper body strength, although, again, it can help. The trick comes from the legs.

So as I was teaching a bunch of life coaches how to do a cartwheel, what came to me was that even though a mentor may have been where you want to go, they may not have any idea how they got there; rather than it being a learned skill, it is innate; or, they have simply done it so many times that they no longer know why, or even how, they do some of the things they do. This is particularly interesting in the realm of NLP, where one of the things we do is find someone getting the result we want, and then model them so we can also get the result. How can we model someone if they themselves are unsure of exactly how they get their result?

This whole discussion has been on my mind lately, because one of the things I have personally been working on at these events is how to increase my Presence. You know how sometimes you meet someone, and they just have this … presence about them? Most of the senior volunteers at these events have that. And they just “do” it somehow, and they can’t really explain it; it just shows up one day. And just like a gymnastics coach, they know what it looks like, and they can give you some tips about it, but they can’t really explain how they do it. Sure, there are elements of body language, of attitude, and other things, but they can’t tell you the “secret”. It is something we each must discover for ourselves.

And, I think many areas of life are this way. What makes the difference between a top salesman and an average one? Sure, it is skill, but beyond skill there is … something. I’m still not sure if it can really be taught. For now, I’m pretty happy, because I figured out the Presence thing. But I can’t explain how I do it.