I’ve never loved flying, and turbulence freaks me out as much as the next person, but back when I had to travel with my violin, the most stressful part of flying was the boarding process.
Having to weasel my way to the front of the line, and get on board quickly enough to get to the overhead bin and stuff my violin in before everyone else put their suitcases in was never fun. And sitting there while people muttered about how their bags didn’t fit was pretty crappy too.
Yep…flying can be tough even under the best of circumstances, never mind when you’re traveling for a performance or an audition, and you’re already stressed about what you have to do when you arrive.
So what does the research say on how to maximize performance when you have to deal with air travel and jet lag? What can we do to make sure we’re in the best shape to perform when we arrive?
How long should it take to learn a new concerto?
Or memorize a Bach prelude?
And how many hours should you spend preparing for a first orchestra rehearsal?
It used to be pretty difficult to get answers to questions like these. But, now that we have the internet, we know that the answers are a) 3 days, b) less than an hour, and c) yes (click through to the full article for links).
But in all seriousness, even with the internet at our fingertips, we still look to our peers to get a sense of what “normal” is. And often, use this as a guide to shape our own behavior.
For instance, when I went to my first orchestral summer festival, I didn’t see anyone taking their parts home after rehearsal, so at first, I didn’t either. But I felt so unprepared at rehearsals, that I ended up sneaking music home to practice anyway. Yet, having to do this made me feel really ashamed and embarrassed, and led me to conclude that I must really suck at sight reading, learning new music, and orchestra in general.
Of course, in hindsight, I realize that other people in the orchestra may already have played much of the rep. Or had way more hours of experience sight-reading than I did. Or, were getting the music and practicing it too – and I just didn’t know it.
Have you ever practiced in secret? Or felt like everyone else had time to chat in the hall, or hang out in the quad, but in order to keep up, you had to keep grinding away in the practice room?
And how accurate are our estimates of others’ work habits anyway? Do we generally underestimate how hard others are working? Or overestimate their efforts? And what kind of effect does all of this have on performance?
I had big plans last weekend to cut my dog’s hair, clip his toenails, and give him a nice bath, so he’d be nice and clean and not so scruffy-looking.
As you’ve probably already suspected, none of this happened, and our little hairball remains pretty scruffy and little bit stinky.
And a smelly dog is certainly not the end of the world, but often, there are bigger, more meaningful goals in our lives that never come to fruition, despite our best intentions. Like entering a big international competition. Learning all six Bach cello suites. Or composing your own cadenza.
These intentions are an essential first step, of course. Because you’re not likely to accidentally find yourself at the gym at 6am or see grilled veggies on your plate at dinner unless you intend and plan for these things to happen.
But intentions don’t guarantee action. Even if they’re totally genuine and heartfelt.
Researchers call this the intention-behavior gap. And it can be pretty frustrating to really, truly mean to do something, yet consistently fail to make progress.
So is there anything we can do to shrink that gap? To get our actions to line up more consistently with our goals and intentions?
As a kid, watching TV was more of an occasional treat than a daily staple. Where my mom would usually tell me to stop watching Chips or Knight Rider, and do homework, read, or practice instead.
Except when the Olympics were on, at which point there were a few times she’d encourage me to watch more TV. Hoping, I think, that I’d be able to learn from and perhaps be inspired by the athletes’ dedication, focus, and resilience.
Which might explain why I’ve always been a big fan of “cross-training” or “cross-pollination.” Or finding ways to apply an idea or principle from one domain to another. Like taking a concept from practicing serves in tennis, and applying it to practicing difficult shifts on the violin. Or deconstructing a rhythm-enhancing hack gleaned from a piano master class, and using it to eliminate the tightness and hesitation I felt before a soft exposed passage.
So are there things we can learn from coaches and athletes who train and compete at the highest level?
Jay Larranaga is an assistant coach for the NBA’s Boston Celtics, and also enjoyed a long career playing professionally in Europe. Giving him a deep understanding of what it takes to handle pressure and achieve excellence not just as a player, but also as a coach. And, as the son of a coach (his dad is Jim Larranaga, head coach at the University of Miami), he can appreciate the challenges of the coaching/parenting dynamic too.
I think you’ll find Jay to be an extremely curious, thoughtful, and inquisitive coach/teacher, not just from the range of books he references in the course of our conversation, but from the evident commitment to continual learning and growth that underlies all of his remarks. Which reminded me of educator Parker Palmer’s quote “Good teaching cannot be reduced to technique; good teaching comes from the identity and integrity of the teacher.” Or, as he has also said, “We teach who we are.”
In this 40-min chat, we’ll explore:
-The two categories of “winning habits” that he believes lead to success in the NBA (3:29)
-The difficulty of motivating people to make changes, and how he approaches this challenge (8:43)
-The three types of players he sees in the NBA, and which tends to enjoy the most success (9:40)
-The strategic reason why the Celtics might be in the bottom 10-20% of teams in terms of the amount of time they spend on the practice court (16:28)
-Multi-tasking in practice effectively with “two-fers” or “three-fers” (17:08)
-How to find out what your true priorities are (22:00)
-How he went from worrying about missing shots and feeling apprehensive to embracing opportunities to succeed (24:26)
-An example from his daughter’s life about how we have more potential than we often realize (31:04)
-The importance of facilitating success, rather than frustration (32:55)
-How his dad managed to demonstrate his unconditional support of Jay’s development despite many heated moments in workouts (35:12)
-And where you should go for pizza the next time you’re in Boston (37:55)