Coach education: watch making and pinball?

This is a photo of the Prague astronomical clock, or Prague orloj (Czech: Pražský orloj [praʃskiː orloj]), is a medieval astronomical clock located in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. The clock was first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still operating.

This morning, John Kessel shared a poem with me (and his network of coaches) written by Terry Pettit.

The title is If I Could Coach Again. I copy it in full as a postscript to this post.

The poem arrived early morning here in Braidwood and made a great start to my day. The first line … “If I could coach again, I would speak in a softer voice”.

The poem landed just as I had finished reading a post in The Scholarly Kitchen that contained this quote:

The world changed from having the determinism of a clock to having the contingency of a pinball machine. (Heinz Pagels,  The Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics as the Language of Nature, 1982.)

There is a visualisation in the post. Although it refers directly to scholarly publishing and communication, I thought a visualisation of coach education environments might look similar:

A visualisation of the Future Lab's 2021 tech trends which appear as a pinball table.

Todd Carpenter, the author of the post, noted that the creators of the visualiation, the Future Lab group:

envisioned the new environment of our community as a giant pinball machine, with different components ricocheting the “ball” of value around the field of play, buffeted by bumpers, and potentially high-scoring opportunities in service of various areas. Just like a true pinball machine, there are risks and gutters where one’s ball can be lost.

This took me back to “the determinism of a clock” and this example of design and production:

The journey from John’s shared poem to this post was completed by contemplating Charles Jennings’ discussion of knowledge and learning transfer.

We can’t and don’t transfer knowledge between people.

We can create and use techniques and approaches that help and facilitate knowledge acquisition. We can share information in the form of data and our own insights. We can create environments where people are likely to have their own insights – their lightbulb moments – and we can help people extract meaning and learn through their own experiences.

But we don’t transfer knowledge. Not between people, or even between organisations.

Somewhere in this amalgam there is an opportunity to contemplate precision and chance in coach education. In Terry’s words we can open our practice to anyone who might be interested … watchmakers and pinball wizards.

A photograph at the end of a rugby union final in 2017. The coach thinks this is the start of a learning journey with a group of players and his own coaching.

Photo Credits

Prague 313 (fourthandfifteen, CC BY 2.0)

The end of the beginning (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)

Postscript: the poem

If I Could Coach Again
I would speak in a softer voice
I would let players discover
More things for themselves
I would find ways
For players to take care
Of themselves
I would empower my assistants
To speaker in a louder voice
I would recruit a more
Diverse roster
I would control less
And empower more
I would travel
In the preseason
I would encourage each
Team member
To befriend the disabled
The disenfranchised
The people less fortunate
I would take more
Risks in scheduling
On the road
I would purchase
Season tickets and give
Them to people who
Did not have access
I would open practice
To any who wanted to watch
I would fight harder
For opportunities for women
I would risk losing more
Matches in the season
To prepare for the tournament
I would work to develop
The trust that I had with setters
With other positions
I would let go of the game
When I got to home
To my family
I would wait until the next day
To speak to a player
Who had not played her best
I would make the effort to understand
What players are dealing with
Off the court
I would let players know they are
More than their performance
I would share more with other coaches
But this is not going to happen
Because my time has passed
I have left the arena
And I will not coach again.

Gathering

Whenever I come to England to meet coaches (twice a year), I hope my visit coincides with a Chris Porter facilitated ‘Gathering’.

It did last week.

Chris has been organising Gatherings since his appointment as the Coach Development Manager for GB Boxing in 2015. I have manged to attend five of these. The venues emerge from Chris’s personal learning network. This time it was a Gathering at Hartpury hosted by Dean Clark and Tony Ghaye.

Invitees to the Gatherings are involved in coach education. I believe that everyone who attends is enthralled by the possibility of coach ‘educere’ (Randall Bass & JW Good, 2004).

Educere as leading out aspires to prepare:

a new generation for the changes that are to come – readying them to create solutions to problems yet unknown … (and) requires questioning, thinking, and creating. (2004:162)

On this occasion at Hartpury, there were eight attendees to immerse themselves in conversation. I do not take notes at these meetings. I try to listen very carefully and absorb the appreciative inquiry atmosphere.

Inevitably, the ideas being discussed send me off on tangents. I try to bring myself back but I can be gone for a long time.

An example from this Gathering.

