My name is Keith Lyons. I am a Professor of Sport Studies at the University of Canberra.

I think of myself as an educational technologist.

Clyde Street

Status and Impact



My friend, Gordon, has been following up on research articles for coaches.

One of his finds today is a SportsCoach UK summary of How a Coach’s Reputation Influences Player Behaviour. (A copy of the paper that prompted the summary can be found here.)

We have been exchanging ideas about the leadership and followership dimensions of two workshops I am facilitating at an ECB Conference this week at St George’s Park.

I have been working through some ethological studies of leading and following. One of the studies I am looking at is exploring the impact of personality on animal social behaviour.


Jolle Jolles was the lead author in the paper. His research aims “to understand individual differences in animal behaviour and how this affects the structure and functioning of social groups” and to increase “our understanding of the boldness and sociability personality traits and their role on leadership and group movements”.

Jolle and his colleagues have looked at the role of previous social experience on risk-taking and leadership in three-spined sticklebacks. Within his research, Jolle is looking at boldness and shyness as traits.


Enter Gordon and the paper on Reputation. The research report summarised a study by Andrew Manley and his colleagues of 35 players recruited for one coaching session. The group was divided into three sub-groups.

Research 1

The observations of the players in the session revealed that:

  • Players who thought the coach was experienced spent significantly more time gazing at the coach.
  • Players who thought the coach was experienced put in the most effort (they completed significantly more drill-specific activities on their own, spent less time standing still and retrieved the ball quickly on significantly more occasions).

Andrew and his colleagues posit that “expectancies based on positive information may be more powerful than negatively framed expectancies, and can be harnessed by coaches as a means of developing effective relationships with their athletes”.



These readings have prompted me to go back to look at Erving Goffman’s (1963) book Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity. In it he observes that ““an individual who might have been received easily in normal social intercourse possesses a trait that can obtrude itself upon attention and turn those of us whom he meets away from him, breaking the claim that his other attributes have on us.”

I take this to be the force of Andrew and his colleagues’ research on coach reputation.

This stigma has social costs. Another ethological study draws attention to the health impact of these identity and reputation issues.

Jenny Tung and her colleagues propose that social environment is associated with gene regulatory variation in the rhesus macaque immune system.

They point out that:

  • In humans and other primates, adverse social environments often translate into lasting physiological costs.
  • Dominance rank results in a widespread, yet plastic, imprint on gene regulation, such that peripheral blood mononuclear cell gene expression data alone predict social status with 80% accuracy.
  • These results illuminate the importance of the molecular response to social conditions, particularly in the immune system, and demonstrate a key role for gene regulation in linking the social environment to individual physiology.

In the introduction to their paper they note:

Social status in nonhuman primates is encoded by dominance rank, which defines which individuals yield to other individuals during competitive encounters. In settings in which hierarchies are strongly enforced or subordinates have little social support, low dominance rank can lead to chronic stress, immune compromise, and reproductive dysregulation.

Leading and Following


Gordon’s find and my ethological ramblings do raise some fundamental issues about leading and following.

They have encouraged me to think about ascribed and achieved status too.

The ECB Conference is a great place to consider these issues. The theme is Leading to Performance.

Photo Credits

Feeding the Fish (Jolle Jolles)

Board Meeting (Nosha, CC BY-SA 2.0)

Peleton (Andrew Sides, CC BY-NC 2.0)

On the Bus




I am looking forward to facilitating a workshop on Day 2 of the ECB’s Leading to Performance Conference this week.

This workshop is planned for support staff.

I chose the title On the Bus to convey my sense of the journeys support staff make with sport coaches.

I am going to use these slides to frame the workshop discussions.

The workshop is linked to an In Transition workshop on Day 1 of the Conference.

Leading and Following


As I have been preparing for the workshops I have been thinking about leading and following.

I am using a quote from Robert Jerry in both workshops:

For the leader to inspire and lead, however, the followers must be willing and able to be inspired and be led. In fact, followership may be viewed as a form of leadership … followers must adopt some characteristics of leadership when embracing the role of follower …

This dynamic interplay of leading and following has come to the front of my thinking through the work of one of my PhD students at the University of Canberra, Jo Gibson.

She has prompted me to look at ethology too. I have been revisiting studies of fish, birds and wildebeast.

In 2010, Andrea Cavagna and her colleagues wrote about the scale-free behaviour of starlings. They observe:

The change in the behavioral state of one animal affects and is affected by that of all other animals in the group, no matter how large the group is. Scale-free correlations provide each animal with an effective perception range much larger than the direct interindividual interaction range, thus enhancing global response to perturbations. Our results suggest that flocks behave as critical systems, poised to respond maximally to environmental perturbations.

