The not so effective coach

Posted by jlubans on November 11, 2010

While my recent “Committing to Magic” story tells of coaching that results in a higher level of musicality among student musicians - along with personal and team development - the reader probably knows that not all coaching is alike or at the same level. Not everyone has Coach Martha Caplin’s gift for relationship building.

So, it might be helpful for me to define the other end of the coaching spectrum: the not-so-effective-coach.

I’ve observed a rehearsal of student musicians when the coaching did not help; it may even have hindered the performance.

In the coaching chapters in my book and in my workshops I mention five essential elements* that are shared between the coach and the person(s) coached, in this case, the student musicians. Each shared element has an average range and can vary from below average to high above average.

A below average score indicates that the coaching could be better. I admit my index is imperfect and it is open to (mis)interpretation. I could be wrong in my observation of this one rehearsal, but here is what I learned about HOW NOT to coach,

Since using negative examples is not my favorite way to explain something, I’ll keep it brief:

- Be directive. Minimize interaction. Let them know who’s in charge through posture and the use of interrogation instead of conversation. Do not promote, demonstrate or suggest ways for the students to hear the music – among themselves or out front in the auditorium, listening and observing.

- Use up airtime; hold tight the (invisible) mike. Give long explanations of the piece being rehearsed. Tell the group, but do not encourage a response. You are the expert, you are the conductor. (Ooops! That slipped out.)

- If at first your technique for some musical point does not get results, try, try again. The players’ reluctance and lack of engagement means they are slow learners and do not fully understand what you are doing for them. Tell them they are “blessed” to be performing this piece; imply they need to step up their efforts.

- Ignore the work done in previous rehearsals. Be oblivious to the work of the student core group, those instrumental heads who have thrashed out the tempo and interpretation and mood of the piece. After all, you have played this piece many times and know how it should go.

- Do not expect to learn from the student players. Instead provide expert direction for them to imitate. As you know, the outside expert brings considerable expertise to solving problems. If the players have anything to teach you, there’d be no reason for you to be there.

- Finally, if the group is not talking, don’t stop the rehearsal to find out what is going on even if you are coaching them the Orpheus skills on how to be self-managing, self-directing, and self-sufficient musicians!
_______________________________

*James Flaherty. Coaching – Evoking Excellence in Others. Boston: Butterworth/Heinemann, 1999.
Elements of coaching:
1. Relationship
2. Pragmatic
3. Two tracks.
4. Always/already.
5. Techniques don’t work.

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