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Thursday, October 31, 2013

What we can learn from John Wooden VI

This continues last week's post about Wooden's preparation and what we can learn from it. Remember, we're referencing Gallimore and Tharp's 2004 article, which looked back at their earlier 1976 study.

Last week we heard how Wooden spent 2 hours each morning planning the afternoon's practice. All the drills were written out on 3x5 cards and every assistant and manager had his own copy, since they assisted with the practice and needed to know the plan as well as Wooden did. Gallimore and Tharp also note how this was used for individuals as well as the group:
"Pass to someone short" was a byproduct of the detailed practice plans. Coach Wooden went to practices armed with cards that helped him attend to the fine details of a player's performance and development and focus his instructions accordingly. This included what parts of the offense the player needed to work on, moves for his particular position, the number of consecutive free-throws required of an individual before he could return to the scrimmage, and many other areas.
Speaking to the need to keep spoken instructions brief, they again quote Wooden from a 2002 interview:
John Bunn, one of the brightest, most erudite coaches I've ever known, made the statement one time, "Give a coach the opportunity to say in 15 minutes what he should say in 15 seconds--he will." I learned to be concise and quick and didn't string things out. . . . I never had a lot of meetings or things of that sort. I wanted short things during the practice session.
This is directly relevant to the work we do. To teach more, to make your rehearsals more instruction dense, you have to have a very clear idea of what you're planning to do in the rehearsal and how you're going to do it. I spoke of that in the last post. But it's as important to make sure that your instructions are clear, brief, communicate what's necessary (but no more), and immediately get your choir singing again. It's a quick back and forth from the choir singing, stopping for a quick instruction, to singing again . . . and, you hope, showing improvement.

Wooden's 3x5 cards helped with this process, because he could work out those brief instructions in advance. When I worked with young conductors, I asked them to have a detailed rehearsal plan worked out in advance, which included not only what they were going to rehearse, but all potential problems (at least those they could anticipate) and the specific techniques that would be used to solve them. This is where analysis of your rehearsals (and what worked or not) can help greatly. Best is a recording (audio or video), which allow you to listen back to your instructions: are they clear? Are they concise? Were they as short as they could be and still communicate what you want? If you want to go further, do your own little (scary!) study, and log how much time you talk versus the time they sing--we'll hope you aren't surprised at how much and how long you talk.

With young conductors (and frankly, with much more experienced ones as well) practice in advance of what you're planning (or likely) to say can be enormously helpful. If you wish, use Wooden's 3x5 cards and write out what you're going to say. Or simply practice, in the privacy of your room, giving instructions out loud. It's a way of practicing ("acting as if") through anticipated situations and what you'll say and do. The more often you do this, the more readily quick and accurate instructions will come "naturally."

You will find it difficult to write down every potential correction and statement on your rehearsal plan, but you could include some (or at least in a shorthand).

This takes practice!

It's also important to understand that there is no end to improvement (and, therefore, practice). Again, from Gallimore and Tharp's 2002 interview with Wooden:
I hope I was learning the very last year [I coached]. I don't think I learned as much the last year as I did the first year but I hope I learned a little bit each and every year.
And from the 1997 book with Steve Jamison:
When you improve a little each day, eventually big things occur. . . . Not tomorrow, not the next day, but eventually a big gain is made. Don't look for the big improvement. Seek the small improvement one day at a time. That's the only way it happens, and when it happens, it lasts.
I think this is incredibly important. What you can ultimately be--how far you can improve--can't be seen early in your career, even though you may know a lot about where you are now. If you can keep learning, rehearsal by rehearsal and concert by concert, you can make enormous progress over what I hope will be a long career.

The work you do on preparation for each day, the time you spend practicing what you're going to say and how you're going to say it, the evaluation you do after rehearsals (which then shape what you change or improve next)--all these things will be the small improvements that ultimately make you very skilled.

