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Athletic development specialists dedicated to the art and science of excellence in movement

Coaching and Music: Play your Part

Effective coaching is very much like performing in a musical group.  It’s a team effort in which everyone must play their part.  Unless you’re solo act, you don’t get to carry the melody in every song.  Sometimes you play the melody and sometimes you play the harmony.  Your role may even change many times within the same song.  However, if you don’t have sheet music telling you what notes to play, good musicians can still improvise.  But even without a written part, each musician knows when to lead the group and when to follow.

In both coaching and music, isolated performance may detract from the larger goal.  Playing too loud when someone else is carrying the melody will detract from the overall musical performance.  Likewise, better squat numbers are nice, but not if you’re a runner and chronically stiff legs from the gym prevent you from running effectively.   In a musical group, it might sound nice to belt out your harmony part whenever you feel like it, but it will be a bloody mess for the group if you enter in the wrong spot and overpower the melody.

As with playing the harmony in a musical group, one challenge in coaching is that your impact is often difficult to measure.  When you’re not front and center all the time, it’s easy to wonder if anyone notices your work.  For some, the temptation, to “strut their stuff” is overly tempting.  There’s no doubt a profit motive is at work.  How will anyone know how great you are if you are playing a supportive role?  But ultimately, it’s the athlete that suffers when everyone tries to act like they’re the lead soloist, even if the athlete manages a few short term performance gains.    

Just as some bad musicians act like a soloist when someone else is carrying the melody, many coaches (and clinicians) only know how to act as the head coach with minimal collaboration.  Likewise, many personal trainers know nothing else than to be the soloist who single-handedly whips the client into shape.  Place them in a situation in which their workout is secondary to the athlete’s primary performance goals, and they’ll still train as though their gym session is more important than the ten practices that week that the athlete must attend for their sport.  Probably nothing irritates me more coaching swim practice than for someone to walk on deck and proudly proclaim, “my personal trainer kicked my butt yesterday and I can barely lift my arms.”    

It’s also important as a soloist to recognize that having backup singers is not a sign of weakness.  Some fields (medical professionals, sport coaches) are most guilty of this thinking than others.  Michael Jackson, Elvis Presley, Frank Sinatra, Aretha Franklin and every other legendary solo artist had a backup group.  Did anyone think less of them for not occupying the stage as a solitary figure?  

Effective organizations have clearly delineated roles or have a tacit understanding of such, just as every great musical group reads off the same musical score.  It’s critical that each member in the performance team put aside the need to prove their relevance, and instead slot themselves into the appropriate role to benefit the athlete.  This process happens naturally in any quality musical group and must occur for the most favorable outcomes in coaching.    

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