#coachlearninginsport: in search of minimalism


PlanA friend from Ireland has shared one of his coach learning presentations with me. It is titled Rugby Architects.

In the presentation, he suggests that it might be helpful to look at coaches as architects rather than builders. Coaches as architects:

  • Have a vision of form and functionality
  • Plan
  • Oversee and manage
  • Ensure alignment to the plan
  • Prioritise safety
  • Deliver on the plan

The Irish connection with architecture took me back to the design conversations about the Grillagh Water House near Maghera, County Derry.

All of which set me off on my most recent reflections on #coachlearninginsport about minimalism in design and coaching. I am hopeful that by looking at other professional contexts, I might extend my thinking and practice stimulated by cognitive diversity.


For some time, I have been inviting coaches to think about two basic communication ideas:

  1. What is so important that you have to share it?
  2. Can you do more with less?

This second idea resonates with the insights available from minimalist architects.

Mies van der Rohe, for example, is associated with a “less is more approach” to design. He located his practice in the “art of building” as “the spatially apprehended will of the epoch”. This will celebrated an architecture of “almost nothing” that was “self-effacing” (Kim, 2006).

This approach was informed by the work of other architects including Hendrik Berlage and Frank Lloyd Wright. Berlage had suggested:

Architecture is and remains the art of construction, the joining together of various elements into a whole to enclose a space. … the first priority is to go back to the basics, to construct well. In order to do this quite freely, we must do it in the simplest way. Intrinsically comprehensive objects must be created once again (quoted in Bafna, 2005).
The quotation concludes with the assertion that these objects “are not obscured by cladding”.
In the next section of the post, I share three examples of buildings that exemplify this minimalism.

Fallingwater House


Fallingwater House was built by Frank Lloyd Wright between 1936-1939. The house is built over a waterfall using cantilevers. His design was based on his desire for those who lived there “to live with the waterfalls, to make them part of their everyday life, and not just to look at them now and then”. In 1991, the house was listed as the “best all-time work of American architecture”.

Farnsworth House


Farnsworth House was designed by Mies van der Rohe. It was completed in 1951. Maritz Vandenburg says of the house:

Every physical element has been distilled to its irreducible essence. The interior is unprecedentedly transparent to the surrounding site, and also unprecedentedly uncluttered in itself. All of the paraphernalia of traditional living –rooms, walls, doors, interior trim, loose furniture, pictures on walls, even personal possessions – have been virtually abolished in a puritanical vision of simplified, transcendental existence. Mies had finally achieved a goal towards which he had been feeling his way for three decades.

The Glass House


The Glass House was designed by Philip Johnson and was completed in 1949. He built it for himself. Philip was closely connected with Mies and many observers note the importance of the Farnsworth House in the design. One description of the Glass House notes its “minimal structure, geometry, proportion, and the effects of transparency and reflection”. The Architectural Digest regards it as “one of the great residential buildings of the twentieth century“.

Coach Learning

My visit to minimalist architecture has encourage me to think about “coaching without cladding” and the “art of coaching”.

I am keen to explore my fascination with doing more with less in coaching. I am keen to investigate what it means in practice to be “unprecedentedly uncluttered”.

I am hopeful that this exploration might contribute to, and be part of, the #relearn conversations nurtured by Mark, Al and Andrew. I do think there are some exciting opportunities for cognitive diversity in these conversations in ways that build upon Zach Lieberman’s suggestion that “the work of past ages accumulates, and is remade again”.

Photo Credits

Fallingwater House (Pablo Sanchez, CC BY 2.0)

Farnsworth House (Devyn Caldwell, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Glass House (National trust for Historic Preservation)

Storytelling: swimming with the tide


I found Laurel Richardson’s (1990) monograph yesterday. I was sorting through some books at home, thinking about storytelling. And there she was … Writing Strategies: Reaching Diverse Audiences.

Laurel was writing long before the appearance of weblogs and certainly a very long time before vlogging. The conclusion to her monograph connects the world she experienced and the emergence of reaching diverse audiences through the Web.

If we wish to understand the deepest and most universal of human experiences, if we wish our work to be faithful to the lived experiences of people, if we wish for a union between poetics and science, if we wish to reach a variety of readers, or if we wish to use our privileges and skills to empower the people we study, then we need to foreground, not suppress, the narrative within the human sciences.

Her final sentence is:

How and for whom we write lives matters.

I agree that how we write matters and that we have a real sense of our implied readers. For some time now, I have been blogging as my main way of communicating. It works wonderfully in a rural environment with relatively limited access to broadband connectivity.


This week two separate blogging connections added to my thinking about audiences.

The first was the announcement of the winners of the 2015 Football Blogging Awards. I liked the double awards in each category: fans’ choice and judges’ choice.

I have been thinking about developing  a short, open course on storytelling in sport. A key part of that process for me would be to use football blogs as the illustration of storytelling approaches. The awards have accelerated my interest

The list of Award winners can be found here.

The finalists are listed here.

The second, was finding Simon Duffin‘s blog about ocean pools in NSW. Simon moved to Australia from Scotland in 2014.

The great thing about living on the NSW coast is that there are over 100 tidal baths, rock pools or ocean baths, and I imagine even in the depths of an Australian winter, the water temperatures will be warmer than what we experienced off the coast at Wick in north east Scotland.

So, I couldn’t resist the challenge of swimming in all those NSW tidal baths and recording both my own experience and that of others I meet along the way.

I was delighted to read Simon’s posts. I had written about Wylie’s in Coogee, one of the beautiful ocean pools in NSW.