To go back to Wooden, we know now that he had the best record in coaching college basketball. He had a great background (3 time All-American at Purdue as a player), but his ultimate success as a coach didn't come overnight. He started coaching at UCLA in 1948, yet his first conference title wasn't until 1955-56, they lost in the semi-finals of the NCAA's in 1962, and finally won their first title in 1964-65. And it's acknowledged that his first NCAA title came after his assistant coach Jerry Norman convinced him, with a relatively small team, to adopt a zone defense to go with their fast-paced offense.

So, in the same way, it's a long process to improve your skills as a conductor . . . and that's as important a thing to learn from John Wooden as anything else.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

What we can learn from John Wooden V

Following up on last week's post, based on the 2004 study that re-evaluated Gallimore and Tharp's earlier study of John Wooden's methods, we move to a different topic, that of Wooden's preparation for his practices (or for our rehearsals).
 
As I mentioned last week, Gallimore and Tharp's 1976 study was based on observation of practices, but they didn't interview Wooden at that time. As they note in the later study,
In the meantime, we learned from his published accounts and those of his players and from our own conversations and interviews with him in the intervening years. It is now clear Coach Wooden's economical teaching that we observed was the product of extensive, detailed, and daily planning based on continuous evaluation of individual and team development and performance. . . He made decisions "on the fly" at a pace equal to his players, in response to the details of his players' actions. Yet his teaching was in no sense ad hoc. Down to the specific words he used, his planning included specific goals for both team and individuals. Thus he could pack into a practice a rich basketball curriculum and deliver information at precisely the moments it would help his students learn the most. It was, he always said, the teaching in practices he valued, more than the games and the winning, and it was practices he was so reluctant to leave when he retired.
They then quote Wooden, from his 1997 book (with Steve Jamison), Wooden: a lifetime of observations and reflections on and off the court:
Everything was planned out each day. In fact, in my later years at UCLA I would spend two hours every morning with my assistants organizing that day's practice (even though the practice itself might be less than two hours long). I kept a record of every practice session in a loose-leaf notebook for future reference.
 
I would spend almost as much time planning a practice as conducting it. Everything was listed on three-by-five cards down to the very last detail.
Every 5-15 minutes of each practice was organized with the specific activity and each assistant also had a copy of the cards, so they could keep the players constantly on task, with the players literally running from one drill to another.
 
And from the same book and then a 2002 interview they did with Wooden:
I kept notes with the specifics of every minute of every practice we ever had at UCLA. I looked back to see what we'd done on the corresponding day the previous year and the year before that.
 
By the time I came to UCLA, I'd already been coaching for 13 years. . . could tell you what we did in every practice in my twenty-seven years at UCLA. I could go back to the 48-49 year and tell you what we did on November the 15th--minute by minute what we did--and I think that helped me tremendously by doing those [plans] and I can refer back to them always. I would always make little notations after practice, maybe . . . too long, a couple of minutes or five minutes too long on this, or [we] need a little more attention to this.
Where did he evolve the kind of planning he did?
I felt running a practice was like teaching an English class [he'd done this earlier in his career]. . . I knew a detailed plan was necessary for teaching English, but it took a while before I realized the same thing was necessary in sports. Otherwise you waste an enormous amount of time, effort, and talent.
I think most of us can agree that proper planning is important to a good rehearsal--but I'm doubtful that many (any?) of us have been as thorough as John Wooden!
 
Wasting an enormous amount of time, effort, and talent is, however, what happens without good rehearsal planning.
 
So, where do we start?
 
First, do you do a detailed rehearsal plan each day?
 
Margaret Hillis told me and a group of others in a workshop that she planned each minute of every rehearsal--she said if you asked her what she'd be doing that evening at 8:35 PM, she could tell you.
 
