The Adaptable Lounge Lizard
Last weekend after a long week of training, our staff visited a local eating/drinking establishment to plan our SAVAGE attack next month.
We ate. We drank a little and we talked a lot.
Here’s the scene…
Six of us are positioned at a long but thin high-top table. Orders are taken. Food and drinks are delivered. The staff is debating and discussing our plan for next week, next month and next year.
In the corner of the restaurant, a bearded, pudgy twenty-something man with unkempt hair sits on a stool with an acoustic guitar perched on his lap. A glass of wine rests on a second stool by his side. Softly but passionately he presents an eclectic array of familiar tunes acoustically covering everything from Van Morrison to Tom Petty to Johnny Cash. He sips the wine between songs and without saying a word, he starts the next tune. He is talented, charismatic, and in this room, largely irrelevant.
In addition to guitar, his performance features killer vocals, harmonica, and even a fiddle. Most of the patrons enjoy their dinner and drinks almost unaware of his presence, but I am mesmerized. My friends are all familiar — and it has grown to a level of borderline annoyance — with my fascination for music. I love street musicians and lounge lizards in particular.
My friends are equally attuned to my propensity to repeat my stories. You know all the little stories we collect in our minds as we wander through life? The ones that roll around in your brain waiting for some trigger to spring them when a key topic is touched in a conversation?
“We get it, Randy.”
“You used to be a singer in a Rock and Roll band.”
“You love music.”
“You wish you hadn’t skipped guitar lessons to go to basketball practice when you were ten.”
(All eyes roll and the table breaks into laughter.)
Meanwhile, I continue to watch, listen and offer my own one man solo of applause after every song.
When the gig ends, the music man – his name is John – wanders past our table.
“Great job,” I say.
“Thanks,” he replies. “I usually play for people who aren’t paying attention.”
“Well you crushed it today, my friend,” I insist.
John leans on the table with his left arm and reaches into his pocket with his right hand. “I could have done better,” he says,“but I forgot my guitar pick at home. I tried a quarter but that didn’t work so I settled on this.”
He holds up a broken Panera Bread membership card. You know… the little rectangular fob that goes on your key ring and gives you free cookie or a coffee when they swipe it in at the store.
“Wow!” I exclaim turning my attention to Garrison, our Strength and Conditioning Coordinator, and the only remaining staff member that hasn’t headed for home.”
“We have guys who can’t throw a strike because the hole in front of the mound is too deep. The ball is a little damp. The umpire is squeezing them. They are adapted to their training, but they are far from adaptable. They can’t adjust!”
“Here’s a guy who has trained himself to be adaptable. He forgets his pick and improvises by playing an entire 3-set gig with a broken coupon card!”
Upon further inquiry, John reveals that he has never received a guitar lesson. His style and talent are all self-organized. That point leads to an unexpected but riveting discussion about motor learning and motor control. At one point I ask, “What do you think about when you’re playing? Do you have to concentrate on how to position your fingers or how you strum or pick the strings?”
“Never thought about what I think about,” he pauses and reflects before proceeding, “I guess I never really think about the details of playing each note. I try to break the song into segments and while I’m playing one part I look forward, planning next segment. If you don’t do that, you kind of forget where you are. Sometimes you get in trouble if you start thinking about the note you’re playing or how good or bad the rif you just played might have been. That can mess up your timing and rhythm and cause you to enter the next segment without a clear picture of how you’re going to play it. You can get off course.”
“What do you do if that happens?” I ask.
“Hmm. Well there are a few little tricks I use. If it’s an up-tempo song, I kind of rap my knuckles on the face of the guitar. That usually puts me back on time. Or if I feel myself getting a little off, I return to the chord that is central to the song and strum hard to kind of reset things. It seems to work ok.”
“I’ll say it does,” I insist. “Love watching guys like you do what you do.”
The entire discussion steers my mind toward the comparisons between music and baseball.
First of all, a clear trend has emerged.
Most baseball players want to be rock stars and most rock stars want to be baseball players.
But more importantly, the parallels in motor control and performance are easy to understand.
In pitching, as in guitar playing, time constraints eliminate the possibility of cognitive adjustment. The best approach to rapid learning and elite performance is through chunking and blending, as John describes.
It’s the epitome of, “So what, next pitch.”
And, when you find yourself getting off track it’s important to possess and rehearse an arsenal of reset mechanisms to straighten things out quickly.
As you start your season, please remember this: There are only 3 in-game/in-season adjustments you can make and they all start with the letter T. Learn them. Rehearse them.
Our next Elite Performance Boot Camp is scheduled for Feb 24/25.
If you’re ready to turbo boost your game, sign up here and let us help you create a plan that works perfectly for you.
We’ll be ready for you!
Randy Sullivan, MPT, CSCS