Coaching, Composition, Ecology and Big Pictures

Last week I was involved in a lot of discussions about coaching and coach development. For years I have been thinking about the vision that links people after reading an Arthur Koestler paper in the late 1980s entitled The Vision that Links the Poet, Artist and Scientist.

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This week I have been thinking about the links between coaching and composition following a Graham Abbott program about Mozart. In 1788 he composed his last three symphonies, 39 (in E flat), 40 (in G minor)  and 41 (in C). In his analysis of these three symphonies Graham Abbott suggests that one refers back to the whole of Mozart’s work, one emphasises Mozart’s present occupations and one holds within it the next century of classical music. I was wondering if that is what great coaches do too in their coaching. Do they have three concurrent rhythms running through their work: the biography that positioned them to coach in the here and now and that allows them to envisage performance that can be?

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By coincidence the Hubble Telescope was in the news last week. I wondered if coach education and development might set some Hubble type aspirations:

  • NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope is back in business, ready to uncover new worlds, peer ever deeper into space, and even map the invisible backbone of the universe.
  • With its new imaging camera, Hubble can view galaxies, star clusters, and other objects across a wide swath of the electromagnetic spectrum, from ultraviolet to near-infrared light. A new spectrograph slices across billions of light-years to map the filamentary structure of the universe and trace the distribution of elements that are fundamental to life. The telescope’s new instruments also are more sensitive to light and can observe in ways that are significantly more efficient and require less observing time than previous generations of Hubble instruments.
  • Hubble also is now significantly more well-equipped to probe and further characterize the behavior of dark energy, a mysterious and little-understood repulsive force that is pushing the universe apart at an ever-faster rate.

If this kind of vision is what coaching is about then I think coaching is about first principles too. I wondered if the insights coaches have match those of a soil scientist like Christine Jones and an innovative farmer like Cam McKellar who appeared on Radio National’s Bush Telegraph program. If you have an opportunity to listen to the podcast then it will sound very familiar to coaches interested in grassroots development!

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I am hopeful that the visions held by composers, astronomers and farmers can enrich our thinking about coaching.

Photo Sources (The Commons)

The St Raphael Team

An Orchestral Practice

Hubble Image

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That Shot!

Sometimes you are in the right place as a player and if you are fortunate as a spectator.

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This morning (Australia EST) I had the great good fortune to see live Roger Federer‘s shot (6-5 third set, 30-0) to take his US Open semi-final to match point. He described his shot in the immediate after game interview as his greatest shot ever. (See AFP story here with image, and an early example on YouTube.)

What was wonderful about the shot in real-time was that it looked possible. He created time to execute a shot practiced many times in training. I think it will become an iconic moment in tennis history and the slow motion replays of the stroke have some great spontaneous moments of recognition. Novak Djokovic, the crowd and Roger Federer have wonderful reactions.

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In one moment it brought back Johann Cruyff‘s drag of the ball and gave a great opportunity to celebrate virtuosity. This virtuosity redefines and transforms what we think a game is.

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These moments leave you happy that you were around and for coaches and athletes offer new possibilities.

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Coaching, Conducting and Performing

I believe there are enormous similarities between coaching and conducting. In this post I would like to explore these similarities.

Some years ago I sat enchanted whilst I watched Leonard Bernstein‘s The Love of Three Orchestras (1986). It was a ninety-minute video with excerpts from rehearsals and concerts. In it Leonard Bernstein talks about his career as a conductor and his experiences with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra, and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. I realised that I had found one of the leading coaching resources available to me.

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Photo Source

Only recently did I come across Jamie Bernstein‘s account of his father as a teacher. In that account he notes that:

Leonard Bernstein … could not absorb enough information on the things that interested him: not just music but also Shakespeare, the Renaissance, world religions, Lewis Carroll, biology, Russian literature, the two World Wars, astrophysics, French drama — and any places where these topics overlap. His brain was on fire with curiosity. And what he loved most was to communicate his excitement to others.

In a discussion of Leonard Bernstein as a conductor, Marin Alsop observes that:

One of the greatest gifts Bernstein shared with me was the significance of story; that every piece has an inherent story and that every composer spends his life trying to articulate his own personal story and answer those existential questions that are so consuming for him.

These characteristics of a teacher and conductor are embedded in excellent coaching too. Lifelong involvement in coaching opens you up to the possibilities of stories and the thirst for knowledge. Coaches like conductors transform performance when they have a story to share.

In recent years I have returned to Leonard Bernstein through reflecting on the work of Michael Tilson Thomas and in the immediate past week listening to Yannick Nezet Seguin. Yannick was a guest of Margaret Throsby on Classic FM. This is the MP3 audio file of his conversation with her. On Yannick’s own web site there is a recording of a delightful acceptance speech.

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If you do have time to listen to the interview file as it has all the elements of performance a coach addresses: precocious talent; commitment to practice and improvement; performing in front of an audience; transforming performance; becoming successful and dealing with success; working hard to improve; and humility.

I got back to Leonard Bernstein via Carlo Maria Giulini. Carlo was Yannick’s mentor. You can hear about their relationship in the interview tape. Their fascination with music gave them an opportunity to explore ideas and develop Yannick’s skills as a conductor. I believe we grow as coaches because we can share and explore ideas with other coaches. Rather than coaching being a lonely profession it can be a wonderfully shared experience. A Times article about Carlo observed:

On the podium Giulini was the least flamboyant of men. He maintained the balance of an athlete, moving little and conveying his demands with his long, tapering fingers and above all his eyes. A glance fixed on an individual player conveyed exactly what he wanted. If things were going well he would even close his eyes, as if communing privately with the composer.

Michael Tilson Thomas’s conversation with James Brown highlights how two people with shared knowledge can amplify each other’s understanding. This discussion about teachers and students has enormous relevance to coaches too.

I wondered at the end of this journey how coaches might work with these two athletes.

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I wondered too what kinds of performances we give as coaches and whether we have these rhetorical skills. And most of all I wondered how we developed our own story as a coach.

Postcript

24 August 2009

Ailsa Haxell has shared this Itay Talgam video with me.