Sports psychology at the ESTA conference

Ariane Todes discovers that string players can learn from golfers


I’ve just come out of a fascinating talk at the European String Teachers Association conference in Cheltenham. Karen O’Connor from the Birmingham Conservatoire talked about some of the things that string teachers can learn from sports psychologists.

For example, if a student doesn’t seem to be practising away from the lesson you can tell them they’re only allowed to practise for ten minutes, and that they should set an alarm to get them to stop. The result: they focus more in their practice, and actually want to come back to it. Gradually increase the limit to 15 minutes and then 20 minutes.

For students who worry about performing, find ways of making the rehearsal as similar as possible to the performance or audition. Karen showed us pictures of an auditorium set up for a dry run with teddy bears as the audience, a method she used with a student who was about to have an audition. The result was that when the student went to audition in front of a real panel, she came in with a big smile, rather than panicking, and played much better as a result.

There were many more such tips, many taken from sports psychologists, and Karen made the point that sportspeople are very open about the fact that they use psychological plans and methods to help. However for musicians it’s still a big taboo, not something they can be open about.

Do you agree? Do you use any sports psychology ideas in your teaching or when you perform? What are your favourite tricks?