Critical friendship thoughts for #RUOK day: from a sport perspective

Thursday, 14 September, is R U OK? Day in Australia.

I have been thinking about the role critical friendship can play in conversations about personal well-being in sport.

One of the papers that has influenced my thing about critical friendship was written by John MacBeath and Stewart Jardine twenty years ago. It is titled ‘I didn’t know he was ill – the role and value of the critical friend‘.

They start their consideration of critical friendship with this paragraph:

The critical friend is a powerful idea,perhaps because it contains an inherent tension. Friends bring a high degree of unconditional positive regard. They are forgiving and tolerant of your failings. They sometimes even love you for your faults. Critics are at first sight, at least, conditional, negative and intolerant of failure. Perhaps the critical friend comes closest to what might be regarded as the ‘true friendship’ – a successful marrying of unconditional support and unconditional critique. (1998:41)

They explore how this ‘true friendship’ can flourish with and through unconditional listening … and a willingness to challenge.

In five years as a critical friend with a group of thirty coaches, I have tried to learn how to balance listening with opportunities to challenge.

The challenge moments come at times when coaches’ self-esteem is high and the world is a secure place to be. It is not always connected with winning but that adds to buoyancy and openness.

In the five years of the friendships there have been times when listening was the natural thing to do when coaches enter dark places.

All the coaches in the group have a high public profile. The performances of their teams is subject to intense public scrutiny and at the worst of times their personal integrity is under direct and sustained attack. This engulfs their family too.

In good times, coaches and their families have more ‘friends’ than they could imagine. In bad times, the number of friends diminish. It affects the whole family and in some cases leads to their children being bullied at school.

My concern is that as a culture we have normalised the extreme language used to vilify coaches. Sitting with coaches who have entered dark woods affirms the costs of this language.

Back in 2011, Ben Pobjie wrote:

Because I know now the desperate flailing, the horrific suffocation that comes when those black waves come crashing over and you find yourself just about incapable of keeping your head up in the face of the merciless tides. But we’re all capable. We may have to lean on others from time to time, but we don’t have to fall. Tomorrow I may feel them crashing again, and become convinced that none of this is true, but now I have to affirm that it IS. (My emphasis.)

There have been five explicit occasions in my time with coaches that they have been subject to merciless tides. There have been many more times when coaches have not communicated about these tides.

I do infuse my critical friendship with R U OK? thinking. I hope my coach friends feel they can lean on me but despite my offers they sometimes choose not to lean.

R U OK? Day is my opportunity to revisit this paradox of being available, of having ‘unconditional positive regard’, of loving them to bits … and still coming up short as a critical friend.

#RUOK? Day 2017

This year’s R U OK? day is on Thursday, 14 September.

It is “a day of action dedicated to reminding everyone that we’ve all got what it takes to ask, “are you ok?” and support those struggling with life.

It is also a day of memory for me and for all of us who have lost loved ones.

I have written two posts this year to reflect on loss.

The Shock of Sudden Death

For Stephen

I think the everyday conversations R U OK? encourages are very important and, in some cases, vital.

This video shares the story of R U OK? In sharing it I hope that it finds you OK.

#cssia17 Connecting and Sharing

I have been following up on some leads shared by Mara Averick. Two recent suggestions caught my attention as I try to improve the ways I share and connect.

The first was a post by Joris Muller about reproducible computational research for R users. In it he explores ideas shared in a 2013 paper written by Geir Sandve and colleagues. In that paper, Geir proposes ten rules for reproducible computational research. These are very pertinent to those seeking to share and explore performance in sport using analytics insights.

The ten rules are:

  1. Keep track of how every result was produced.
  2. Avoid manual data manipulation steps
  3. Archive the exact versions of all external programs used
  4. Version control all custom scripts
  5. Record all intermediate results in standardised formats when possible
  6. For analyses that include randomness note underlying random seeds
  7. Always store raw data behind plots
  8. Generate hierarchical nalysis output allowing layers of increasing detail to be inspected
  9. Connect textual statements to underlying results
  10. Provide public access to scripts, runs and results

Joris concludes his post:

All the 10 rules proposed in the Sandve paper are reachable for a R user. Just by using R itself, the rmarkdown workflow and some organisational rules cover most of these rules. My basic reproductible workflow meet almost all the criterias with the notable exceptions of the software archive (but it’s work in progress with packrat) and the lack of public access (but I can’t share everything).

For an introduction to Joris’s workflow, you might find this post of interest.

The second lead from Mara focussed on reproducible behaviour too.  Jenny Bryan shared her ideas back in 2015 about Naming Things. This is one of the many resources Jenny has shared. I have found her GitHub repositories immensely helpful. In her 2015 paper, Jenny notes three principles for file names: machine readable, human readable and ‘plays well with default ordering’.

The two leads sent me off thinking about how I might improve my practice. I am fascinated by Joris’s transparency with his workflow and I see this approach as essential for sport analytics as we start to extend cumulative rather than ‘ab initio‘ research. I admire Jenny’s work immensely. I have tried to use some robust file naming conventions for the past fifteen years as I have sought to use cloud based storage for all my resources. I realise I am a long way from meeting Jenny’s three principles at the moment but this will be a work in progress.

Mara Averick’s Twitter recommendations are becoming a very important way for me to connect with a community of practice. These two leads discussed here are a way for me to make this process explicit … and to initiate a conversation about reproducible behaviours in sport analytics research and practice.

Photo Credits

Tree on campus (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)