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Thursday, November 28, 2013

What we can learn from John Wooden X

The next chapter of Gallimore and Nater's book is about success and is titled, "The Motivation to Learn Comes from Focusing on Reaching Your Own Potential." I'll deal with it in two parts, the second on Wooden's "Pyramid of Success."

But this post speaks to how we measure success, something incredibly important to us as choral conductors.

It's typical to measure our success by comparing ourselves to others, or by comparing what our choirs do with other choirs.

Wooden, while enormously successful in competition with other teams, measured success differently. His definition came from his father, who stressed, "he should never try to be better than someone else, but that he should never cease to try and become the best he could be." This led to his own definition of success: "Success is the peace of mind which is a direct result of the self-satisfaction in knowing you have made the effort to become the best of which you are capable."

As Nater says,
For Coach, the definition of success made sense, not only for talented and gifted students, but for everyone else as well. If all students could be convinced to concentrate on their own progress, every individual should gain and maintain motivation. In other words, if he could somehow get them to think of passing to a higher level of achievement instead of passing another student, they would immediately see the next level of knowledge and go for it. If the reward for hard work was moving ahead, even if it's just little steps, that could be motivating.
This was necessary in Wooden's system, given that he played only 7 or so players regularly, meaning that there were 5 or so who got almost no playing time. He had to find ways to motivate the reserves (one of which was Nater, of course). Reserves were held in high esteem by Wooden, but without working hard for their success, measured by progress, not by playing time, his system wouldn't work as successfully.

This connects up to my previous blog post, where I asked the question about how I should treat my singers as individuals, and in terms of measuring success, how I can give feedback to them as individuals? How do I evaluate my students' work? Are they able to track their progress in skills, in all those fundamentals I think are important to a singer? In this sense, I don't think I've developed a system that does this--and in this sense, my system is a failure in several big aspects. I work with the choir and evaluate how they're doing on development of ensemble fundamentals and, of course, how they're doing on the individual pieces we're working on, but I'm certainly not giving them enough feedback on their individual progress. So, I'll be thinking over the break about how I can improve that.

I'd be very interested in how you deal with evaluating the work of your choral students. Do you do individual evaluation? Do they evaluate themselves? If so, how? How does this fit in with grading (if it does)?

It's clearly more complicated with many singers in a choir (many more than Wooden dealt with on his teams), but all teachers have to evaluate the work of their students. It can be done.

With the current college football season well underway, Alabama, under coach Nick Saban, is again on top, for a possible four national championships in five years (sound like anyone you know?). There are certainly similarities in approach between Saban and Wooden. In this article in Forbes "What Nick Saban Knows About Success", it states:
What Saban preaches day in and day out to his players and staff is the tested and true fundamental known as process focus. Saban teaches his players to stop actually thinking about winning and losing and instead focus on those daily activities that cause success.
He encourages his players to adopt a definition of success defined not by results, but rather by effort. Instead of emphasizing scoring touchdowns, he asks players to define themselves with such things as completing each set in the weight room or completing practices with 100% intensity. Saban states: “Everybody wants to be a success. Not everybody is willing to do what they have to do to achieve it.
According to Saban, process guarantees success. A good process produces good results. Likewise, if the process is off, the results will suffer. Focusing on the outcome is paradoxical. The more one emphasizes winning, the less he or she is able to concentrate on what actually causes success.
Sound familiar? Perhaps we have more to learn from coaches than we think!


Buddy James said...

Hi Richard,

I really appreciate your topics, and have learned a bit, or at least thought a bit more, about nearly all of them.

As an avid sports fan and long time fan of John Wooden I have also given a great deal of thought to how to incorporate his teachings into my rehearsals. I even passed out his Pyramid to my singers one year. The only other choral person that I know who speaks about Wooden as an influence is Bruce Rogers at Mt. SAC in Southern California, and his choir's results speak for themselves.

For me Wooden's most immediately compelling and useful strategies are the amount of concrete instruction he offers opposed to time spent praising or admonishing, and the amount of time that they we spend drilling vs. performing. When singers know where they are in the rehearsal process, they are more likely to deliver (by knowing what to deliver).

I have found individual assessment to be a challenge. Incorporating self-assessment tactics is always effective for me. Simple things like a singers providing feedback from a self-made individual or small group recording often opens their eyes (ears!) more than anything I could say. I guess this would be the equivalent of watching game film and analyzing our own skills.

There are two other things that I have always found very thought provoking about his teachings and career. First - the focus on basic skills away from the music. I try to work very hard on the things within my singer's control that can make them better - clean intervals, posture, vowels, so that when we put them into context of the music they know what they are supposed to do. While I have never shown anyone how to tie their shoes, I have shown some how to tie a bow tie!

Second is the fact that he had far less than ideal practice situations throughout the beginning part of his career. I cringe whenever I hear lack of ideal situations as someones excuse for doing less than quality work.

I read all of your posts, and so do my grad students (I think!), so please keep them coming.

Richard said...

Thanks very much! I've met Bruce, so will have to follow up with him and see if he knows the blog--and yes, his results are terrific!

Great ideas in your comment--thanks so much! I'm doing a lot of thinking about individual feedback. As I try some things this spring, I'll report at some time what worked and what didn't.

And I plan to keep posts coming!

If you have suggestions for future series, let me know.