I did similarly detailed planning earlier in my career (later, a bit more about what I do now). And absolutely, after every rehearsal I did a postmortem, asking what worked, what didn't, and what could be improved. I did not keep plans and refer back to them in the way Wooden did (and perhaps should have). But the process of thinking (and sometimes agonizing) about why something didn't work was enormously valuable in my learning process as a young conductor (and is still important today). I know that early in my career I had many more "bad" rehearsals--when things just didn't go as I expected--but that gradually improved as I figured out what worked and what didn't. And I grew to enjoy rehearsing more and more as I got better at it . . . and of course, we spend much more time rehearsing than we do performing--if you don't love the process, you're missing many of the joys of conducting.
 
With young conducting students I want to see them do the following as they plan:
  • know exactly what pieces (and what sections of those pieces) they will rehearse and in what order (the sequence of the pieces and what you plan to accomplish will have a big effect on how well the rehearsal goes)
  • know what they're going to accomplish with each piece (this can range from run through this section, be secure with the notes and rhythms from b. 22-35, learn to sing this particular passage in tune, to work on the German pronunciation, etc.)
  • have completely thought through what are the potential problem spots (whether with notes, rhythms, intonation, sound, etc.)
  • and, as importantly, how will you solve those problem spots? what are the techniques or methods you'll use to accomplish this?
There are lots of other things to think about as well (and this is all a part of your total preparation--learning the music and understanding it to the best of your ability): what's the best sequence for learning a particular piece or section of it? What should you do first? In any given section, what vocal parts should be rehearsed together? Sometimes it can be male and female sections which belong together, but it can be any combination--and that has to be determined by your study of the score (if it isn't immediately obvious I'll often jot in the margin of the score: SA/TB, SB/AT, SAT/B as a shorthand of what parts to rehearse together). How do the singers find their pitches? Is it from another part? Is it from a chord? How do you teach it to them? Where are  dissonances between parts? Sometimes you can simply make the singers aware of it, but at other times it takes isolating those parts so they can hear how it should work. All transitions need to be thoroughly rehearsed, of course (that's like basketball players practicing transitions after a basket).
 
The more that is planned in advance, the more solutions that are at the ready, the better the chances for success.
 
Back to what I do now, I always work from a written plan, and do think thoroughly through all of the elements above, but don't always write them down. I don't normally plan the specific times that a piece will be rehearsed, but I always have an idea about how long each section will take in my rehearsal. I want to work reacting (or perhaps better, interacting with) to what I hear and see--while I have to think about all the potential problem spots, I need to be sensitive to what actually happens in the rehearsal. In this sense it's more like good jazz, where there's a structure everyone understands, but the specific development of the performance evolves as the players listen and interact with each other. I want my rehearsals to cover everything that needs to be done, but have the sense that it flows naturally, and be willing to change the plan if the mood and inspiration call for it.
 
However, I may have to re-think that, given what a great coach did right through to the end of his career!
 
There's more about Wooden's preparation that I'll discuss next time, particularly about long-term planning--and know that there's still more in Swen Nater and Ronald Gallimore's book I've already mentioned, You Haven't Taught Until They Have Learned: John Wooden's Teaching Principles and Practices.
 
That's enough for now, but for a quick note: for those who followed my intonation series, I'm doing a performance of Monteverdi's 1610 Vespers which will be live-streamed (8 PM Central Time, this Saturday--translate that to your time zone, e.g. 6 PM on the West Coast), and we're using quarter-comma meantone tuning, which calls for very pure thirds. I've worked hard with my singers (and instrumentalists) to tune this way. So, if you're interested in an example, you can tune in here on Saturday.

Thursday, October 17, 2013

What we can learn from John Wooden IV

I based the previous two blog posts on a 1974 study by Professors Ronald Gallimore and Roland Tharp published in Psychology Today in 1976. In 2004 they re-visited the research and re-evaluated the data, resulting in the following study (as always, I recommend reading it for yourself--it's not long).

