#coachlearninginsport: open to learn



Many years ago, I attended a meeting of the British Association of National Coaches (BANC) at Bisham Abbey.
Don Rutherford chaired the meeting. Don was Technical Director of the Rugby Football Union at that time (a post he held for thirty years). In his welcome address, he observed that “minds are like parachutes, they work best when they are open“. I have always linked the quote to Don but many attribute it to Tommy Dewar. It is a quote that has stuck with me ever since hearing it in the panelled meeting room at Bisham Abbey.
I think it is a vital sentiment for #coachlearninginsport.

Open Networks

An article by Michael Simmons this week brought back memories of Don at Bisham. In his discussion of predicting career success, Michael shared this Ron Burt chart:
Michael says of this chart:

the further to the right you go toward a closed network, the more you repeatedly hear the same ideas, which reaffirm what you already believe. The further left you go toward an open network, the more you’re exposed to new ideas. People to the left are significantly more successful than those to the right.

He adds:

People in open networks have unique challenges and opportunities. Because they’re part of multiple groups, they have unique relationships, experiences, and knowledge that other people in their groups don’t.

In a 2013 article that discussed Ron Burt’s work, Michael noted:

  • Your network is a set of clusters; not one big one
  • Brokering information between networks is game-changing
  • Brokerage is more than A tactic. It is a way of life

Michael observed “In order to be an effective broker, you must continually fight against the comfort and validation that comes from staying in one group”.
I take this to be an affirmation of Don’s parachute exhortation. At that meeting in 1980, we were discussing how to support coaches in their learning journeys. Don was being a broker.
The brokerage of networks is the essence of coach education (learning experience design) for me.
Earlier this year, Stephen Downes shared this slide in a talk titled New Learning, New Society:
Stephen is an advocate for self-organising networks. Some time ago (2006), he was working through some ideas about connectivism. At that time he discussed:

an approach to learning that is based on conversation and interaction, on sharing, creation and participation, on learning not as a separate activity, but rather, as embedded in meaningful activities

This approach does require a willingness to move within and between networks of experience.

Packing Parachutes

Thinking about Don, Michael and Stephen has brought me to a story about Charles Plumb. It is a return to parachutes.
Part of Charles’ story is:

Charles Plumb was a US Navy jet pilot in Vietnam. After 75 combat missions, his plane as destroyed by a surface-to-air missile. Plumb ejected and parachuted into enemy hands. He was captured and spent 6 years in a prison. He survived the ordeal …
One day, when he and his wife were sitting in a restaurant, a man at another table came up and said, “You’re Plumb! You flew jet fighters in Vietnam from the aircraft carrier Kitty Hawk. You were shot down!”
“How in the world did you know that?” asked Plumb.
“ I packed your parachute,” the man replied.

I am wondering if we might add ‘parachute packer’ to the characteristics required of coach educators. It is a wonderful invisible role that has profound consequences.
If we are to support and encourage coaches to be more open in their thinking, then part of our responsibility as a connector (broker), I think, is to help provide some reliable equipment … including a reserve parachute that is as equally well-packed.
Photo Credits
Maneuverable Canopy (Program Executive, CC BY 2.0)
Women Marines rigging parachutes circa 1943 (USMC Archives, CC BY 2.0)


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