Paul’s PhD

Paul Perkins, PhD candidate.

Paul Perkins (link) is about to submit his PhD at the University of Canberra. His title is Can a modified, low-risk form of boxing achieve significant community uptake? It is the culmination of a fascinating six-year journey for Paul and his supervisors.

This is a wonderful achievement. It is one founded on a profound friendship with Allan Hahn (link) and enriched by Paul’s thirst for knowledge. I have included pictures of Paul in India and at today’s unmeeting at the University of Canberra.

His abstract is:

Boxing has long been surrounded by debate. It has been subject to criticism on medical, legal, ethical and sociological grounds. Conversely, supporters argue that it is an excellent sport for physical fitness development, embodies egalitarianism, builds character, offers hope to depressed population sectors, has inherent aesthetic qualities and provides a cathartic outlet for emotions that otherwise could lead to anti social activities. Recent years have seen small- scale emergence of modified versions of boxing aimed at retaining positive aspects of the sport but eliminating negative aspects. The research reported in this thesis was directed at determining whether such a version could attract substantial community uptake.

A literature review was conducted to objectively evaluate arguments for and against conventional boxing and to assess the need for a modified form of the sport. A modified boxing program based on an existing model was established at a community club in Canberra, Australia, with the author of this thesis as its coach. It rapidly grew to include more than 100 regular participants. Design methodology was employed to progressively adjust program characteristics over an almost 5-year period, based on continual participant feedback. After ~2 years, several participants who had been present almost from the outset underwent in-depth, semi-structured interviews. Interpretative phenomenological analysis of interview transcripts revealed that their sustained involvement in the program was motivated primarily by a sense of belonging to a special community and by perceptions that coach-athlete relationships were strong, the training was purposeful, and there was a focus on safety. A follow-up study showed that the most valued coaching practices were an holistic approach to participant development, treatment of the participants as serious athletes, use of constrained games to promote skill acquisition, and an emphasis on athlete improvement rather than competition. These findings were instrumental in shaping ongoing program refinement.

At the start of the program, previously developed automated scoring technology was employed. This technology was then progressively adapted through repeated cycles of evaluation, reflection, planning and action. It proved effective in attracting public attention to the modified boxing concept but there were issues associated with its cost and the logistics of its regular use. In addition, several technical problems affecting system accuracy and predisposing to occasional system failure were identified. The technology was found to influence the style of boxing favoured by contestants and to reward all-out attack over skilled performance. Solutions to all these problems were conceived and partially implemented, but it was eventually decided that in the program setting that provided the basis for the research, use of the technology to judge contests between individuals was inconsistent with the shift of the program emphasis away from traditional notions of competition.

Throughout the duration of the program, specialised boxing gloves capable of markedly reducing peak impact forces were iteratively developed and refined to enhance participant safety and enjoyment. In laboratory trials, pneumatic gloves with capacity for air release and re-uptake afforded protective effects superior to those provided by conventional boxing gloves or by pneumatic gloves with sealed bladders. This remained true when target conditions in the laboratory were altered so that measured peak impact forces more closely resembled those reported to occur during boxing matches. Further research showed that the pneumatic gloves with capacity for air exchange were robust when subjected to a long series of consecutive impacts, with drift in various impact parameters less than that observed for conventional gloves. The development of the pneumatic gloves and their use in constrained games that formed part of the modified boxing program was highly regarded by the program participants.

When the Canberra modified boxing program eventually closed, the participants completed a written survey in which they recorded their impressions of it. Thematic content analysis of the feedback from 38 participants who had been involved in the program for three or more years revealed four major themes relating to the program environment, the underlying concept, the timetable and the training itself. The environment was seen as friendly, welcoming and supportive. The concept was perceived as entailing the development of a community, not just a sport program. The timetable was considered flexible and accommodating and the training itself was regarded as safe, fun and beneficial in multiple respects. These findings complemented and extended those obtained through interviewing a much smaller number of program participants earlier in the research process.

