Three Papers, Day Two at IACSS09

I chaired a final paper session on Day Two at IACSS09. The three presenters were Alexis Lebedew, Gerard Sierksma and Natalie Ruiz.

Alexis presentation was A Reconceptualisation of Traditional Volleyball Statistics To Provide a Coaching Tool for Setting.


Gerard presented on Talent Development, Performance Potential and Computer Support in Sports.


Natalie’s presentation was entitled Multimodal Cognitive Load Assessment for Athletes.


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There was a packed gathering to hear the three speakers and I thought their ideas and discussion was a great end to Day 2 of the conference. For me it meant a sleepless night pondering complexity and simplicity and how we might develop our understanding of performance in sport.

The other bookend to the day was Martin Lames‘s keynote. He started the fireworks of thoughts!

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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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.


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.


24 August 2009

Ailsa Haxell has shared this Itay Talgam video with me.

Mercier (Merce) Philip Cunningham


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A few weeks ago (1 August) I found an obituary of Merce Cunningham written by David Vaughan. I was reading the Canberra Times but have discovered that the Obituary appeared in The Guardian on 27 July.

David Vaughan worked with Merce Cunningham since 1959. His obituary is sensitive and rich in information. Here are some points from his obituary:

  • Merce Cunningham was one of the greatest choreographers of the 20th century, and the greatest American-born one.
  • As a choreographer, he never abandoned the voyage of discovery that he embarked on at the beginning of his career.
  • His work was essentially classical in its formal qualities, its rigour, and its purity.
  • He was, like most creative artists, chiefly involved in the work he was doing now – or was going to do next.
  • He pioneered work in film and video.
  • In the 90s, his fascination with the computer program DanceForms led to the formulation of a new choreographic complexity.

What fascinated me about Merce Cunningham was his ability to observe movement and transform it into dance. Judith Mackrell has noted that “No one else made dance that looked remotely like this, and at the same time no one else had Cunningham’s conceptual ambitions.”

I am intrigued by observation and creativity. I think sport has an enormous amount to learn from the performing arts and from the life of visionary performers.

Judith Mackrell offered this synthesis of his work:

Throughout his career he continued to make explorations. It was Cunningham who led the way in using computers as an aid to creating dances; he was later one of the first choreographers to use digital technology in staging his work. There was always a part of the dance world, which regarded Cunningham as too cerebral, too weird, that resisted these preoccupations. Some of his early reviews were terrible. Yet for those of us who have loved and admired his works, they seemed the opposite of dry. For one thing Cunningham was a rare, instinctive showman. On stage he was mesmerizing.

It seems to me these are the characteristics of those who define and transform their age.