September of 1952 found me as a freshman at Tufts College in Medford, Massachusetts. Very soon after arriving there I had an ephiphany that has stuck with me every since. I had an English class taught by a husband and wife team, Doctors Birk and Birk. I was blown away that the authors of my textbook were also my teachers. But more impactful than that was/is the fact that we were told , ” Class, remember, repetition is a form of emphasis..”. I have carried that with me with very impressive benefits since then. For example, anything you see repeated many times is something that has special meaning and significance for the repeater. When a professor repeats something several times, you can pretty much assume it will appear later on an exam. When a coach repeats a certain mantra, you can bet it is something that is central to their philosophy and approach to coaching. If you have a good coach/mentor then be alert and aware of the repetitions and act accordingly. However, if you have an excellent coach/mentor, immediately jump all over what is repeated and apply and exploit it as soon as you can.
September 25, 2009 the New York Times Newspaper ran a review of a book of the work of gifted photographer Robert Frank. Mr. Frank was very active in the 1950s, a time when I was developing most of my personal philosophical outlook on life and much of what is in for me.  The New York Times Newspaper, in describing the cover of a book, using a 1956 example of Mr. Frank’s art, states, ” The photograph used on the cover of the book’s first American edition was from New Orleans. It’s an exterior shot of a trolley car seen from the side, its passengers seated in the social order that prevailed in the pre-civil rights, pre-feminist, pre-youth-culture nation.”.
” From left to right we see, one behind the others, a white man, a white woman, a white boy, a white girl, a black man, a black woman. The white woman looks with sharp-eyed suspicion at the camera; the white boy, impassive but curious, sees it too; so does the black man, who seems to be on the verge of tears.”.
Many, who have witnessed the various political and social positions I have taken, will see the above as  the major point of my  referring to the New York Times Newspaper’s art review. I make no apology for the fact that much of my psyche and mindset, not too mention actions, are based and derived from that period, however, in this case an equally important point is made when the article goes on to say, ” ” The New Orleans picture came early in this trip. It was a miracle that he got it. He was focused on shooting a parade when he suddenly swung around, and there was the trolley. He was at the right place at the right time, but he also had the right reflexes, a dancer’s combination of precision and abandon.”.
Part of his greatness was based upon being alert to opportunity and having the right combination of talent and ability to maximize the opportunity, namely, “…the right reflexes, a dancer’s combination, of precision and abandon.”. He went from being athletic ( reflexes ) to balletic ( dancer ) to ballistic ( precision and abandon ). The point being, that right down at the very essence, and central to superior human performance, there is little or no distinction between art and athletics, or for that matter,….. athletics and art.
Late August 2005 and David Oliver is just starting to show the promise that will lead him to an Olympic medal in 2008 and the #2 ranking in the 110 Hurdles. He has been invited to compete in the Deca-Nation Meet in Paris, France against the 2005 World Championships’ winner in that event. Both of us are very much concerned and hopeful he can get the very most out of the experience. To that end I advise him as follows. ” David, I want you to make sure you visit the Picasso Museum in Paris. I want you to pay very close attention to his development over the years. I think the first stuff dates back to 1903. What I want you to do is to pay very close attention to how busy and aggressive he is with ideas, form and paint in his early and mid-career stuff. Then I want you to really get into how later in his life, when he is accepted, comfortable in his own skin and identity, he makes similar kind of statements and communicates and expresses his emotions and ideas with just a few strokes. He uses just about anything ( what we would call refuse and junk ) and turns it into a special statement with all the clarity and simplicity only the gifted artist can produce. The reason I want you to observe and absorb this transistion from complex and busy to simple and effective is because your training and development is going to be based upon your being able to make and take a similar journey in your own form and technique in the hurdles. If we are successful in this process, then we should see you run 12.75 !!!”.
The point of all of this being,… as coaches and athletes, we can often learn more from artists in other fields, even as we think they are far afield and unrelated to what we are doing, than we can from other coaches and athletes. Artists, like coaches, start out with a drive, ambition, and need to do what they do. In most cases, like coaches, they do garrish and attention-getting stuff at the beginning of their careers. But the great ones, artists and coaches alike, leave all that noise and cacophonous pretention behind and move on to finding the simplist and purest form of expression. Miles Davis, when he was an emerging trumpet player from Alton, Illinois( by way of Julliard School of Music ), played bebop in the mid-1940s. He played loud, fast and generally without great distinction. When he put a Harmon mute in his horn and got down to the simplist way to express himself, he became a musical icon and enjoyed great crossover success because what he was saying was true, pure, and unpretensious. He expressed himself in such a way that people who did not even know jazz could feel the truth of what he was saying. In track and field two athletes immediately come to mind, Allyson Felix and Alan Johnson. When I think of athletes who are both muted and simple in the way they execute their art form, but enjoy great success when they are on the top of their game, I think of these two.
Brooks T. Johnson
Both comments and pings are currently closed.

Comments are closed.