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Face Your Orchestra

Face Your Orchestra

For the past three decades I have had the distinct pleasure of working with a unique and impactful sport psychologist, Dr. Bill Parham, affectionately known in the UCLA Bruin community as β€œDr. P.”
Dr. P. met with our UCLA Gymnastics team yesterday and offered up, yet again, another nugget of wisdom that made us all pause and let out a collective β€œhmmmmmmmm.”

β€œIn order to lead the orchestra, the conductor needs to turn his back to the audience.”

Pow! That totally resonated with me.Β What IF the conductor put his focus on the audience? Imagine the violins, cellos, flutes, french horns and tubas all doing their own thing, in their own time, at their own tempo. I’m sure we’d all want to cover our ears.

As the head coach / conductor of the UCLAΒ GymnasticsΒ team, I’ve made some colossal mistakes. One of the worst was the year that I read everything there was to read about me and our program on social media and the message boards. Talk about leading our team with my inner compass all screwed up. Using this orchestra metaphor, I literally had turned my back to our program, student athletes and staff; and instead ledΒ from aΒ reactionaryΒ position of what others were saying about me and us. I can’t believe I made that ridiculous decision after years of a lot of success!Β 
I remember exactly what I was thinking.Β β€œWe haven’t won a championship in a few years. What do we need to change? The people on the message boards are extremely gymnastic savvy so… take a cue from them.”
I failed to recognize that while their observationsΒ mightΒ have been spot on, they had no information as to what our inner team dynamic was.Β 
It was the worst year of my coaching career. I got some serious FOPOΒ (Fear of Other People’s Opinions).Β The decisions I madeΒ were fueled by a desire to have positive online comments rather than what I actually felt was best for our team. I realized that to spend time on message boards or other social media explaining and qualifying my decisions was not only a huge drain on my time, but it was stifling my enthusiasm for my vision and my work.Β So I decided to quit cold turkey. No more message boards. No more outside input. I was conducting in a vacuum.

As good as it was to shed my dependence on other opinions, this was a classic case of a pendulum swinging too far in the opposite direction. Now I hadΒ no input or barometer besides my own perception of reality. This proved to be equally bad.

Today I’ve come up with a solution that allows me to get brutally honest feedback without getting sucked into the dark recesses of the internet. I have a few select vetted gym nerds (a term of endearment of their own creation) that I will reach out to when I need fresh eyes and an unbiased reality check. Their insight is priceless, as is their trust and confidentiality.

I can focus on the instruments that are my student athletes and conduct the β€œorchestra” without distraction. And if I’m doing my job as the coach/conductor, the audience will get exactly what they came for… a standing ovation-worthy performance.

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Katrina WelbornJeffDebbie Recent comment authors
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Katrina Welborn
Katrina Welborn

“In order to lead the orchestra, the conductor needs to turn his back to the audience.”

As a choral conductor, all I can say is YES! This is spot on and something we learn early on.

On another note, when I made the decision to be the conductor instead of the soloist, I knew it would be a shift in perspectives, but I was ready. Some conductors can’t do it, because they don’t want to give up the performance of a soloist. I imagine it’s similar to an athlete beginning to coach.



Speaking of feedback from others, I believe it was at the end of the 2017 championship when a coach from another school said, “You know, your team might be more successful if you didn’t have so much fun all the time.” Did you hear back from that coach after the 2018 championship? 😊

Debbie "Meadows" Catello

All I can say is WOW. Thank you for sharing and guiding your non student athletes.