Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Break 'em down, build 'em up

Something most people don't know about me is that when I was in college I was a member of the Men's Glee Club, an all male choral group.  I joined Men's Glee only after the basketball coach informed me (via a cut list) that he really didn't need any 6-3 centers on his team.

But our director, Mr. Halvorsen, was a great teacher who made learning easy and fun.  (He was so good that we referred to him as "Coach.")  Under him, we committed dozens of pieces of music to memory, and I never forgot the teaching method he used:  whole-part-whole.

First, Coach would have our accompanist play the entire piece through on the piano, as we followed along by reading our part in the musical score.  Then starting with the basses, he would have the pianist play the first line of their part only, after which the basses would sing their part.  Then the baritones would do the same, after which Coach would have the basses and baritones combine their parts and sing together.  He would repeat this process with the first and second tenors, and finally put all four parts together before moving on to the next line.

Part by part, we would put the entire number together, committing it to memory while he gave us constant feedback to smooth off the rough edges.  We would review and polish the piece the next day, and return to it as often as possible in the days leading up to a concert, making sure we were sharp.  And that is what coaching is... demonstrate the big picture, break it down, build it up, review and polish until it's perfect. 

I'm not as patient as Coach was.  I get irritated with poor execution... but not frustrated.  Irritation is just my natural mode of coaching, and reflects my personality and my perfectionistic nature.  I get irritated because I want players to execute flawlessly at game speed.  Flawlessly, at game speed.  That's the standard and until that happens, I'm not particularly warm and fuzzy, though I DO like praising even imperfect attempts as long as I'm seeing effort, concentration, and improvement.

But I don't get frustrated.  Frustration implies there's nothing the coach can do to get the team to execute, resulting in a feeling of helplessness.  No.  You are never helpless.  There is always always something you can do to get your team to execute flawlessly at game speed (or at least moving in that direction).  What can you do?  Break them down, build them up.  Whole-part-whole.

Players will execute precisely as well as you expect them to... precisely as well as you demand they do.  There's always a way to get better.

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