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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Photo Source

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.

Convergence

I have been working through a great deal of archived material of late. I have managed to save most of my on-line work since 1991 and have stored it in a variety of locations. At some point I am keen to return to a decade of rugby union performance data that I have on file!

Amidst a lot of other material I have found a copy of a presentation I made at the Sports Coach 1998 Conference in Melbourne, Australia. I have posted the presentation (Working to Enhance Performance) on SlideShare. Discovering the presentation in the archive reminded me that I had asked permission from a local company in Wales to take with me one of the first commercially available digital cameras.

I had the opportunity to try out the camera in advance and used it with my coaching group at Symonds Yat before I flew to Melbourne for the conference. I used the camera in Melbourne too to illustrate my talk. I thought that was quite an innovative thing to do at the time.

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This is the presentation:

By coincidence I met again last week one of the coaches who attended my talk in Melbourne. We had an opportunity to talk about developments in professional sport coaching and the convergence of technologies that seemed such a prospect in 1998 but is now part of our taken-for-grantedness of everyday life. Our meeting reminded me too about the biographical part of knowledge sharing and that innovation and early adoption of ideas are an important dynamic in the pursuit of excellence.

Feedforward

Introduction

Over twenty years ago when I was researching my book Using Video in Sport (1988) I came across Peter Dowrick’s work on self-modelling. I have been fascinated by his work ever since.

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Photo source: this photograph was taken by D Sharon Pruitt. It can be found at Flickr here and is included in this post under Creative Commons 2.0 licence.

Background

Back in 1980 Peter Dowrick wrote a paper with C Dove entitled ‘The use of self-modeling to improve the swimming performance of spina bifida children’. You can download a copy of this paper from the Journal of Applied Behaviour Analysis here. This is the abstract from that paper:

The use of edited videotape replay (which showed only “positive” behaviors) to improve the water skills of three spina bifida children, aged 5 to 10 years was examined. A multiple baseline across subjects design was used, and behavioral changes were observed to occur in close association with intervention. One child was given successive reapplications of videotaped self-modeling with continuing improvements. It appears that a useful practical technique has been developed.

In my book I noted that Peter Dowrick suggests that “the visible nature of most physical skills makes them a natural target for video intervention”.  The key message for me then and now is that:

Self-modelling functions more like feed-forward than feedback; subjects see themselves not so much as they were but as they might be. (My emphasis)

Peter Dowrick was an early adopter of video technology and for the past thirty years has been exploring his insights into learning.

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Photo source: The Edsel Show

In 1995 he and John Raeburn reported their work with  children with physical disabilities. In that paper they observe that:

One behavior was treated with video self-modeling and the other was videotaped without further intervention, resulting in a significant treatment effect. Self-model recordings were produced by planning and selectively editing two minutes adaptive-only behavior, which subjects reviewed on six occasions over two weeks for a total of 12 min intervention. Progress was confirmed one year later. The study supports the efficacy of self-modeling for selected behaviors of these children with physical disabilities, and suggests further investigation of structured video replay as an active agent of change.

(David Templin and Ralph Vernaccia explored the use of highlight tapes with music for training in basketball in 1995. Videotapes of each player’s best and most effective plays were supplemented by music and were viewed by the athletes throughout the competitive season. The note that “although a causal relationship between highlight videotapes and offensive field goal percentage was not established, the results did demonstrate a mean increase of 4.7% in overall field goal percentage for 3 of the 5 participants).

In 1999 he presented an analysis of 150 studies that examined the use of self modeling (mostly in the video medium) in a variety of training and therapeutic applications. This analysis is used “to argue for the recognition of learning from the observation of one’s own successful or adaptive behavior (or images of it) as a mechanism in its own right”. This 2007 review looks at 20 years’ of research in video modelling interventions in autism.

In 2006 Peter Dowrick et al wrote about feedforward in reading:

Video feedforward can create images of positive futures, as has been shown by researchers using self-modeling methods to teach new skills with carefully planned and edited videos that show the future capability of the individual. As a supplement to tutoring provided by community members, we extended these practices to young children struggling to read. Ten students with special needs participated in a multiple baseline intervention. Each received tutoring only, followed by tutoring plus video feedforward, another phase of tutoring only, and follow-up. Overall, reading fluency improved significantly for all students; in 9 out of 10 cases, rate of improvement was significantly greatest during feedforward. Other measures (e.g., word identification) confirmed student progress from most at-risk to mid-stream status. We conclude that video images of success with challenging materials may enhance the acquisition of reading skills.

Peter Dowrick’s doctoral research was published twenty years after the first commercially available reel to reel system video appeared in 1956. His doctoral thesis at the University of Auckland was Self-modeling: A videotape technique for disturbed and disabled children (1977). His work has continued through analogue video and on to digital video. This is a link to an early paper about creating a self model film (1979). His 1991 textbook A Practical Guide to Using Video in the Behavioral Sciences (New York: Wiley Interscience) has pride of place on my bookshelf. (This is a 1996 review of the book.)

Sport Literature

Some sport literature discussion of self-modelling includes:

  • Barbi Law and Diane Ste-Marie (2005)
  • Shannon Clark et al (2005)
  • Jamie Baker and Marc Jones (2006)
  • Shannon Clark and Diane Ste-Marie (2007)
  • This is an article about social play (2007)
  • Deborah Feltz et al (2008)
  • Eleni Zetou et al (nd)

Discussion

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Photo source: this photograph was taken by Garry Knight. It can be found at Flickr here and is included in this post under Creative Commons 2.0 licence.

When I first read Peter’s thoughts in the mid-1980s I was immediately attracted to the idea of feedforward. It is hard to explain to a media rich world in 2009 just how exciting video was as a medium in the 1980s. My book on Using Video in Sport (1988) contains a bibliography that was drawn from the origins of using video in sport. The earliest reference I have there is a paper by Anne Rothstein and R Arnold (1976) on videotape feedback and bowling in the first edition of Motor Skills; Theory into Practice.

There was a great deal of discussion about feedback in those days. There was an enormous sense of adventure. Early in the 1990s I read some of Richard A Schmidt’s thoughts about feedback (1991, 1997). Later this led me to explore Gabriele Wulf’s work amongst others ( 2001, 2002). This work resonated with me too and it has encouraged me to explore the possibilities for guided discovery in coaching and teaching environments. It made it possible too for me to explore performances of understanding in play, games and sport.

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Photo source: this photograph was taken by William Kitzinger. It can be found at Flickr here and is included in this post under Creative Commons 2.0 licence.