Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

coach - don't catch

A writer I know, Kimberly, is a former pooh-bah with a major cosmetology academy.

As we enjoyed a light brunch with our friend and present academy pooh-bah Michelle, Kim shared her secret of supervising success: coach-don't catch.

I told her I think that's a perfect way to describe my coaching methods as well.

What she means is that a good coach does not micromanage or hover over our wards trying to "catch" them making a mistake, screwing up or taking the smallest misstep so the student can be villified for erring.

All that does is make them fearful, preventing them from enhancing their confidence, pursuing their original creations and individual ideas using the basics.

Coaching, on the other hand, encourages the student to excel beyond their expectations, using praise and guidance, while helping them understand how the basics must be considered first, even if - or especially when - your particular style breaks a few of those rules.

I recalled I once helped an entire group of my actors remember to always bring their 3x5 cards to our sessions (they have all the basics they need to remember for every audition and performance written out on them), and have them ready to review so we can begin the session fully prepared.

The cards were accepted as a huge help for my actors to deal with every sort of audition and performance. Each is filled out with personal notes unique for each individual actor to remind them of the basics and any idiosyncratic tips needed to help their portrayal, whether it be for a commercial, comedy, drama or animation character.

Trouble is, for some reason, as often as I reminded them to have them out and ready to use to start the session, they kept forgetting them. It cost us time when they started their coaching sessions.

What's a coach to do? I didn't want to "catch" them, I wanted them to be responsible for their own simple professional action.

So, one day, as they approached my door, one at a time, throughout the day and evening, they were greeted with a large sign: "If you don't have your 3x5 cards with you, ready to use when you come in, please do not enter ... and you will be charged for this session."

It was hard to see so many give themselves a "I coulda had a V-8!" head smack as they turned away - never to forget their cards again. But those who were prepared came in waving their cards were on top of the world and they absolutely excelled at their sessions.

I never had to mention the cards again, and they continued to perfect the information written on them as they encountered more and different challenges for which they needed a small reminder.

Gold stars also work.

I give the talented youngsters with whom I work a little gold star - sticking it on the middle of their forehead when they do a great job. Which, frankly, was every time I worked with them because I only work with talented, professional kids. I don't think most kids belong in the business - especially those with stage parents.

Interestingly, as the adults entered, they would see the kids leave with their little gold star proudly displayed above a glowing smile. At the end of my sessions with the adults, they'd linger just a moment longer than ... I wasn't sure what they were trying to tell me.

I wasn't picking up on something.

Finally, I would see them staring at the sheet of gold stars.

I asked, a little incredulously, "Would you like a gold star?"

They would beam, "Yes!" Then, haltingly, "At least, you know, if you think I deserve it."

At first I wondered if they were putting me on. But I went along, "Um, yeah, right. Absolutely. You do. Here..."

Smack. Gold star.

They would be so pleased. I'm talking full grown adults, here - older, all races, genders, political persuasions, sexual orientations-

Directors, are you listening? ;-)

It was so touching to see them eagerly await their "report card," and how they would smile brightly after it was bestowed. Believe me, they worked hard for those stars. I think they felt somehow accomplished, appreciated and nurtured with that little star.

The parents in the group would look forward to showing their kids what they had earned in their sessions.

Somehow, I felt a little nurtured myself.

And appreciated.

And feeling a bit like I was in an out-of-body episode of the camera acting coaching version of "Scrubs."

I imagined I played a really nice, non-catching version of Dr. Cox.


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