More recently, Lucy Aplin and her colleagues have social foraging and collective behaviour in wild birds. They report:

within groups, individuals with more reactive personalities behave more collectively, moving to within-flock areas of higher density. By contrast, proactive individuals tend to move to and feed at spatial periphery of flocks …

Lucy and her colleagues link to a paper I had read as part of my Coach as Leader post at the outset of the ASADA investigation into Essendon. Shinnosuke Nacayama and colleagues (2013) in their study of stickleback fish found that:

irrespective of an individual’s temperament, its tendency to follow is malleable, whereas the tendency to initiate collective movement is much more resistant to change. As a consequence of this lack of flexibility in initiative, greater temperamental differences within a pair led to improved performance when typical roles were reinforced, but to impaired performance when typical roles were reversed.

In a more recent paper on the behaviour of sticklebacks, Jolle Jolles and his colleagues (2014) report:

Overall, the behavior of relatively bold fish was more consistent across the stages, whereas shy fish changed their behavior more strongly depending on the current context. These findings emphasize how the history of previous social interactions can play a role in the emergence and maintenance of social roles within groups, providing an additional route for individual differences to affect collective behavior.


Jo Gibson’s work on leadership and followership has taken me to Karen Barad’s discussion of quantum entanglement. I will not be discussing this in the workshop but I will have it in mind as I discuss being On the Bus.

Ethology and quantum physics seem natural partners for the theme of this year’s ECB Conference … and for an understanding of the dynamics of group behaviour.

The title of the workshop is prompted by my memories of reading about Lenin’s thinking about the Revolution in Russia. I think he said revolutions are determined by whether you catch the train … or the bus. You have to be there to be part of the transformation.

I am hopeful that the workshop will explore how we adapt in social settings and perhaps have the opportunity to be part of the transformation of performance by being in the right place at the right time.

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Photo Credits

Manor House (Nico Hogg, CC BY-NC 2.0)

IMG_2411 (Dan Townsend, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Observing (Jerrold Bennett, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)


Leading to Performance



I am in England this week. I am taking part in the ECB’s Leading to Performance Conference at the Football Association’s St George’s Park, Burton-on-Trent.

There are six keynote addresses during the two days of the Conference.

  • A welcome address by Paul Downton.
  • Andy Flower on Leading and Learning.
  • Simon Weston on his story.
  • Peter Moores, Andy Flower and Kevin Shine on the Fellowship of Elite Coaches.
  • Gemma Morgan on The Sticky Stuff.
  • Stuart Lancaster.

There are six workshops on Day 1 of the Conference:

  • Leadership with Integrity (Harry Bartlett)
  • The Silent Killers of Coaching Careers (John Neal)
  • In Transition (me)
  • Perception and Change (Keir Worth)
  • Leading the Lions (Mark Robinson)
  • Action Types Applied (Gordon Lord and Mark Garaway)

There are seven workshops on Day 2:

  • Pace Update (Kevin Shine and Dave Alred)
  • The Neuroscience of Leadership (Tony Faulkner)
  • Assisting Reflection (Richard Halsall)
  • Supporting ‘winning habits’ (Changing Minds)
  • On the Bus (me)
  • Critical Determinants of Performance (Toni Minichello, Pete Lindsay and Paul Brice)
  • An Alternative View of Talent Selection and Development (Lew Hardy)

It is a very full program. I hope to post about the keynotes and workshops.

My trigger presentation for my workshop on Day 1 can be found here.



Envisioning #UCSIA15




I have spent the last couple of days thinking about and writing about the open online course #UCSIA15, Sport Informatics and Analytics.

I have drafted my ideas about the course in this Google Doc. (There is a mindmap of the course available here.)

Some points from the document:

  • The course will run over four weeks in February and March 2015.
  • The resources shared by this open course will be available before the course starts and will remain available thereafter as Creative Commons licensed open educational resources.
  • The course is designed to be a non-linear learning and sharing opportunity. However, in each of the four weeks of the course there is a theme to offer structured exposure.

A Connectivist Course

I am keen to point to the connectivist essence of the course. Stephen Downes (2012) notes that in  a connectivist course “the content does not define the course”. He adds:

By navigating the content environment, and selecting content that is relevant to your own personal preferences and context, you are creating an individual view or perspective. So you are first creating connections between contents with each other and with your own background and experience. And working with content in a connectivist course does not involve learning or remembering the content. Rather, it is to engage in a process of creation and sharing. Each person in the course, speaking from his or her unique perspective, participates in a conversation that brings these perspectives together.


In an earlier post, Stephen (2007) points out that “At its heart, connectivism is the thesis that knowledge is distributed across a network of connections, and therefore that learning consists of the ability to construct and traverse those networks”.

I liked Gordon Lockhart’s (2013) description of his experience of a connectivist open course (cMOOC):

it dawned on me that, contrary to what was on the tin, a cMOOC wasn’t a ‘course’ at all. Instead, a heady amalgam of ‘massive’, ‘open’ and ‘online’ was leading to a quite extraordinary place where the normal rules of learning engagement just didn’t apply. There were a couple of facilitators but no teachers. Participants were encouraged to create and maintain their own blogs. Social media was used for discussion and sharing resources. Topics were explored together, connections made and groups were formed and maintained long after the MOOC was over. cMOOCs never die …


#UCSIA15 is designed around four themes. These themes are open-ended and dynamic.