They note that, "much of the earlier study was verified. But much can be modified, enriched, and corrected." Evaluating their earlier study, they state that their coding of the various teaching acts was formed by the prevailing "'objectivity' Zeitgeist of the 1970s." They also said that they didn't have the nerve to ask Wooden for an interview at the time. In the intervening years, however, they were able to interview Wooden and others, filling out the picture with more information.

There's much of interest in the article and I'll speak of Wooden's (extraordinary) preparation in the next post. But for today, let's look at what was characterized as the ratio of positive to negative reinforcements, "total positive social reinforcements, verbals and non-verbals, constitute less than 7% of total acts. But scolds add up to 15.6% . . . Wooden scolds more than twice as much as he rewards."

As Gallimore and Tharp say in the 2004 study, "In 1974-75, teacher-praise was a major topic of classroom research . . . Thus we were surprised that Coach Wooden so seldom praised or reproved his players. This was at odds with the view held by many in the early '70s that the effective teacher signals, by praise and reproof, what student behaviors do and do not match expectations."

In a 2002 interview with Wooden, they told him that, "the thing we were most struck about was that you didn't do either of those things [reproofs or praise] so much. Most the things you said were just plain information about how to play basketball. I think we calculated that 75% of everything you said was information about the proper way to . . . do something in a particular context." To which Wooden replied, "I believe that is the positive approach. I believe in the positive approach. I always have."

Then Gallimore and Tharp say, "The positive approach in Coach's practice was to focus players' attention on specific, fine points of how to properly play basketball."

They quote Swen Nater (a former UCLA player, who'll reappear soon in the blog series because of the fantastic book about Wooden's teaching co-authored with Ronald Gallimore) about this kind of positive approach:
As a former student who committed many errors during practice and therefore having been the recipient of plenty of corrections, it was the "information" I received, during the correction, that I needed most. Having received it, I could make the adjustments and changes needed. It ws the information that promoted change. Had the majority of Coach Wooden's corrective strategies been positive ("Good job") or negative ("No, that's not the way"), I would have been left with an evaluation, not a solution. Also, corrections in the form of information did not address, or attack me as a person. New information was aimed at the act, not the actor.
I think this is significant, but something that needs more thought (from me, at least!) in terms of how to apply in a choral context.

With a basketball team there are a limited number of players--Wooden carried 12 with 7 that were in the primary rotation and therefore received the vast majority of the playing time in games. This means that much of the instruction can be individual. With a choir of (in my case for my undergraduate choir at UNT) 55 singers, that's much more difficult. I strive to make much of what I say "information dense" so that I do impart information, not just (as Nater noted), "an evaluation, not a solution." But this still isn't easy.

I'd be very interested in hearing what approaches you've used in this regard. As I've mentioned before, my frequent use of quartet seating forces (although forced is a funny word here--most singers love to be in quartets) the singers to be much more independent. I also realize I haven't had my singers do nearly as much individual singing in the rehearsal (or a quartet) this year as last. I need to re-evaluate that as my rehearsals go forward.

Certainly, however, we can all work harder as conductors to make sure that we don't just, as Nater says, give an "evaluation, not a solution." We have to think much more carefully about how we can teach our choir to sing better, to sing more musically, to read better, to sing better in tune, to sing with a better sense of ensemble, to be expressive. Only in doing that can our choirs reach their potential. But more importantly, only in this way can our individual singers gain the skills that will serve them well in their musical lives beyond the time they sing with us.

