How To Retain 90% of Everything You Learn

“Almost all of us waste 90% of our time, resources and learning time, because we don’t understand a simple concept called the Learning Pyramid.”

This was a line in an email that popped up in my inbox from Sean D’Souza of Psychotactics. Sean’s message was directed towards marketers, but I think its application holds true for teacher-coaches too.

The Learning Pyramid was developed way back in the 1960s by the NTL Institute in Bethel, Maine.

D’Souza goes on to say: “…if you look at the pyramid you’ll see something really weird. That weird thing is that you’re wasting time. You’re wasting resources. You’re just doing everything you can to prevent learning.”

Here’s Why You’re Wasting Your Time

When you summarize the numbers, you see learners retain approximately:

  • 90% of what they learn when they teach someone else/use immediately.
  • 75% of what they learn when they practice what they learned.
  • 50% of what they learn when engaged in a group discussion.
  • 30% of what they learn when they see a demonstration.
  • 20% of what they learn from audio-visual.
  • 10% of what they learn when they’ve learned from reading.
  • 5% of what they learn when they’ve learned from lecture.

Here’s the reason why we retain what we implement or teach: We inevitable make mistakes, right away.

When you, yourself, start to make mistakes, you have to go back and correct those mistakes. In doing so, your focus in heightened as you begin to concentrate on the error correction.

Avoidance of mistakes is a recipe for failure. We know this now as adults.


  • What type of learning environment am I creating for my student-athletes?
  • What’s my primary teaching style? [Are you the ‘Sage On The Stage’ or the ‘Guide On The Side’?]
  • Am I using different modalities in my instruction (e.g. auditory, visual demonstration, clipboard, video, athlete led instruction, discovery activities)?
  • How do I respond when an athlete makes a mistake?

If you’re not creating an environment where mistakes are celebrated — as a necessary part of the pursuit excellence — then you’re short changing how quickly they learn and apply, but all the vested interest you have in succeeding. It’s a double whammy.

Here’s What Yoga Has Taught About Being A Basketball Coach

A few months ago I officially made yoga a part of my weekly fitness routine. Admittedly, I’d be toying with it on DVD for about 2-yrs, but I recently made my first foray into attending an actual yoga class in-person.

Now, I know it can be intimidating for women to walk into a gym with a bunch of hulking, testosterone filled guys, grunting away. Well, I’d argue that it’s equally intimidating for a guy to walk into his first yoga class full of gumby-esque women effortlessly contorting themselves!

As I began that first class, I tried to embrace my nervousness. It wasn’t long into the session, that we were instructed to manoeuvre our bodies into a position that frankly wasn’t meant for me (at that time!). I wobbled, shook and then fell. Without hesitation, I heard my yoga teacher swoon: “If you’ve fallen out of your pose, CONGRATULATIONS! On your time, ease back into it.”

Congratulations…!?! Huh?

In the moment, I didn’t really think about it. I just knew that I was welcome as a participant. And, that my mistakes were a necessary part of my learning and growth. Mistakes were not just acknowledged and encouraged in the yoga class. They were celebrated (…!) as a requirement of improvement and growth.

In retrospect, that “Congratulations!” was a powerful teaching/learning trigger that created an environment whereby I was ‘freed’ to explore my limits further.

The next time you see me on a basketball court teaching, you can bank on two things:

  1. My athletes will be spending more time teaching skills to one another.
  2. You’ll be hearing the words “CONGRATULATIONS!” emphatically flowing from my lips when I see an athlete or coach make a mistake.

Let’s make some mistakes!


“To teach is to learn twice.”

—Joseph Joubert

Oh ya… you can also count on seeing a lot more yoga inspired movements in my warm-up and recovery routines. Namaste!