#coachlearninginsport: leading and following



I am the beneficiary of daily acts of kindness.
Each morning I wake to find treasure baskets of ideas shared by colleagues from around the world. These baskets are a mix of direct communication and aggregation of links.
Each day is a connectivist delight.
This experience affirms for me that in a world of documentary reality, leading and following are interwoven as we suggest, recommend, guide and share this reality beyond our own experience.
There is so much practice to consider.
In this post I explore some ideas about leading and following for coach educators.

Being Intelligent

MCI am still smiling about a comment made by the Australian rugby union coach, Michael Cheika, some weeks ago.
He was asked to respond to another coach’s observation about the Australian team not being very bright.
His reply, broadcast in Australia, included this:

He is right. I only got 300 out of 500 in my high school certificate. My mother wasn’t happy with the result I can assure you. She begged me to study harder but somehow I got through.

He went on to talk about emotional intelligence and what the Australian team were trying to do after less than a year together.
Michael is fluent in Arabic, French and Italian, and has run a multi-million-dollar fashion business. He has been successful as a rugby coach too.
In another part of the interview, Michael observed:

For someone who never played for Australia how much that means and how every moment in that jersey should be cherished because you’re blessed to be playing and so fortunate and every game should be like it’s your last in the jersey.

Michael’s response has made me think much more about the coach as leader and follower. It has encouraged me to think about leadership as action at a time of changes in thinking about power.

Share rather than scare?

17264753128_918e7bb3f4_zLizzie Muller and Scott East have explored the changing landscape of power in cultural leadership. They discuss the notion of distributed leadership, in which “leading is shared through the interactions between people and a situation”.
I think their discussion of distributed leadership in education resonates with innovations in sport that seek to draw upon athletes’ interests and activities. They ask “how can we support practitioners to develop the ability and confidence to change the cultural landscape into something we may not even recognise”?
I think this is a great question for coach educators. I like the idea that:

We need a new understanding of the transformational power of shared and participatory leadership, and a new commitment to nurturing leadership capacity across the most diverse and inclusive cohorts possible.

I see this an exciting opportunity to re-imagine performance and to embrace the power of collaboration discussed by Gustavo Tanaka. It involves, I think, a contemplation of agency.


One of my aggregating alerts brought me news of Wayne Christensen and his colleagues’ discussion of agency and control.
I still thank serendipity for this kind of connection but am realising more and more that the volume of writing available is making such connections more possible and more likely.
Wayne and his colleagues (Kath Bicknell, Doris McIlwain and John Sutton) consider relationships between skill and the sense of agency. They present a case study from mountain biking to explore these relationships. In their paper, they contend that sense of agency and sense of control:

contribute to high order control, which provides flexibility—the ability to adapt rapidly to complex situations, fluidly adjusting proximal and strategic control.

I found their discussions about becoming skilful and developing expertise to be an excellent companion to Lizzie and Scott’s discussion of leadership. I am attracted to phenomenological accounts of performance so both papers encouraged me to think about the environments we create in sport as coaches and coach educators to stimulate agency and control whilst opening up possibilities for leading and following.


An article by Frank Wilczek started me thinking about my reading as self-selecting practice … and the pursuit of beauty.
The literature I have mentioned above struck a chord with me. Perhaps they were attractive because of their beauty as arguments. Frank discusses the beauty in physics. He is a Nobel laureate.
He alerted me to anthropic argument … “we have an “anthropic” explanation of the laws’ beauty: If they were not beautiful, we would not have found them”.
The papers I have mentioned enabled me to feel comfortable in and about my thinking.
Not all days are like this. Sometimes I am disturbed and am encouraged to make leaps of my imagination.

Leading and following

The final part of this post introduces a paper by Edwin Creely.
In his ontological analysis of performance, Edwin talks about imagination and contextual re-imaginings. He suggests that a learnt skill “is a thing that is both ideational and corporeal”:

Performance lies in the transactions of using that skill and receiving an evaluation of it (between the doing and in the feedback about the doing).

Which takes me back to Michael Cheika.
I have found his press conferences fascinating during the Rugby World Cup. I admire his openness and the ways in which the players respond to him as a person and a coach.
One of the Australian players interviewed after the quarter final game against Scotland mentioned Michael’s pre-game talk. In that talk, he asked the players to acknowledge that they would go to dark places in the game that would prompt self-doubt. The player mentioned that the team responded to those dark moments and that at a crucial time in the game, the players stepped up. “It was our responsibility and it was our time”.
This is the realisation, I think of, the landscape of leadership mentioned by Lizzie and Scott in which:

leadership is an activity, an attitude and way of being, rather than a position, a job or title, couched in values and behaviours rather than status and power.

This has sent me off thinking about the design of learning experiences for coaches as leaders and followers. It is a story about identity I am keen to pursue.

Photo Credits

Skyliner (Martin Fisch, CC BY-SA 2.0)
Michael Cheika (Screen grab Sky Sport)
05/52 Sharing (Hoffnungsschimmer, CC BY 2.0)
Stromlo Downhill (Trevor Page, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)
Surpesas no meu jardim (Ana Cota, CC BY 2.0)
Follow me (Carlos Lopez, CC BY-NC 2.0)


  1. This is a beautiful piece Keith.
    I wonder about the role a coach has in their own self education/exploration and how this influences leadership capability. I like particularly the methods of conflict resolution through cognitive behavioral therapy. If a coach is willing to educate and explore within themselves then this can unlock a greater empathy for their athletes and embed the coach’s perspectives/strategies firmly in the team.
    No doubt you have many other examples but thank you for sharing

    • Hello, Keane
      Thank you for finding the post and your comment. Excellent points. I agree it is the willingness and openness of the coach that can unlock personal flourishing.
      I do hope you are well wherever this reply finds you.
      Best wishes


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