Understanding the Medium: Coaching Lessons From a Rock 'n' Roll Roadie
I had a 40-year career as a high school teacher. During my eight final years I served as the coordinator for the Performing Arts Magnet at Van Nuys High School. During that time my co-coordinator, Chris Hale, and I undertook a renovation of the high school auditorium and instituted a program that taught students how to set up sound and lighting for rock performances - a roadie academy if you will. The funding for that program came in the form of a state grant that provided 90% of the funds if a donor from private industry would come up with the other 10%. Somehow we managed to talk the Frank Zappa family trust into providing the 10%, and we were off to the races. As it turns out they were also willing to provide the instructor, Marque Coy, who had been Frank’s top roadie for two decades.
I got to know Marque very well during the years we worked together. It turned out he had been on 27 world tours with a number of top names, including Robert Palmer and Nickleback. He had grown up in the industry and had a remarkable understanding of electricity and air, the two media he was to engineer wherever he had to set up equipment. Marque knew how to take care of expensive cables and cords so they would work perfectly every time and would last for years. He understood how sound (which is really vibrating air molecules) would be affected by the shape of a “house” (where the audience would sit). He knew how human bodies could change acoustics by the way they absorbed sound, and he knew the difference between the effects of curtains and padded seats versus wooden seats and wooden floors with no carpeting. He could figure out how to configure the speakers and wire them up so the whole rig didn’t blow up, and he knew how to set up Steve Vai’s guitar so the sound was just right. With a background as a classical pianist, Marque knew his music and how to make it sound the best to the people in the seats. Watching him work and instruct his students in our program was just fascinating.
It occurred to me that he and I did the same thing. He was a master engineer of air molecules and I was an engineer of human protoplasm. Marque understood air and how it behaved, and therefore he could alter its behavior so he could obtain the optimal results in a concert setting. In my coaching I needed to be able to understand how protoplasm would change its functional structure under properly applied stress to achieve optimal results on the competition platform. The point I wish to make here is, if you are coaching humans to achieve improved performance levels, you need to get to know as much as you can about how protoplasm works and functions, and how it can be re-engineered into a more efficient functional structure.
The title of this website is Breaking Muscle and we are all here for the purpose of improving muscular function. Muscle, however, is not an isolated tissue. It is impacted and reliant upon the functioning of the circulatory, skeletal, nervous, endocrine, and digestive systems at a significant level and to a lesser degree on the integumentary, excretory, and lymphatic systems. Anyone wishing to truly master the art and science of coaching needs to become familiar with how the human body responds to training, otherwise it is impossible to make wise decisions when analyzing training and applying modification that will result in even greater results.
In the physical education culture in this country we have a prolonged history of ignoring the science involved in physical training. Many coaches simply took the required anatomy and physiology courses in college and immediately ignored them because they couldn’t figure out how those disciplines could affect an athlete’s ability to throw a ball. Well, they do, especially if the goal is to throw it even further or more often with equal efficacy.
It is time for more and more coaches within the physical training community to realize that an understanding of the medium is the key to making continued progress with their athletes and to do so in the most efficient and safe manner. All too many are enamored of the surface and end results of training, but not the planning and structuring of training as based on sound physiological principles. If you are going to be a serious coach you need to learn the science, learn how to apply it and how to provide the best chances for your athletes to succeed.
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