Note: A version of this article appeared on the Trading Markets site, 9/25/06.
In a recent blog post, I suggested that coaching for traders could be valuable if properly structured. But is it possible for traders to coach themselves for success? Can the process of expertise development be self-generated?
There is actually a fair amount of research on this topic. The general conclusion of this work, which I review in my upcoming book, is that the importance of mentoring to performance success is specific to each performance field. Team sports, for instance, universally rely upon coaching for expertise development. It is impossible, for instance, for an individual to become proficient at a game such as ice hockey without having a team to practice with.
Other sports and performance fields are more entrepreneurial. Chess, jazz music, and poker are examples of fields where high levels of attainment can be achieved through individual practice and a minimum of formal instruction. These are fields in which learners can execute performances on their own, obtain feedback, and steadily make improvements. Many of the jazz greats, for example, developed their talent by playing night after night in local clubs.
The research of Benjamin Bloom and his colleagues at the University of Chicago suggests that the role of mentors varies across the learning curve. Early in development, a coach teaches basics, as in the case of a Little League coach or a beginning piano teacher. Later, practice becomes more structured and extended as part of competence and expertise development. A coach at these later phases needs to have a solid mastery of the performance activity to structure practice properly and provide meaningful feedback.
Many of the highly successful traders I've known and worked with have acquired their skills through self-development and a relative minimum of guidance from senior traders. In these situations, we can break down their learning activities into four components that I call P3R:
Prepare refers to activities that orient the performer to the upcoming challenge. Running drills helps prepare a football team for a game; reviewing charts and market data prepares a trader for the upcoming trading session.
Plan relies on an assessment of strengths and weaknesses to guide how the performance will be undertaken. A military leader develops a battle plan out of intelligence information about the enemy and an evaluation of his own troop strength and strategic position. A trader's plan includes the patterns he or she will trade, the capital to be allocated to trades, allowable risk, etc.
Perform is the execution of a plan, with mid-course correction as needed. A basketball team will call time out if the performance is not going according to plan. A trader may reassess a plan in light of unexpected economic news and a price breakout.
Review comes after a performance, as part of assessing what was done right and wrong. The military leader conducts an after-action review following a mission to tweak the overall battle plan and correct any weaknesses that might have emerged. A trader utilizes review to identify flaws in trading plans and the execution of those plans, using the feedback to begin a new cycle of Prepare.
Notice that, in good mentorship, Prepare-Plan-Perform-Review is a cycle, not a linear sequence. The idea is to create learning loops in which you the performer/student can also be the mentor/teacher. Incorporating structured feedback into future preparation and planning is key to self-coaching.
Trading journals are a time-honored tool for self-mentoring, structuring and documenting the P3R process. Increasingly, we're seeing online tools for journaling that incorporate graphics and market data into the trading journal. Platforms such as CQG mark charts with the points at which you made trades and worked orders in the book, allowing you to add your own comments.
These can be readily printed out for future reference and review. Programs such as Trader DNA allow users to print out charts of trading results and tables of performance, summarizing a variety of performance metrics that highlight strengths and weaknesses.
I'm increasingly impressed with the Stock Tickr program, which now has a Pro version that integrates an online journal with charts of one's trades and statistics about trading results. Users of the program have the option to keep their journals private or share with others in the Stock Tickr community. This latter option opens the door to peer mentorship and coaching.
The most valuable service I can perform for traders, I believe, is not to become their trading coach, but to help them mentor themselves. My upcoming presentation at the Futures Trading Summit will be largely devoted to this topic, stressing ways that traders can accelerate their own development. My hope is also that my morning market updates and trading Weblog can also help traders better Prepare, Plan, Perform, and Review their way to success. A list of additional resources to aid your mentorship is available on the Trader Development page of my personal site.
Disclaimer: I do not have a commercial or proprietary relationship with any of the resources mentioned in this article and on my site.
Brett N. Steenbarger, Ph.D.