I spent a few days in Manchester at the World Squash Championship. One of the players on the professional tour organised a pass for me so I got to see my “heroes” close up in action. The routines of professional sportsmen are not entirely unlike those of professional musicians on tour.
After breakfast they all get together at the venue for some light training, to get the body working again after the previous night’s brutal physical exertions. In my world, musicians, if they make breakfast at all, tend to get rid of their hangovers – to get the body working after the previous night’s shenanigans.
Different proclivities, similar outcomes.
Working For A Living
Thereafter the day of a squash player consists mainly of waiting around. Similarly, why does the bassplayer not look out of the tour bus window in the morning? Because then there’d be nothing to do in the afternoon. Life on tour, any tour, is for the most part a tedious game of passing time.
An hour before showtime a squash player will start getting ready to play. A lot of them seem to walk around with their headphones on, in seclusion from what’s around them. Their warm up routines are extensive compared to what we do on the amateur squash circuit, where a warm up consists of a few hits of the ball and a bit of banter.
Likewise, you can spot the difference between an amateur local band and those who are serious by the thoroughness with which they treat their soundcheck and pre-show warm up. Amateurs faff around endlessly on stage and go through the alcohol on the rider. The working guys do everything methodically to make sure everything is ready for the show.
Knowledge – Listening – Application
I spoke with three of the world’s leading squash coaches about what it takes to get someone into a position to “make it” as a professional athlete. I’m interested because coaching is not entirely unlike managing or producing an artist.
The coach or manager/producer has knowledge. The player or musician has to be willing to listen. The player or musician needs to apply that advice to their work.
I sat next to a coach who was observing his player get butchered on court. When a squash player is on court getting his ass kicked, panic sets in. You know you are losing and it feels like there is nothing you can do about it. Between games the coach told his player to do X,Y and Z to change the momentum of the game. The player did exactly what he was told and won.
Meanwhile Back At The ‘Farm
Damn if it was that easy in music. Most musicians who get in touch to find answers to their problems listen very well, most agree with what you have to say, but it’s rare to find people willing to change what they do to affect the outcome of what they’re achieving. With alarmingly many it’s as if it’s everyone else’s fault and/or problem that nobody likes the records they make.
Of course, the time perspective is important. The 32 best squash players in the world at the World Championship have already trained from an early age, they have played countless of junior tournaments before graduating to “toilet circuit” pro tournaments to earn enough ranking points to make it to the big tournaments where the big boys play.
At that point they are technically and emotionally able to make changes.
In music you get to that point by “paying your dues”. It means practicing hard for years, writing countless songs, playing lots of shows, watching and learning.
Most musicians who get in touch with us think they’ve paid their dues when they’ve written a setful of songs, made a demo and played a handful of shows. When someone who has Knowledge, tells them to do more, do differently, do better, they refuse to listen or fail to apply.
I’m sure there are many young athletes who drive their coaches mad with a similar mindset. They never make it, just as the bands who have that attitude never will.
It’s All A Ride
A painful flashback came to me when I saw the disappointment on my mate’s face when he lost. I was reminded of a gig my band did at the Dublin Castle in the beginning of our career. We had put our hearts and souls into it. People in the business had come to see us and they really weren’t bothered in the slightest. The tube ride to South London was disheartening.
Learning to get up after having been rejected or having lost is hard. I maintain that there are far fewer failures of talent than there are failures of character.