And a postscript: Ron Gallimore once again responded, having sent the earlier post to Swen Nater, referenced above:

"Here's what Swen had to say about this statement in your blog:

"It is clear to the players that Wooden is truly concerned about them. He takes a group of young men, many with superstar potential, and convinces them that they can best serve their self-interest by subordinating personal pride to team effort. Fairness, almost an obsession in his autobiography, has unquestionably helped players accept Wooden's decisions they did not like."
I'm going to disagree with something in the paragraph. It's almost correct, but not quite. Coach Wooden didn't convince us that we can best serve our self-interest by subordinating personal pride to team effort. You see, the self interest we had was to go professional. When we gave up what we could really do out there on the floor if given free reign (e.g., score 35 points), we knew our chances for going pro would reduce. It did for many UCLA players like Andre McCarter. So, when we gave up all those points, our self interest wasn't served unless you believe, being a part of a champion increases your stock more than being a star on an average or bad team. That's a huge gamble. Some of us knew we were sacrificing much money by becoming subordinate.
And Coach didn't really "convince" us to do it his way. It was his way or the highway or bench as we called it. That's how he convinced us.
What a great leader.
Swen
Many thanks to Ron Gallimore, Ronald Tharp, and Swen Nater for taking the time to add to this discussion!

Thursday, October 10, 2013

What we can learn from John Wooden III

One never knows who will respond to a blog post--imagine my surprise when Ronald Gallimore commented on the last post and then Roland Tharp emailed me yesterday, having heard about the post from a friend! A very nice surprise, indeed! Dr. Gallimore mentioned his continuing research and referenced his website (from which I got the link to the Psychology Today article--reminder, it is here). His website can be found here and if you're interested in this series, you'll want to explore it further.
 
As I said in my response to his comment, I've looked at most of the articles and plan more posts based on the book he wrote with Swen Nater, which is very interesting. Dr. Tharp mentioned his further research and some work he'd done with a horn player on the topic of Wooden's techniques and philosophies and I'll follow up on that as well.
 
But enough of that, back to the topic at hand!
 
Another interesting result of the 1976 study was the amount of negative feedback vs. positive. To quote from the article again:
The aspect of Wooden's teaching with the most theoretical value is his unexpected mix of social reinforcement and punishment. In direct contrast to the techniques advocated by most behavior modifiers, praise is a minor feature of Wooden's teaching methods. Total positive social reinforcements, verbals and non-verbals, constitute less than 7% of total acts. But scolds add up to 15.6% . . . Wooden scolds more than twice as much as he rewards.
 
Withering reproofs: Since this finding deserves explanation, we should be clear about the phenomenon itself. In no sense is Wooden mean or punitive. He almost always leaves practice with a light touch, a joke, an affectionate pat on the back for players on the tired trek to the locker room. He never uses physical punishment such as lap-running. He prefers to keep practice a desired activity. But between the whistles that open and close practice, he is a dead-serious teacher whose reproofs can be so withering that observing psychologists shrink in their seats. Example, "No. No. No. Some of you are just standing around watching. Play your man tight before he gets the ball. Goodness gracious sakes, use the head the good Lord gave you."
 
I'm not sure that today those comments would be seen as quite as withering as they did in 1976, but the overall point is interesting--how much praise is necessary and desirable? What's the best way to get results? And, the theme of this series, "what can we learn from John Wooden?"
 
Of course, Gallimore and Tharp also mention Wooden's almost fatherly relationship with his players. More from the article:
It is clear to the players that Wooden is truly concerned about them. He takes a group of young men, many with superstar potential, and convinces them that they can best serve their self-interest by subordinating personal pride to team effort. Fairness, almost an obsession in his autobiography, has unquestionably helped players accept Wooden's decisions they did not like.
 
Wooden's negligible use of praise is particularly instructive when you consider the motivational level of his students. There may be no more highly motivated groups trying to learn something than these young athletes for whom success can mean fame and fortune, plus more immediate social benefits. Under such conditions of maximum incentive, praise becomes virtually unnecessary. For students less motivated than Wooden's, social rewards may be necessary as incentive to keep them in reach of instructions, modeling, feedback, and other activities that do produce learning. . .
 
The majority of Wooden's scolds are loaded with information. His complex statements both simultaneously scold and specifically reinstruct. . . These scold/reinstructions are often shouted during a group activity when no one can be sure who is the offending member, and consequently everyone tries to put himself in order.
 