A friend who works in an Olympic sport (I am trying to be discrete as I have not asked explicit permission to mention names other than organisers), explored the idea of removing descriptors from coaching such as ‘elite’ and ‘high performance’. He shared some extensive research he has been monitoring to support his case.

What sent me off (to Copenhagen) was his discussion of coaching as a Michelin system.

Very good cooking in its category
Excellent cooking, worth a detour
Exceptional cuisine, worthy of a special journey

Why I was in Copenhagen for part of the conversation, was to do with my interest in Noma and the discussion about its two star status.

I did come back into the room and enjoyed the momentum of the conversation. I think it is a profoundly important debate in England in the context of UK Sport’s Elite Programme.

I am very comfortable with the coach title that is used without qualifiers but the Gathering is exactly the kind of place to debate these issues without prejudice.

This led smoothly to another conversational point: how do we design learning experiences for coaches? I am afraid I went off again to some distant place to think about how we might enable personal learning journeys. I was brought back to earth by Tony Ghaye. I had made a point about what ‘learning organisations’ do. In his delightful way, Tony suggested that perhaps I was referring to ‘organisations that learn’.

With that nudge, I was off again somewhere else thinking about scaffolding and microlearning. I had not read Christy Tucker’s post on the same theme. Christy suggests:

  • ‘Scaffolding’ is support for learners that gradually fades away until the learner can do the task without support.
  • Scaffolding is removed over time, but microlearning doesn’t have the long time span for typical scaffolding.

I did not articulate my interest in David Weinberger‘s observation about small pieces loosely joined and how this was guiding my thoughts about learning experience design rather than coach ‘development’. David suggests:

The Web is binding not just pages, but us human beings in new ways. We are the true ‘small pieces’ of the Web, and we are loosely joining ourselves in ways that we’re still inventing.

All of which led me to ask about how those in the room dealt with transitions in educere practice and within organisational governance of coaches’ learning journeys. I even threw in mention of epistemic cultures and how these might be transformed.

Why I asked these questions is because of the very special experiences in the room.

  • Institutional transition to new academic possibilities
  • A new appointment to a national organisation with responsibility for coach learning
  • Two colleagues who were transferring responsibilities within a national organisation
  • A colleague with growing organisational responsibility for coaching journeys
  • A colleague two years into a new sport with opportunities to extend others’ zones of proximal development
  • … and my project as a critical friend to 23 rugby union and cricket coaches

I did stay in the room to savour the conversations and the afternoon sun … with only occasional glimpses to the Grade II listed gardens and thoughts of Hartpury’s origins (established after World War II as an agricultural education centre with 50 students).

I think there is a metaphor in there somewhere about fertile soil and innovation.

That is what Gatherings do to you and with you.

Photo Credits

The gardens from Hartpury House (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)

The Noma Crew (Nick Webb, CC BY 2.0)

History (Hartbury website)

#coachlearninginsport: hearing motets

I am in England at the moment.

I am here for a month meeting twenty-four rugby union and cricket coaches with whom I have been in critical friend conversations for four years.

Whilst I have been travelling, I have been listening to Radio 3 and Classic FM. If I am very fortunate I hear Philip Glass but he is not often played.

Yesterday, on a journey to Durham, my drive on the A1(M) was uplifted by a recording of Thomas Tallis’s Spem in alium.

Spem in alium is a motet for eight choirs of five voices. I find it a most exquisite piece of music. Wikipedia says of it “its individual vocal lines act quite freely within its elegant harmonic framework”.

It struck me forcefully, on a rather beautiful morning near Wetherby, that I have the immense privilege of hearing twenty-four voices. Two sports, twenty-four learning journeys … that share a harmony.

What is fascinating to me about being part of a four-year journey is that I can hear changes in the voices. Each coach’s journey from good to great has been made possible by their willingness to reflect and consider meta-issues around coaching. They are profoundly engaged in their own and others’ coaching processes.

As when I hear Thomas Tallis’s motet, I am stunned by the depth of insight each coach brings to his and her coaching. This Wikipedia piece could have been written about the coaches:

The work is a study in contrasts: the individual voices sing and are silent in turns, sometimes alone, sometimes in choirs, sometimes calling and answering, sometimes all together, so that, far from being a monotonous mess, the work is continually presenting new ideas.

Imagine having that as a #coachlearninginsport opportunity.

I do think it is scalable.

700 voices for 40 as an example …