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Monday, March 7,2011

The Secret of Being a Beginner

By Al Secunda  

The Secret of Being a Beginner The Transference Process

by Al Secunda

One of the secrets to learning anything new is to apply your current skills and mastered comfort zones into your new area of interest. Also, by seeking out similarities and common denominators rather than looking for differences, you will see the inter-relatedness of many disciplines and discover invisible threads that run through and connect the old skill with the new one.

Here is a story of just how powerful and effective the skill of transference can be.

Many years ago I had the pleasure of teaching Ernest Gold the sport of tennis. Ernest, a legendary film composer, wrote dozens of scores for some of Hollywood’s most respected movies including: Exodus, Judgment at Nuremberg, and Ship of Fools. Ernest began playing tennis later in life and was a joy to teach because invariably we would wind up discussing the similarities between tennis and the arts.

During one of his lessons, Ernest mentioned that while playing a match the past week he had made a lot of errors on his return of serve stroke.

(For non-tennis players this is the stroke you use when hitting the ball back that has just been served to you.) To help figure out what the problem was, I began by serving some balls to him. What I noticed above all else was that Ernest was tensing his body more when returning serves than with any other stroke. My first mission was to get Ernest into a more relaxed, trusting, and comfortable zone when he was returning serves.

Because Ernest had already mastered so many musical skills, I thought that perhaps I could get him to transfer one of those skills directly into his tennis game. It was at that moment that I remembered that Ernest was also a professional conductor. I turned to him and asked a very unusual tennis question. “Ernest, is there any chance that you have a baton in your car?" Ernest started to smile and answered, “what if I told you that I have one buried in the trunk?” I responded with, “then I would request that you get it,” After we both stopped laughing,

Ernest looked at me like he was following the request of a mad man, as he took a short trip to his car. Ernest returned with a very long baton. Here is how things progressed from there.

1) At my request, Ernest put the baton down and once again picked up his racquet. I then served a few more balls to him. Ernest’s returns were as tense, brittle, and “doubt-full” as a few minutes before.

2) Next, I asked him to replace his tennis racquet with his baton. Ernest’s response was, “I hope we are not going to start playing for money now?” As Ernest put down his racquet and picked up his baton, I immediately noticed that his entire body, especially his fingers, hand, and arm shifted into a more relaxed, fluid, and confident state.

3) Ernest’s next assignment was to: hold the baton, get into his familiar and comfortable musical “conducting mode,”and “conduct” each served ball that flew past him. He was not to attempt to swing at or hit any of the passing balls with his baton. Rather, he was to continue to conduct each ball. (Ernest could imagine each ball to be a musical note, an instrument, or a musician flying past.) His main mission and priority was to remain in a calm conducting state (rather than to shift into a worried and tense athletic state) before the ball approached, as the ball approached, and after the ball passed him. After getting over the absurdity of the scene, and the insanity of his tennis instructor, Ernest threw himself into his conducting assignment in a very focused and self-expressive manner.

4) Next, I asked Ernest to put down the baton and to once again pick up his tennis racquet. His new goal was to use the racquet as his new, larger and heavier baton. He still was not to swing at and attempt to hit any of the approaching balls. Once again, his main mission was to remain in his relaxed, self-expressive, and confident conducting mode and to “conduct” each ball that flew passed him.

5) Finally, I gave Ernest the choice either to contact or not to contact each tennis ball that I served to him. The only requirement was that he had to remain within his “conducting mode” rather than to switch back into a “competitive and tense athletic mode” in order to hit the tennis ball.

continued on page 17


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