I find this fascinating. While Wooden was working with a group that is intrinsically highly motivated (more so than most of us do!), I think there's much that's instructive for us.
 
I use plenty of positive statements/praise in rehearsal, but there is a time for honest criticism as well. I've been known to tell my choir, "Well, that sucked!" at the end of a particularly mediocre or bad run-through. Now, it's said with a little smile, and the choir will usually laugh at my use of the term, "sucked," but they usually know just as well as I do that it did, in fact, suck. Honest feedback (not said in an angry manner) about what the choir's just done can be enormously helpful. I think that saying positive things when the effort wasn't great can often be seen though by the choir--and then that puts all your positive statements in doubt--they aren't trustworthy.
 
And the final statement in the quoted paragraph above is an important one: by making a general statement, not identifying who you're speaking to, no one in the choir knows if they were late, early, out of tune (or whatever), and may all work harder to make sure they've got it right. This assumes that your group already is motivated to do better--which is dependent on the relationship you have with them and the kind of work ethic and practices you've built into the way they work together (see here for more on that). By the same token, if the problem is clearly with an individual, sometimes it's best to be direct (but then you have to decide if a student can handle saying something in front of the choir or if it's best to speak to them privately).
 
I believe another important statement from the article is, "Such Wooden techniques have already influenced our classroom work. His scold/reinstruction device, which we think of as a "Wooden," has turned out to be very useful in teaching children at our experimental school in Hawaii. We get the best results from a rich mix of praise and Woodens."
 
We need to find ways to make our rehearsals more "instruction dense," and use a similar "rich mix" of praise, scolds, and feedback that keep our choirs on a steep learning curve. The nature of your choir will change the mix--for some groups almost everything may need to be positive.
 
And please understand me, none of this is to say that anger has an effective place in our rehearsals (perhaps on extraordinarily rare occasions). I've had teachers (not necessarily conductors) who "go off" every so often. After the first few times (when it's shocking), you learn to tune it out or wait out the tantrum (and I use that word deliberately--it's rare that this is effective and is most often self-indulgent . . . because the person doesn't have a better and more positive way to effect change). The model Wooden presents is of someone genuinely concerned about his students (and they know this), with extraordinary knowledge of his subject matter, supremely well organized and sequenced practices (rehearsals), great teaching skills (ability to model, and the ability to give instruction-dense feedback--an important part of which is the "Wooden," a scold/reinstruction). All of this combined can be a model for us as conductors to accomplish more.
 
Let me know what you think--I'm interested in how this fits with your own experience . . . or how it might change the way you teach/rehearse.
 
Much more ahead, including a re-evaluation of their 1974-75 research by Gallimore and Tharp in 2004--what lessons did they learn after the original study and what would they do differently?

Thursday, October 3, 2013

What we can learn from John Wooden II

Even though I knew about and admired John Wooden earlier in my life (I was an undergrad at the University of Washington, so watched a number of UW/UCLA games in person -- and after one of the games Kareem and several other players came to my dorm for a dance -- to say he "stood out" on the dance floor is no exaggeration!), this article in Psychology Today from 1976 really made me think about Wooden's teaching methods (I still have the original article, but was happy to see that Gallimore makes a pdf copy available on his website).

Roland Tharp and Ronald Gallimore, two psychologists and educational researchers, did a study of John Wooden's teaching techniques during the 1974-75 season, Wooden's last at UCLA. There's enough in this article that I'll do more than one post using parts of it, but I'll focus on a part of the study for this one.

Their method of research is a familiar one: first, enough observation was done to catalogue the different actions that the teacher/coach takes (and work to make sure that the observers agreed often enough on categorizing that there's validity to the observations), and then they spent time recording what Wooden actually did in practices, coding his actions and eventually calculating what percentage of the practice time were spent doing which activities.

