GWS and the University of Canberra

On Thursday 9 September the University of Canberra will sign a memorandum of understanding with the GWS AFL club.

The ACT4GWS campaign statement is:

After years of false starts and short term playing deals with cash strapped Melbourne based AFL teams, supporters of AFL in Canberra and the region have been offered a partnership that will benefit the game at all levels.

This partnership will enrich the AFL community of the ACT and Southern NSW region, grow participation numbers and assist AFL to compete more effectively with the other professional football codes (League, Union and Soccer).

The aim of ACT 4 GWS is to secure 5000 $50 pledges as well as significant local and regional corporate support.

In return:

  • GWS will play up to 40 games in Canberra over the next 10 years
  • AFL in Canberra and the region will have a seat on the GWS board
  • GWS will continue to invest in local talent academies
  • GWS will establish a training base in Canberra and the region
  • GWS will conduct community camps in the region
  • GWS will field a team in the AFL Canberra competition or in a second tier AFL competition that will feature Canberra clubs.

The opportunity for the AFL community of ACT and Southern NSW to join GWS has been described as the game’s best and last chance to establish a meaningful presence in the region.

This is our opportunity to become a significant part of our national game. It’s our time. Let’s secure our national game for our national capital region.

The University of Canberra in general and the National Institute of Sport Studies in particular see the memorandum of understanding as a way to grow community sport. GWS has a clear commitment to community development that resonates with the University’s plans to engage with the Capital Region.

Whilst preparing for the formal signing of the memorandum of understanding I came across Greg de Moore’s article in the Sydney Alumni Magazine (July 2010). Greg’s article The man who invented AFL provides an insight into the life of Tom Wills. Greg notes that:

The introduction of an AFL team into western Sydney is regarded by some as an invasion. But Tom Wills might disagree. In fact one could say that, when the new AFL team takes root in western Sydney and Israel Folau kicks his first goal, the game of Australian Rules football – our great and unique contribution to world sporting culture – will simply return to the family “home” of the man who started it all.

It was interesting to read that “Wills was born in 1835, near the township of Queanbeyan in NSW.” So the GWS/UC link has a double homecoming to celebrate.

Greg de Moore’s biography of Tom Wills (2008) provides a fascinating insight into the codification of football. Previously Eric Dunning had discussed in detail the development of football in nineteenth century England and provides a context for understand Tom Wills’ experience at Rugby School. J A Mangan’s study of Athleticism adds to the knowledge of the environment in which Tom Wills went to school.

As I attend the signing ceremony for the memorandum of understanding I will be thinking about Tom Wills and the role that biography plays in developing sport. I think Kevin Sheedy, the foundation coach of the GWS team and Tom Wills would have had a lot to share and discuss about their lives in sport and their visions.

It is great to think that the National Institute of Sport Studies can be part of this journey in Ngunnawal Country.

Photo Credits

Recreation Reserve Goal-Posts

KC Power

Understanding stories, connecting messages


On 26 July the New Scientist carried news of research by Greg Stephens, Lauren Silbert and  Uri Hasson at Princeton University. New Scientist noted that “There’s now scientific backing for the old adage that when two people “click” in conversation, they have a meeting of minds. The evidence comes from fMRI scans of 11 people’s brains as they listened to a woman recounting a story.”

Research Findings

The abstract of the research paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy indicates that:

Verbal communication is a joint activity; however, speech production and comprehension have primarily been analyzed as independent processes within the boundaries of individual brains. Here, we applied fMRI to record brain activity from both speakers and listeners during natural verbal communication. We used the speaker’s spatiotemporal brain activity to model listeners’ brain activity and found that the speaker’s activity is spatially and temporally coupled with the listener’s activity. This coupling vanishes when participants fail to communicate.

The scans showed that:

  • the listeners’ brain patterns tracked those of the storyteller almost exactly…
  • though trailed 1 to 3 seconds behind. But in some listeners …
  • brain patterns even preceded those of the storyteller.

The article quoted Uri:

“We found that the participants’ brains became intimately coupled during the course of the ‘conversation’, with the responses in the listener’s brain mirroring those in the speaker’s”. Listeners with the best overlap were also judged to be the best at retelling the tale. Uri noted that “The more similar our brain patterns during a conversation, the better we understand each other”.

Take Home

The Princeton research has some fascinating insights to share with coaches and teachers. In a mixed ability group it is interesting to note how each member of the group anticipates, stays with or misses a message.

Douglas Fields in his blog post about the research notes that:

Interestingly, in part of the prefrontal cortex in the listener’s brain, the researchers found that neural activity preceded the activity that was about to occur in the speaker’s brain. This only happened when the speaker was fully comprehending the story and anticipating what the speaker would say next.

The Princeton researchers found that there was no match between the brain patterns of the storyteller and the listeners, when they heard the same story in Russian, which they could not understand. Perhaps this is the equivalent of saying “They just did not get it.”

