Andrea Vos-Rochefort

Clarinetist and Teaching Artist

Be Your Best Possible Coach

In the performance world, we typically focus on performance....but there is another side to the process. While it may seem that everyone is running around pursuing names: names of schools, names of teachers, names of experiences to put on their resume, what truly counts is internal growth. This means finding the right teachers who teach you to ask the right questions and find plausible answers, who give you the tools to constantly ask for more, and who instill in you that sense of quiet dissatisfaction that every artist lives with. The teachers that teach you how to teach yourself. This internal process is the "finished" product of the schools, the teachers, and the experiences and it is so important to respect this. Yes, jobs are nice and they do pay the rent, but it is this internal process that will assure the trajectory of your career, keep you motivated, open you to wonder and accomplishment, and comfort you when you feel like you know nothing. 

But you must be your best possible coach. You must constantly search for answers and suggestions on the back side of every criticism and you must build yourself up. Set impossible goals, yes, but also set five possible goals for an "impossible" one that will each get you one step closer. Work hard and dream wildly but eliminate unhelpful words from your vocabulary. In my personal case, those words are "should have", "should be", "would have", and "would be." Accept that trajectories of personally designed aircrafts are not necessarily straight up. Accept your personal trajectory and as a good pilot, constantly know where you want to go and how you can best achieve that. If you are wasting time thinking about where you should be, you are not spending enough time thinking about where you are and where you are going. 

As your own coach/pilot, organization and motivation are imperative and it is equally important to get to know yourself and better understand how to motivate yourself. The following is taken from a doctoral paper I wrote titled, "The Psychology of Performance and its Implications for Deliberate Practice."

"Motivation, much like a spindly plant directing shoots towards the sun, is comprised of direction of effort and intensity of effort, and in the context of sport is often interpreted as being trait, situation, or interaction centered. A more generalized approach is found in Edward Deci and Michael Ryan’s theory of self-determination which proposes three general sources of motivation: the need to feel competent and create a sense of identity, to be autonomous, and to create a sense of belonging or social connectedness. These categories also apply to achievement motivation as defined by Murray, “a person’s efforts to master a task, achieve excellence, overcome obstacles, perform better than others, and take pride in exercising talent.”

In individual learning situations, it is essential to understand how motivation functions and specifically how personality traits can be manipulated to exponentially increase your learning rate. It is important to understand intrinsic and extrinsic motivation and to correctly apply the most effective tactic based on the personality, situation, and interaction involved. Amotivation or a lack of self-determination can signify that an individual feels incompetent and is frustrated by a lack of control. Achievement motivation develops from the autonomous stage where the individual focuses on mastery of their environment, passes through a social comparison stage inviting competition with others, and ends in the integrated stage focusing on self-improvement and competition but seeking autonomy and self-determination. If the individual is unable to establish any control of their situation or progress, it is necessary to review goal-setting in order to establish an environment in which they might succeed. 

    A sense of progress must always remain central to the learning environment and can be established through the manipulation of and adherence to clearly stated and carefully crafted goal-setting. Goals create a sense of direction providing motivation and goal-setting is “an extremely powerful technique for enhancing performance, but it must be implemented correctly” Goal setting principles set forth by researchers such as David Gould are intended to guide individual practice as goals are primarily personal and also situational. That said, it is important to set specific goals that are quantifiable and measurable to create a sense of achievement, to set moderately difficult but realistic goals in order to build self-confidence and avoid frustration, to set long-term and short-term goals that are preferably linked, to set performance and process goals to flesh out and better achieve outcome goals, to set both practice and competition goals and thereby recognize the difference, to record goals for accountability, to develop goal achievement strategies while considering personality and motivation as factors, to foster and support a goal commitment, and finally, to provide evaluation and feedback on the goal process. In designing goals, it is helpful to use the SMARTS acronym outlined by Smith in his research: specific, measurable, action-oriented, realistic, timely, and self-determined. It is important, especially for musicians and other artists, to continue to use goal-setting in an autonomous style as the purpose of performance mentorship is for the student to become self-sufficient and continue to grow and progress without a teacher. It can be helpful to make a commitment to guiding one’s own progress as a teacher would guide a student— carefully plotting realistic goals and stressing achievement in a stair step style."

So, what are your goals? How have you been teaching yourself lately?