I'd encourage you to read the article (short and not difficult), but a few notes from it and implications for conductors:
  • they conclude that fully 75% of Wooden's teaching acts contain instruction -- his practices (rehearsals!) are instruction-dense -- remember, this is not lecturing, but brief, crisp instructions about what the players are doing (or not doing) -- I've long felt that good rehearsing is good teaching -- as I said in the previous post, having my choir better understand the difference between "drill" and "scrimmage" helped make my rehearsals more "dense" and allow us to achieve more -- in the same way, I have to make sure my instructions give information quickly and clearly--my talking has to be "instruction dense."
  • 50% of his acts are verbal instructions, quick statements of what to do or how to do it -- for us, this means that when we stop the choir, we need to give an instruction (this isn't all we can do, of course) which will elicit a change in what the choir does
  • As Tharp and Gallimore then say, "Even this statistic doesn't reflect the heavy freight of information Wooden communicates." They note other categories, such as "scold/reinstruction ('Don't do X, do Y')," "modeling-negative and modeling-positive," praise, "scolds," and a category they called a "Wooden," which was a scold/reinstruction (scold + how to do it right)
  • There are obviously differences between what one can do with a basketball team and a choir, but finding an efficient way to instruct/teach the choir calls for clear and quick communication. When I say "quick," I don't mean that you can't take the time for longer instruction, but most of the time in rehearsal the choir should be singing. If you want to do a simple version of this study (and are brave enough!), record your rehearsal and just measure the time you spend talking, versus the choir singing. I hope you find the choir sings a high percentage of the rehearsal and don't discover you're talking for much of the time! To add to that, observe every time you talk: do you ramble, or are you concise? do you repeat unnecessarily? are your instructions clear? and, of course, does your choir seem to understand it (i.e., did they do it better the next time)?
  • Wooden's usual modeling pattern (for us, that's most often a sung demonstration) is model-correct, model-incorrect (what they just did), model-correct. For a simple musical problem, this is enormously effective: the choir hears how it's supposed to be done, how they just did it (which helps them discriminate what they did), and then again how to do it correctly. I use lots of demonstrations/models in my own rehearsals and it can teach very effectively (but be careful--if you sing it out of tune, they will, too!). I've noted earlier that Eric Ericson, a very skilled pianist, also modeled from the keyboard, which he did with a "singing/vocal" tone (not so easy to do!). If you have a skilled accompanist, they can do this for you as well. It's also possible to have singers in your choir demonstrate and I know a number of conductors who use this effectively.
There are similarities between what the team has to do and what a choir does, of course. Note this description from Tharp and Gallimore: "Teaching basketball is difficult, and a piecemeal description of these teaching techniques does not tell the complexity of the process. . . The options have to be learned so thoroughly that they become automatic. There's no time for thought to become conscious. Teaching the players to perform these patterns with precision . . . is a task for a virtuoso teacher."

It's that as much for an ensemble/conductor as for a team/coach--a friend of mine has often said that running a rehearsal is the ultimate in multi-tasking. You have to follow a rehearsal plan, but be open to adjust it (or even throw it out!) as you react to what the ensemble does. You're the "driver" of the rehearsal, but also have to have ears (and eyes!) open at all times. You're constantly comparing the "ideal" version of the music in your head to what you're actually hearing. Every time the choir sings you have make decisions on the fly as to when to stop (what do you ignore for now, what do you stop for?) and be ready to give instructions immediately and precisely. You communicate not only verbally, but non-verbally through your gesture, facial expression and body language. It's an improvised dance. I've always felt that there is an enormous amount of craft (that can be taught and learned) to rehearsal technique. But at the same time, there is art as well. In mathematics, it is said that while there are many possible proofs to a problem, some are more "elegant" than others. Therein lies the art. And Wooden was a superb technician of teaching basketball teams, but an artist as well.

I'll discuss other aspects of the article next time. Feel free to share your own thoughts!