Convivial spaces

Looking out of the Circa Cafe to Wentworth Street

I visited Parramatta on Monday. By chance I found the Circa Cafe.

My wife, Sue, and I had breakfast there. It is the kind of cafe we like and where I feel particularly comfortable. It was constructed in an alleyway in Wentworth Street and is a single storey structure.

Its furnishings reminded me of the Elephant Boy Cafe in Bowral and many of the laneway cafes I have visited in Melbourne. I was interested to read on Circa’s website:

The intention was to provide high quality coffee and food experience in a quirky and unusual setting which would be fun. The premises were designed based on some of the classical laneway cafe styles of Melbourne using up-cycled materials and items. The premises evolved naturally and organically over the years, to maximise the experience for our guests.

The owner, Aykut Sayan, said of his plans when starting the cafe in 2010 “The only thing that I wanted was to share my love of food and coffee with others, that’s all”.

Circa Cafe decoration

Whenever I enter spaces like Circa, I think about how significant they are in my reflections about places where teachers, learners, coaches and athletes meet.

In their discussion of living cities, Steve Hinchliffe and Sarah Whatmore observe:

If cities are inhabited with and against the grain of urban design, such inhabitation also involves more than living with the city. It involves ecologies becoming urban, and cities becoming ecological. (2006:128)

Living with and against the grain of design, becoming and learning to live among and as others mark out some of the contours of what we are calling a living city. (2006:134)

If we are fortunate, each of us as a teacher or coach, has the opportunity to invest in ecologies of learning. Circa is not a lavish space. It is fascinating, invitational space enriched by excellent service.

It was the kind of space that was hard to leave and one that would be a delight to revisit. Which encouraged me to think about the kind of pedagogy that might pervade such an environment.

I considered too that the Circa space might not be to everyone’s taste and how I might go about creating changes in spaces that facilitate “living with and against the grain of design”. 

It requires me to think about architectural practice too and address issues raised by Matthew Rampley (2005), amongst others:

Architecture needs to be thought of less as a set of special material products and rather more as range of social and professional practices that sometimes, but by no means always, lead to building.

It is remarkable what a cafe and a single origin coffee (from Honduras) can stimulate. In the laneway in Wentworth Street, pedagogy met conviviality met ecology met social practices.

Outside Circa cafe

Photo Credits

Circa Cafe (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)

Corresponding to connect a self-organising group

I have just received a letter. It is the third Friday letter from Abbotstown. I like to think of Abbotstown as a place in a James Joyce novel but it is a real place too, in Dublin.

The letter is written by Denise Martin and to my delight she has posted it on Rob Carroll’s website. Link.

In her letter, Denise discusses meeting a coach for the first time as an analyst.

The aim of the Friday letters from Abbotstown is to connect a self-organising group of performance analysts in Ireland. It is an idea I suggested at #abbotsthon17 and is inspired by three drivers.

The first is the joy of receiving a letter that is addressed to you personally. I am old enough to remember waiting on my doorstep for important letters in the mail. In my small town, the postmen and women knew when you were expecting an important letter or card. They delivered it to you personally and often left their normal route to make sure you had it before school. This was in the 1950s and I think everyone in the town was trying to recover from those dreadful moments in the Second World War when a telegram arrived with the worst news about a member of your family you could ever receive.

The second comes from a section of Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner’s Teaching as a Subversive Activity. It is from a section written by Frank Miceli about a teacher he met and whose classroom he observed for five months. He wrote of his observations:

The instructor began a ‘writing’ phase of the program by asking the students to write him a letter dealing with any questions or problems or things they felt strongly about. He told them he would write a letter back to them.
The students did not know how to react to the teacher. One girl raised her hand and asked if the teacher would read the letters aloud in class. He said he would not, that the letters would be personal communications between them, and that he would respond not with short notes, but with detailed replies.
‘Would you tell us in your letter about things that bother you)’ asked one student. The teacher said he would: ‘However, I’ll only write what bothers me if you promise not to correct my spelling.’ The students laughed. ‘Besides, if I write and ask you something, if I have a question for you, will you respond with a letter to me?’ The class laughed again, even louder. They thought he was kidding. Students always think ‘real stuff’ is not serious.

Frank noted that in the letters exchanged between the teacher and each pupil there was a remarkable flourishing of all pupils’ compositions.

The third driver is a project at Stanford University called The Republic of Letters. I was fascinated by the way the project mapped correspondence between leading thinkers of the Enlightenment and was intrigued by Voltaire’s prolific letter writing. The project notes:

Before email, faculty meetings, international colloquia, and professional associations, the world of scholarship relied on its own networks: networks of correspondence that stretched across countries and continents; the social networks created by scientific academies; and the physical networks brought about by travel. These networks were the lifelines of learning, from the age of Erasmus to the age of Franklin. They facilitated the dissemination and the criticism of ideas, the spread of political news, as well as the circulation of people and objects.

These drivers give me the optimism to believe that in an electronic age, correspondence has an enormous role to play in connecting a self-organising community of practice.