Simon combines his interests in ocean pool swimming with his knowledge of tea and coffee. Each pool review has a link to local cafes.

Finding both blogging alerts this week added to my thinking about visual literacy. There were lots of other blog posts too to send me off on delightful trips of the imagination.

Four years after Laurel’s monograph was published, I attended a Commonwealth and Scientific Conference in Victoria, British Columbia. My report to my line managers did not have the eloquence of Laurel’s concluding sentiments but it did include this observation:

I do feel that the ongoing inclusion of the Institute in a world system of scholarship requires a creative use of information networks. Many delegates actively use E-mail to share research and ideas. I think we must do this and recommend that E-mail and Internet use be an urgent theme for staff development.

From that time on, I was keen to be an early adopter of educational technology opportunities to share experience and to explore story sharing. I have used a variety of blogging platforms since the early 2000s. My first was a GeoCities site. I settled on WirdPress in 2008 as my main platform but have continued to explore a range of options since then.

Back in 1994 my approach was swimming against the tide of conventional practice, I am delighted that twenty years on I appear to be swimming with the tide … in the company of remarkable writers.

It is even possible to mention poetics!

Photo Credits

Keith Lyons (CC BY 4.0)

#coachlearninginsport: seeing patterns


I was thinking about visual and digital literacy last week.

It started with the discovery of two blog posts by Brian Prestige on data visualisation. In one of these posts, Brian notes:

we process visual elements 60,000 times quicker than text and we have a predisposition to search for patterns in everything we see.

He adds:

By visualising our data in a cohesive manner we are able to not only deliver our insights, but also engage the coaches, support staff and players in a way that the data is not only understood, but is also acted upon.

In his second post, Brian suggests that this story sharing can be supported by three characteristics:

  • Contrast
  • Directed focus
  • Making the obvious … obvious

One of the issues Brian raises in this post is the use of colour in data visualisation. I have been experimenting with colour palettes for some time.

I realised how far I had to go in my understanding of colour when I found Eddie Bell discussing his work at Lyst. His video is 13m 34s in duration. I think the video has the insight that Brian discusses in his posts.

Brian works with The Information Lab. His work and Eddie’s role at Lyst have really encouraged me to think much more about augmenting coaches’ observations through crafted visual stories about data.

Coaches see patterns in behaviour. They have their own story to share and develop.

News of the Spatial Reasoning Group in Canada led me to think about the patterns coaches see. The Group is researching “the ability to recognize and mentally manipulate the spatial properties of objects and the spatial relations among objects”.


I wondered if an awareness of each coach’s spatial reasoning abilities might lead to even more bespoke story sharing by those who have the responsibility to visualise information for coaches (this was Brian’s role at Bolton Wanderers before his move to The Information Lab).

My thinking about this story telling was pushed further by a link to the Knowledge Synthesis project in Canada. The project is exploring better practice in the teaching of data literacy. I wondered how do we prepare coaches to make sense of data that are visualised and shared as a story. The project’s questions are good #coachlearninginsport questions:

  • What data skills are required to be data literate?
  • How are these skills taught?
  • What are the best practices that we’ve established after decades (and centuries) of teaching students to work with data in various forms?

The Knowledge Synthesis project suggests that data-literate individuals “have the knowledge, understanding, and skills to connect people to data”. Such literacy, they suggest is the precursor to data fluency and data mastery.


Richard Martin has provided a thought-provoking prompt in this discussion of visual and data literacy. In his discussion of the guides in a digital age, he observes:

People are looking to others to guide them, to help them navigate the complexities of a networked world. The edges between virtual and physical, online and offline, inside and outside, are blurring. All is liminal, fuzzy, ill-defined. Bridge builders are required. Mapmakers too. Explorers who will simplify and translate what they discover, laying out suggested paths for others to follow.

I see this to be a wonderful opportunity for coach learning environments. Brian and Eddie have guided me to a new level of thinking about the possibilities for visual and digital literacy.

I understand that I have many more possibilities for hooking attention and triggering learning. I do need to think even more about the stickiness of ideas. Holly Inglis has looked closely at how neuroscience might helps us to think critically about how ideas might be understood, remembered and have lasting impact.

Advances in neuroscience are indicating how little time we have to connect an audience with a message. Some research suggests that if we are unable to connect with an audience in as little as ninety seconds we lose our opportunity to share. Visual stimulation can slow this disconnect down. I think a compelling narrative can do that too.

I hope that by sharing better practice in coach learning, we might have a sport equivalent of the Knowledge Synthesis project.

Collectively we could travel with coaches to the edge described by Richard Martin:

Throughout the history of humankind, our explorers, scientists, inventors and artists have constantly reshaped the boundaries between the known and the unknown. … Their endeavours help simplify the chaotic for the rest of us. They overlay new patterns that they have recognised, erect signposts and markers to guide us, beacons to light our way.

I am particularly interested in the simplifying chaos part of this quotation. Each of us has the ability to do this but in a digital world we can get some help from friends.

This simplification can work across a whole sport system as well as within a single team learning environment.

Imagine how we as a community of practice could provide examples of better practice in response to this Knowledge Synthesis question:

How are new ways of learning and teaching fostering greater knowledge and competency in critical and analytical thinking, problem-solving, communication of complex ideas and data, data collection methodologies, data management, data policy, data sharing, and evidence-based decision-making?

Photo Credits

Simplicity is hard (Will Lion, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Traffic sign (Pavel. P, CC BY 2.0)

Minimalism (eLKayPics/Lutz Koch, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)