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

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.

Fogo helping us out of our fog

I have discovered Fogo Island, Newfoundland.

… through a documentary about the Fogo Island Inn.

The documentary introduced me to Zita Cobb and her visions for cultures and spaces.

Zita’s ideas for the island led me to the Shorefast Foundation. The Foundation’s website has this introduction:

Shorefast operates as a social enterprise, meaning we use business minded ways to achieve social ends. The Shorefast model of social entrepreneurship is based on the following principles:

There is inherent, irreplaceable value in place itself and that the key to sustainability lies in nurturing the specificity of place; in the intellectual heritage and cultural wisdom, talent, knowledge and abundance that exists naturally in each place;

That with an initial investment, viable enterprises and businesses can be developed so that the surpluses from these businesses (social enterprises) contribute to the resilience and economic wellbeing of the community;

That art is a way of knowing, of belonging, of questioning, of innovating. It is a way of participating in a global conversation and a way of making sense of the world. As such, it has the potential to contribute to positive social change.

I was particularly struck by the way the Fogo Inn lived these principles. Their everyday practice embodied “a way of knowing, of belonging, of questioning, of innovating”. I think it offers all of us insights into how we might be in a connected, value-rich culture.

The Inn has an ethological ethic that I find inspirational:

From its inception, Fogo Island Inn has adopted a responsible, systems-based approach to design and implementation in order to conduct itself in a way that demonstrates and upholds a higher fidelity relationship with the natural world. The Inn has a concrete and accredited environmental strategy, ethical suppliers, and tactics in place to protect the environment. We are deeply committed to and invested in all things local and we consistently surpass the requirements of environmental laws.

I see this as applicable to many contexts … acting locally and globally.

The Inn has a Community Host Program to connect guests with the island:

People and place are inextricably tangled up with one another on Fogo Island. It is crucial to hear stories from the people who have lived here before truly being able feel this place and understand how everything fits together.

The hosts “are intimately connected to their home and eager to pass on their extensive knowledge of Fogo Island’s culture and history to our guests”.

I am sorry it has taken me so long to find Fogo, Zita and Shorecast. I do think what is happening on the island is very significant.  The ideas and principles have helped me think deeply about service, leadership and followership. 

Photo Credits

Fogo Island (Douglas Sprott, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Fogo Island Inn (Paul Asman and Jill Lenobie, CC BY 2.0)

Shorefast hotel construction (Timothy Neesam, CC BY-NC_ND 2.0)

Fogo Inn (Fogo Inn website)

Small places (Fogo Inn website)