The Space Between the Notes – Art of Coaching

Musician and story teller, Doug Keeley, once told me the space between the notes defines music just as much as the notes do. The moments of silence draw you in, capture your attention, surprise you, create suspense, and ultimately impact your experience completely.

Miles Davis, the famous jazz artist was fearless about using the space between the notes. His original video for “So What,” is a captivating example. 

As leaders and coaches, we are the guide, helping our people get from where they are to where they want to be. There are times to push, demand effort and hold accountable to successful behaviors. Those moments are like the banging of the drum, riffing of the guitar, or sharpness of the trumpet.  

Just like music is incomplete without the moments of silence, the art of inspiring performance over the long-term requires that we provide space for learning; an opportunity for self-discovery, problem solving, and exploration. That is the space between the notes.

The art of coaching

According to Wade Gilbert, professor of Coaching and Sport Psychology at California, State  University, Fresno, research has shown good coaches give 50% less comments to athletes. These coaches listen first and intervene second.

(Big props to Tanner Reklaitis for this nugget in his Monday Morning Edge newsletter. Tanner has also written about the “space between the notes,” and gives a thought-provoking take on this metaphor. He’s a great follow on twitter @treklaitis)

Having a feel for how and when to provide feedback is practicing the art of coaching. It’s like a dance; a subtle play between direct instruction and the intuition of when to step back and create room.

As Ray Dalio said,  “great collaboration feels like playing jazz. In jazz, there’s no script: You have to figure things out as you go along. Sometimes you need to sit back and let others drive things; other times, you blare it out yourself”.

Ultimately, our aim is to create the conditions that expedite growth of our athletes; to bring out the best in people as soon as possible.

How to use space inspire performance and growth:

  1. Player Development
  • Empower the athlete to solve problems on their own.
  • Self-directed learning and autonomy invites passion into the growth process. Give them the power to take responsibility for their own development.
  1. Practice Planning and Implementation
  • Small sided games: through the use of constraints and affordances the game can be the teacher.
  • Use other voices: empower assistant and junior coaches and provide opportunities for peer to peer coaching.
  1. Game Day
  • Create opportunities for the players to have a voice in preparing for contests.
  • Limit your pre-game talks to 2-3 points. Max!
  • Know your personnel “KYP” – some people respond well to direct coaching in the heat of battle and others need space to reflect on their own.

We are in a constant fight for attention and engagement. Providing space in the right way at the right time is an art form. The first step is being aware that it is necessary.

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