I am looking forward to receiving the fourth Abbotstown letter.

Reflecting on #abbotsthon17 and #HPX17

#HPX17 Conference Image

Introduction

An intense three days has come to an end at Sport Ireland’s High Performance Knowledge Exchange Conference (#HPX17). I was fortunate be part of a pre-conference workshop (#Abbotsthon17) as well as the main event.

I had started a conversation about the workshop with Alan Swanton, the performance analysis lead at the Irish Institute of Sort,  in January this year. I am immensely grateful that he and Daragh Sheridan took the bold decision to invite me. When I saw John Rudd‘s slide in his Saturday presentation at the conference, I thought about the trust Alan and Daragh had placed in me.

This encouraged me to reflect on the three days on the Sport Ireland campus and the opportunity I had to meet a global cohort of presenters. I am fascinated by the opportunities we have to come together and explore the optimisation of readiness to perform and the delivery of performance as athlete, coach, support staff, family and friends.

I took to heart Tanni Grey-Thompson‘s caution in her keynote and shared by Matt Dossett:

Unmeetings, Hackathons and Conferences

Alan and Daragh getting ready for the conference.

One of my biggest take aways from #HPX17 is the cultural capital available to Irish sport. I am fascinated by the vision Daragh had for the conference. I do see enormous opportunities for the expansion of the role that Daragh has at the Sport Institute. He is Head of Capability and Expertise at the Institute. He holds this position at a time when, as Mark Pesce (2017) suggests:

We’re in the midst of the most important shift in civilization since the invention of the steam engine — the pervasive application of intelligence into every aspect of the world.

I do think that if Ireland can take a connectivist approach to this pervasive application of intelligence then the system will flourish.

The form this sharing can take is the set piece, themed conference. The theme of #HPX17 was Lessons Learned from High Performance Sport: The 2020 Evolution. It can take place in much less structured ways too. That was my first suggestion to Alan when we first started discussing the workshop.

I wanted to flip all the content for the workshop and set about creating some autoresponder opportunities to share content so that our meeting on 5 October could follow the interests of participants. I reposited resources throughout my cloud storage and started a # to aggregate Twitter feeds, #Abbotsthon17.

The theme we agreed was:

A picture of the front slide page for the workshop

Alan did his best to organise me and I really appreciated his guidance around a framework for the program. As with all good unmeetings and hackathons, we did wander but I am hopeful we did so in a sensitive way. One of the big successes of the day, for me, was Alan’s inclusion of Denise Martin and Johnny Bradley. The day ended with a panel that included Alan, Denise, Johnny and Vinny Hammond (who has just flown in from a conference in Boston, USA).

A picture of panelists at the workshop: Vinny, Denise, Johnny, Keith and Alan.

I am hopeful there are many outcomes from this workshop in terms of evolution. We had thirty analysts in the room from a range of sports. I am profoundly grateful for their patience with me. I trust that we have made enough of a connection within and between sports to have a sustainable community of practice open to sharing and able to bring a mutual appreciation to the occupational culture of being an analyst.

I though one immediate step might be to have a Friday Letter From Abbotstown. We have lots of volunteers to write each Friday’s letter. I have found such letters are a great asynchronous resource. No one has to reply or engage unless they choose to do so. But in that memorable line “we read to know we are not alone”.

Are We There Yet?

Camera set up to record the presentation

On Thursday, I had an opportunity to present some ideas about performance analysis and data analytics. Our session included Alan, Johnny, Ireland’s men’s hockey coach, Craig Fulton and myself. I thought Are We There Yet? might be an appropriate title. I did share my presentation in advance but made some late additions after hearing Joe Schmidt start the conference and finding a link to Australian Netball.

Just prior to the talk, I tweeted this:

We held the talk inside the indoor track. I was very apprehensive about this. I did not want to be fixed to a microphone and I was conscious the audience was trapped on some basic seats.

Alan managed the session beautifully. I presented first, then Alan and then we had a discussion with Craig Fulton. I cannot say enough how big a treat it was to share the session with Craig. I admire what he has done immensely. Johnny worked with Craig on the World League circuit so we ended up discussing the relationship between coach and athlete.

Johnny, Colin and Alan in the panel discussion

My concerns about presenting in the indoor arena evaporated when I heard Craig talk about the thirty-four players he had used in one hockey season. His account of coaching took me off to believe that we are here now when we work with coaches like Craig.

During the day I was left pondering on this Seneca quote from On Tranquility:

In money matters, the best measure is not to descend to poverty nor yet to be too far removed from it … We shall be content if we have learned to be content with thrift, without which no amount of wealth can satisfy and with which any amount suffices.

That for me is the evolutionary headline message of the conference: become a sport system that learns to adapt. (We do need a funding cycle greater than one year to help us with our planned thrift.)

Secondly, take time to appoint the right people particularly as head coach.

Thirdly, fund sport in a way that is appropriate to Irish culture with its rich textures.

What a prospect!

Daragh and Alan on the morning of the Conference.

Photo Credits

All photographs (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)

Tweets captured from Twitter