Photo Credits

Story Time at the North Library

Getting Coaching

Resilient Authoritarianism and Soft Power


Last Thursday I was driving into Canberra and had the opportunity to listen to Richard McGregor’s interview with Margaret Throsby on ABC’s Classic FM. Richard McGregor is the author of The Party: The Secret World of China’s Communist Rulers published in June 2010. I had heard an earlier interview with Phillip Adams too.

Both interviews left me with a desire to explore the combination of resilient authoritarianism and soft power as a leadership style relevant to sport contexts. Richard explored both characteristics in his interviews. His study of the Chinese Communist party provides enormous detail about the processes and outcomes of a distinctive, transforming leadership practice. This is a link to a talk Richard gave at the Lowy Institute.

Penguin Australia’s trail for the book is: “It is impossible to understand China without really knowing who is in charge. And this book tackles the subject head on. How did China’s Communists merge Marx, Mao and the market to create a new superpower? How can they maintain such a grip on power in the face of a changing world.”

Resilient Authoritarianism

A lot of the references to ‘resilient authoritarianism’ are linked to China. For example, Andrew Nathan (2006) points out that he describes China’s authoritarian regime as resilient “because it remains robustly authoritarian and securely in power”. He suggests that some signs of the regime’s resilience are:

  • Hu Jintao’s smooth succession to power in 2002-2003 and his consolidation of power since then.
  • The regime’s ability to discern problems in economy and society and to make policy changes to respond to these problems.
  • High levels of support for the regime in public opinion.
  • The inability of social discontent and political dissent to cumulate.

He adds that the roots of the regime’s grip on power include:

  • Economic growth has improved the welfare of most of the population, giving them a stake in the survival of the current regime as long as they continue to benefit from its policies and its stability.
  • The regime has scored real as well as perceived achievements in foreign policy, such as securing the 2008 Olympics for Beijing …
  • The regime maintains a variety of safety-valve institutions which, however ineffective they are, nonetheless offer dissatisfied citizens an alternative to opposing the ruling party.
  • The regime has been able to use repression to prevent the rise of any substantial political opposition.
  • The regime has managed the far-flung and complex propaganda system in such a way that the broad public perceives diversity and significant freedom in the media, while at the same time sensitive political messages are eliminated from the public sphere.
  • The Party has developed the ability to co-opt economic and social elites, so that it is “the only game in town” for ambitious persons.
  • The regime has the necessary policy-making systems in place to respond to economic and social change.
  • Crucial to the resilience of the regime is the elite’s will to power. The leadership hangs together.

Art Hutchinson explores the relationship between resilience and robustness. He notes that ‘resilient authoritarianism’ is:

a strange combination, to be sure, and in fact ‘robustness‘ rather than resilience may be a better term for the Chinese government. The former connotes sheer strength and durability; the latter is more characteristic of a system that’s able to bounce back seamlessly (or nearly so) from a wide array of unanticipated shocks and challenges. It’s a distinction many large organizations should take to heart–and many have.

He argues that the true resilience of highly distributed systems tends to triumph due to:

  1. Greater adaptability (they can deform in extreme ways without disintegrating altogether) and;
  2. The speed with which they can route around ‘failure’.

Soft Power

Joseph Nye (2008) points out that soft power is:

the ability to affect others to obtain the outcomes one wants through attraction rather than coercion or payment. A country’s soft power rests on its resources of culture, values, and policies. A smart power strategy combines hard and soft power resources.

Ernest Wilson (2008) suggests that smart power is defined as:

the capacity of an actor to combine elements of hard power and soft power in ways that are mutually reinforcing such that the actor’s purposes are advanced effectively and efficiently.

It strikes me that attraction and advancing purposes effectively and efficiently are characteristics of good coaching.

Leadership in Sport

The discussion of authoritarianism and soft power in political science resonates for me with discussions about effective coaching. In writing this post I was taken back to Muska Mosston’s work in identifying and discussing The Spectrum of Teaching Styles. The Spectrum builds upon the premise that teaching behavior is a chain of decision making. Every deliberate act of teaching is a result of a previous decision.

Jonathan Doherty (2003) points out that Mosston’s ideas on the interactions between teacher and student have provided a framework for teaching physical education in different contexts all over the world. He notes that in the 1970s it was described as “the most significant advance in the theory of physical education pedagogy in recent history”. (For a recent discussion of the pedagogical approaches in the Spectrum see Sicilia-Camacho and Brown (2008). Jaekwon Na (2009) provides an example of the use of the Spectrum in the teaching of Taekwando. Shirley Gray (2009) and her colleagues look at the teaching of invasive games.

I see an important link between deliberate acts of teaching and the underlying approach to authority and control. Ian Pickup (2010) explores some of the factors that impact on teaching in his discussion of teaching young children.

Resilient behaviour in coaching for me is a fascinating mix of world view (big picture understanding) and pedagogical practice that frames deliberate acts of knowledge reproduction and production. In professional sport it requires a lot of political will too.

Richard McGregor’s insights provide an interesting guide as to how coaches might manage all three elements.

Photo Credits

Bank of China

Gentle Caress of Light

Coach 01