A lesson from the gymnastic coach

Opportunities for learning are everywhere, you just need to watch.

I am a blessed man. My family keeps me on my toes and grounded on what matters. My two daughters are very active, which means I play chauffeur often. But it also provides me with a chance to observe the way other people teach or coach students.

My youngest daughter, the highly energetic kindergartner, auditioned and made the gymnastics pre-team at a local fitness club. Anyone that knows her sees the genuine joy she exudes when doing flips and bends. With the required class meeting twice a week for an hour an a half each time, opportunities to observe are plentiful.

On one occasion the head team coach for the gym, Mike Durante, taught the class. A class that includes four energetic little girls. Of course, with 24 years of coaching experience, this was no challenge for the coach. In a firm but caring voice, he focused the girls on the tasks. He gave simple but clear instructions, and, if the students did not meet expectation, he would have them repeat the task. Watching him as he encouraged the students to stand with quiet confidence in the appropriate posture made me think about how I teach.

When teaching, do I inspire the same type of courage to perform? Is my tone one that is firm and respectful, but also full of encouragement? Coach Durante was quick to provide simple, yet complete, feedback while still establishing control of class. My daughter can push boundaries at times, especially when we try to calm down her energy. She did this in class as well. When she completed her trampoline exercise, she decided to bounce some more. Coach Durante quickly and calmly got her to stop and she popped back into her spot ready for the next task.

Even when we are correcting performance tasks, we must be mindful of how we speak. Our tone can easily bring about unwanted negative effects, which will then lead to less productive rehearsals.

There was another trait that I noticed about Coach Durante’s teaching. When one student was the focus, he provided a clear extra task for students to do on their own. I know, we as music educators do this all the time as well. We will work on a passage with the clarinets and say “everyone else, be looking over your parts.” Is this really complete instructions? Can we add more descriptive words without muddying the directions? Maybe say “As we work this section, everyone else please verify articulations at measure 34.”

But, not only did he give clear instructions, Coach Durante also provided feedback to those students! This showed that he paid attention to everyone at all times and encouraged their best for the entire hour and a half! We can do the same and assess performance throughout our rehearsals. This will promote active self-assessment from students as well.

So, I encourage you to speak courage to your students and promote full participation every moment of rehearsal. The results will be amazing. Also, find times to observe other teachers. Especially non-music teachers. You can learn a great deal simply by watching.

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