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Ideas on Learning

Head injuries in music

There is a familiar story that happens to young people who excel in competitive environments like football, music, theater and academics.

Star quarterbacks, concert masters, lead actresses and valedictorians head off to college and discover that there are a lot of other people their age who were also top in their school.

The reaction to this new reality varies. Some former 'stars' are able to make the transition and maintain their sense of self even if they are not the best anymore. They are able to put their success into perspective. Their ego rolls with the punches.

But some young people crumble as their image of themselves as the best is immediately refuted by the larger world. They are unable to adapt and see themselves beyond their relative position in their group.

Like football players who take repeated blows to the head, these young artists and athletes take daily blows to their ego and image of themselves. And a few never fully recover their self-confidence.

One of the primary reasons that many students develop an outsized ego is the outsized role competition played in their education.

Teachers, coaches and parents use competition liberally to push kids to do better because competition is a powerful motivator.

But those in charge have a responsibility to develop more than their student’s talent.

In sports, good coaches are able to give their players perspective and skills that go beyond winning a game. They reinforce the values of camaraderie, hard work, team spirit and relationships.

In music, good teachers are able to give their students a broad variety of skills that enable them to connect with other musicians and discover a purpose in music that extends beyond performing, competing and measuring how we are seen by others.

Competition is not, by nature, harmful. It is just something that, for violinists, gets short-term benefits at the cost of long-term success.


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