Philip, Mark, Mick, Wayne, Brian and Donald

This is a brief post about well-being. It was prompted by media reports of Mark Thompson‘s decision to end his head coach’s role at Geelong Football Club. An ABC screening of Glass a Portrait of Philip in Twelve Parts was the catalyst for writing.

The other people in the title are Mick Malthouse, Wayne Bennett, Brian Smith and Donald Friend. Each of them has a place in this story about well-being for coaches.

These are the themes that link all six for me:

1. Creativity and expertise are fascinating attributes enriched by age.

2. Both attributes require enormous energy to sustain them.

3. Maintaining this energy is a lifelong business.

I was fascinated to listen to Philip Glass’s account of maintaining energy at the age of 70 and to learn of the spiritual dimension of his well-being. The Portrait discusses his involvement with Buddhism, Tao and the Toltec tradition. An interview elsewhere notes that:

Much has been made of Glass’s Buddhism, but he’s at pains to point out that he only dipped a toe in it. “I’m not a card-carrying member of anything,” he insists. “You have to understand I’m a thoroughly Western person. But I’m also a modern person, which means that world culture has come to me from all sides. I’ve accepted huge swathes of it which my parents would never have known about.” Here he understates: it was the singing of the Gyuto monks that gave his soundtrack for Martin Scorsese’s Kundun (1997) its haunting power, and his Tibetan collaborations are continuing, with a benefit concert for Tibetan refugees soon to take place in New York. Work after work proclaims how ingrained his Buddhist instincts now are.

After watching the Portrait I was struck by the connections between a centred place in the world and longevity as a coach. Mick Malthouse and Wayne Bennett were Grand Final winning coaches last weekend. Their shared experience of coaching spans half a century. Brian Smith coached the Roosters to the rugby league grand final in his first year at the club and after a third of a century of coaching. Philip Glass was born in 1937, Wayne Bennett in 1950, Mick Malthouse in 1953, Brian Smith in 1954 and Mark Thompson in 1963.

An interview with Ian Britain on Margaret Throsby’s ABC Classic FM program introduced me to Donald Friend. Notwithstanding Donald’s dislike of sport I was struck by the role diaries played in his life. He “left behind more than two million words of brilliant, intimate diary entries one of the greatest acts of autobiography in Australian history”. In a review of Ian Britain’s book about Donald Friend’s diaries it was noted that:

Most of all, the diaries attest to his ceaseless desire to understand and master his art. ‘Neither love, food, writing, money or music, nor flattery nor sincere admiration nor the company of friends (all the things I am most partial to),’ Friend wrote, ‘could seduce me from my painting.’ Reworked into a chronological narrative, and supplemented by material from correspondence and interviews, The Donald Friend Diaries reveal an extraordinary Australian life.

Mark Thompson’s decision to stand down from his role at Geelong has raised renewed interest in and concern about well-being. Mark gave a public indication of his impending decision at his club’s award night at the end of September. This is an audio recording from 4 October that confirmed his decision.

The synchronicity of the arts programs with coaching stories has encouraged me to think about the support coaches need and can be offered. I see enormous opportunities to support coaches’ well-being from outside sport cultures. Philip Glass demonstrates just how powerful a commitment to spiritual understanding can be and Donald Friend’s experiences in troubled times underscores how important personal expression can be.

Photo Credits

Sonata Music

143/365 Diary


Training to Perform: what athletes can learn from musicians

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Last night I was driving up to Sydney and listened to Amy Dickson’s arrangement for soprano saxophone of Philip Glass’s Violin Concerto. Her performance reminded me of a point made by Emma Ayres in her program about Amy’s practicing routines for circular breathing and her interview with Amy (11 September 2009).


This NZ news item described Amy’s creative achievements:  Transcribing it (Philip Glass’ 1987 Violin Concerto) meant converting the soloist’s double-stopping into arpeggios, although there are “no more than 10 bars to do in the whole concerto”, she told the New Zealand Herald. “The most important thing was those endless notes that go on and on,” she says. “Which meant I had to learn circular breathing so I didn’t leave any of them out.” The result, said Herald reviewer William Dart, was that Dickson blended cunningly into the orchestra around her “creating the illusory textures ideal for minimalist music”.

This is the kind of dedication to which athletes aspire and coaches laud.

Elaine Page has some great observations about performance in her conversation with Margaret Throsby. I particularly liked her discussion of a performer’s access to video and the use that can be made of video.

Both musicians highlighted for me that our discussions of performance in sport and the evolution of a language about performance must be located in the performing arts.

The narratives we use for performance has been an interest of mine for since my time at Dartington College of Arts in the late 1980s.

Photo sources:


Amy Dickson Twitter