They offer everyone an invitation to extend them. They have the potential to become enriched by infinite nodes of activity generated by personal interest and self-organising networks.

My hope is that #UCSIA15 will have global reach. I hope too that groups of friends and communities of practice might participate and strengthen their existing links.

I am hopeful that nodes within the open course will become vibrant sharing opportunities. As I contact colleagues around the world, I think the node structure will become dynamic and powerfully inclusive.

Connecting and Sharing

I am excited that a connectivist approach can energise discussion of sport informatics and analytics. My experience of the CCK08 cMOOC mirrored Gordon’s experience. I do hope the c-ness of #UCSIA15 resonates in the same way.

Photo Credit

Brussels by night (Romain Ballez, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Mapping #UCSIA15



I am starting to add more details to the mind map I am using for the development of #UCSIA15.

I have upgraded my MindMeister account from free to Pro to give me some extra functionality.

In the map, I have been thinking about 4Ps amongst other ideas:

People, Perspectives, Products and Processes.

I am hoping these themes will help guide crowd sourcing ideas for the open course.

This is a link to the map.

Photo Credit

The Map That Came to Life (Anne, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Pete the Sheep Days



Our four year old granddaughter, Ivy, had her first school trip today.

Her pre-school group made the adventurous journey from Braidwood to Queanbeyan by bus and train to see a performance of Pete the Sheep. They came home by bus.

Ivy was up at 5am ready to go to the bus … just four hours away.

Her excitement, our excitement, made me think about everyone’s Pete the Sheep experience of learning.

I am wondering how we create learning environments so exciting that Pete the Sheep is an every day experience for all learners  … perhaps without a 4am start, but certainly a-want-to-need-to-be-there-kind-of-day.

I do think stories are at the heart of these environments. Music too … if Pete is involved.


Photo Credits

Pete the Sheep

Call out the health and safety man (theirhistory, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Meeting Stephen


Stephen Hough

I have not made a lot of car journeys recently.

As a result I have missed listening to Classic FM.

I was on the road this morning and was delighted to hear Christopher Lawrence chat with the pianist Stephen Hough.

The chat followed a recital of Bach’s Toccata and Fugue in D minor. This was transcribed for piano by Alfred Cortot. Stephen Hough made 80 changes to this transcription, some of which corrected errors in Cortot’s version when compared to the original Bach fugue.

Listening to the conversation encouraged me to think again about the narratives we develop about performance in sport … and how we notate performance.

I was interest too to learn that Stephen blogs regularly for The Telegraph. He tweets too.

Two of Stephen’s recent blog posts caught my attention:

Fear or ecstasy? Overcoming performance anxiety (21 August)

What does the most talented piano student need most? (21 July)

There is some biographical information about Stephen here. He was a MacArthur Fellow in 2001.

This fellowship “is not a reward for past accomplishment, but rather an investment in a person’s originality, insight, and potential.”


Photo Credit

Stephen Hough (Frame Grab)



It is R U OK? Day in Australia on 11 September.


… the official day for making explicit the everyday care we have for each other.

I started writing about the day and R U OK? in 2010.

Gavin Larkin commented on that post and wrote about his Dad, Barry.

Gavin founded R U OK? in 2009 in memory of Barry.


I have thought a great deal about Gavin and his work. Connecting through conversation each and every day can have profound consequences.

In the video from which I have taken a frame grab above, Gavin talks eloquently about the importance of conversation.

Much of my desire to work with athletes and coaches has arisen from the death of my brother, John, in 1982. John was 26 when he died. Last year, I was able to provide a picture for his Wikipedia entry, 31 years on.


I will be thinking about Gav on 11 September and his wonderful idea to connect our concern for each other’s well-being. I will be thinking too about all the conversations I can have with a very simple but profound question … each day.

If you would like more information about R U OK? there is an excellent website.

There will be more information at #ruokday too.

Early Season Performance in Three Rugby Tournaments 2014-2015 Season



Two rugby union tournaments started in England last weekend. The Top Orange tournament in France has completed four weeks.

The Aviva Premiership followed last season’s rankings in all games played on the first day of the season:

Aviva 1 2014

The start of the Greene King Championship was much more volatile:

GK1 2014

Only Leeds and the Pirates played to their 2013-2014 rankings.

In France in week 4, Lyon (over Oyannax) and Brive (over Toulouse) played above their 2013-2014 ranking:

Top 14 4 2014



Photo Credit

Simmo v Cipriani (Peter Dean, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

The Art of Making and Missing the 2014 NRL Finals


The 2014 regular NRL season concluded with Round 26 last weekend.

As with my AFL post, I have abstracted teams’ pathways to and from the 2014 Finals.

I used a very simple rule to construct the images: 1 point for a win, -1 for a loss.

This is a momentum image for all 16 teams in the competition:

NRL14 Map

The legend is:


The 8 teams that made the Finals:

NRL 8 2014

The teams that missed out:

NRL Bottom 8

The diverging gap between the top and the bottom of the 2014 NRL ladder:

1 and 16

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