When I was in 7th grade, my parents put me in an advanced math class at my middle school called Algebra 1/2. I had never struggled in math prior to that point because it was all fairly straightforward to me, but I struggled with Algebra 1/2 because of the one thing my teacher repeatedly (and irrationally, in my opinion) told us to do: SHOW YOUR WORK. I would work through the algebraic equations with ease in my head, rarely bothering to put pencil to paper because I just didn't see the point. I almost always got the right answer, and when I didn't, I could usually find where I went wrong by retracing my steps mentally while also explaining how I got to that point to the chagrin of my teacher. I think I ended up with a B+ for the year, which is not bad, but it could have very easily been an A+ had my teacher been less rigid. She was a good enough teacher, but she could never answer that critical question for me, "Why do I need to show my work if I get the right answer?"
This sentiment seems to be common in today's young athletes: the constant need to know why coaches want them to do something. Much of what I hear from coaches in response to an athlete asking them "why?" is usually along the lines of, "These millennials sure are entitled..." It's a response that, as a millennial, makes me cringe. Many coaches see this simple request for rationale as a question of their ultimate authority, when in reality it is the epitome of what gives athletes the power to sustainably develop: autonomy. As coaches, when we embrace our athletes' inner desire for understanding, we build a deeper emotional connection with them, and thereby enhance every other developmental quality.
Probably the most overused cliche in coaching, "They don't care how much you know until they know how much you care," is also probably the truest. When athletes ask us why, we feel that our authority is being challenged, but actually what is being challenged is our own understanding of our methodology, our preparation, and ultimately, our commitment to our athletes. When we go into a training session or practice unprepared (as I have many times in the past), we do our athletes a disservice by not being fully committed to their success. Preparation and a thorough understanding of our methodology will lead to better prepared and more sustainably committed athletes. Embrace the why.