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Learning From: Sam Mussabini

Sam Mussabini

This is the third post about characters from the Film Chariots of Fire. You can also read about Eric Lidell and Harold Abrahams

Sam Mussabini was the professional coach hired by Harold Abrahams to help him win the 1924 Olympic 100 yard dash. In an age of amateurism he was banned from watching his protegé from the stadium. In the film Abrahams hired him a hotel room from where he could see the flag being raised and hear the anthem played. We see him watching the Union Jack rise then punching his fist through his straw boater in celebration. ( In reality there was no medal ceremony at those games and Harold Abrahams received his medals through the post and was charged an excess postage charge on them!)

Sam is maybe my favourite character because he was a King Maker. It is not that he was without his own sporting talents  having been a professional sprinter and excellent billards player himself. Rather, he realised that his talents lay in making other people better than he was. When I was thinking about writing this blog I read a fair bit of material about how to make money from your blog, how to get in the Top 10 Blog List, how to use a blog to raise your personal platform. I don’t  think any of those things are wrong. But I was not comfortable following suggestions to make them my priority goal.

My aim of this blog is to help people to walk their daily and artistic life with confidence and competence. If as a result you overtake me on the path, then I will have succeeded.

Looking at the life of Scipio Africanus ‘Sam’ Mussabini ( isn’t that a great name?) gives me some good tips:

1. Be a forerunner

Coaching was a new occupation in his era. It was almost seen as cheating. It cannot have been pleasant to work in that environment. Yet Sam Mussabini is now heralded as the father of the modern coaching profession. There is a Sam Mussabini Medal to honour the coaches of outstanding UK athletes in the international arena. He was inducted into the British Athletic Hall of Fame in 2011 and English Heritage have erected a blue plaque on his former home.

2. Knowledge is power.

One of Sam’s innovative techniques was to anaylyse photographs of the runners at the finish line. Nowadays with all the video technology and biometric data available that seems rather tame but at the time it was new and gave him information that produced an edge over competitors. I believe that constant learning by watching what other artists do, then evaluating how that can be applied to our own performance  is key. I am not talking, mind, about replicating their work, other than as a private training exercise. I am talking about looking at their attitudes, their studio techniques, the path they walked through life and then applying those to our own unique work. Nor am I simply talking about going to a class, although that is a starting point.  I am talking about looking at  and reading then thinking and interpolating  and finally applying all the information and imagery you can get your hands on.

3. Do what needs to be done

I like words. And I am a lawyer so if you need a serving of pompous verbiage, I am your woman. And I like systems and filofaxes with charts and analysis sheets. But sometimes, I need to set those aside and just make the art. Sam was a straight speaker who knew that all his informational analysis was only any good if his athletes put it into practice. I love the simplicity of his instruction:

” Only think of two things – the gun and the tape. When you hear the one, just run like hell until you break the other “.

4. Know your place in the system

Sam was not an outsider believing he could tell athletes how to do better. He was a sportsman himself. He was a member of the system. But he found for himself a niche in that system that fit  his combination of personality, talents and knowlege. He found his role. Every field, art included, has its big stars, the names everyone knows, the public prize winners. It is easy to think that everyone in the system, to succeed, should aim to be like these über- visible people.

Yet, behind the razzle-dazzle internet TV shows, behind the immaculate heirloom quilt, behind the famous fabric designers are the King Makers. There are the succeesful thread producing companies, the best programme producers, the Swiss sewing machine engineers. There are the people who wrote the beginners patchwork books, the person who first dared put paint onto a quilt, the guy who runs about with a walkie-talkie organsing the show at which the heirloom quilt won. There are many creative roles in which one can plan to be successful.

Are you sure what your role in the system is? Should that role develop or change in the future?

Is everything on your goal list related to that role? 

What do you need to learn to succeed in your chosen role? Who is best placed to teach you?

Make me happy - leave a comment!!

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