The Canberra modified boxing program underwent considerable dynamic change over its duration and this apparently allowed it to become highly effective in meeting the needs of its participants. The research surrounding the program demonstrated that a modified, low-risk form of boxing can achieve substantial uptake if tailored to the interests of a target population. Although there can be no guarantee that the Canberra program in its final form would be equally popular in other settings, it is likely that at least some of the knowledge acquired through the research that produced it is transferable. There may be a future for a form of modified boxing focused on safety, fitness improvement, learning of skills through constrained games, building of a sense of community among participants, and cooperation between participants instead of competition. Judicious use of advancing technologies could enhance the potential.

Paul Perkins, Wednesday Unmeeting

Supporting playfulness

Yesterday was a delight day for me. It was bounded by two great examples of playfulness.

The first was at 7.00 am on a cold and windy morning at the Braidwood swimming pool. It was my grandaughter Ivy’s first morning with the swim squad. Ten young swimmers and the coach got the pool ready for the start of the session.

It was the kind of morning no one wants to be first in the water and so all ten jumped in together. They set up the lane ropes as a group with older swimmers helping younger swimmers.

The session got underway with some organisational directions from the coach and then she was able to make observations 1:1 throughout the session. What struck me about the session was the wonderful technical, personal observations the coach was able to make to bring about behavioural modifications but also the joy the eleven participants had on what was a cold, windy morning.

The hour’s session flew by and ended with a mixed-ability relay that the coach managed to equalise perfectly through her choice of swim teams. It was Ivy’s first day, she swam further than she had ever swam in our 18 metre pool. Her only regret was she has to wait five days for the next squad meet up.

The second playful jolt came from a report of a community football team in Sydney in an SBS news report. Dunbar Rovers are a “grassroots club which pioneers fee free football for youngsters” and has a “no-pay-for-play credo despite escalating registration fees”.

One of the club members observed “we have no full time paid staff with people magically doing things. It’s about all working for the common good”. The club has 600 members who have the opportunity to play in one of the 18 senior teams or in one of the 18 junior teams.

Braidwood swimming squad and Dunbar Rovers are 300 kms apart but are very closely connected in playfulness. I think they exemplify the hopes Mark Upton expressed in a recent post. Both clubs do “co-create ways to help people be more human through sport – living and working in fellowship”.

Photo Credit

Dunbar Rovers Juniors full of smiles (Eastern Suburbs Football Association)

That Coaching Feeling 2: Boorowa, Apples and Ashes

My granddaughter, Ivy, much to her surprise and delight, qualified for a regional swim carnival at Boorowa. She and I had a second opportunity to travel to an event together. This time it was a four-hour round trip to Boorowa, NSW.

The Boorowa Pool is an excellent facility. It was cold but Ivy had an advantage … she swims in the ocean in Tasmania in January. As she points out, nothing could be as cold as that (I did not mention the North Sea in July).

Ivy and I really enjoyed the welcome to the event. Brendan Maynard, the Principal of St Joseph’s College Boorowa, provided a very gentle start to the day and expressed his community’s delight at hosting the event.

Ivy did not have to wait long for her event on the program (Event 8, Heat 1), the 50 metre freestyle. We had done some practice a few days before to get used to a 50 metre pool. Ivy helped some other competitors in marshalling this time and also helped at the starting blocks.

Ivy swam four seconds faster at Boorowa than she had at the Yass pool. She stopped to catch her breath twice but finished the length very strongly. She really enjoyed the experience.

Shortly after we set off for home, a journey of 180 kms. Ivy dozed for part of the journey but we did speak about her swim and the joy it gave her and me.

On the journey home, I thought again about that coaching feeling. This time my thinking included the Bramley Apple Tree and a Chinese artist Zhang Huan.

The Bramley Apple Tree

Mary Anne Brailsford planted some apple pips in 1809. One of the pips took root and became the first Bramley apple tree. In 1856, a nurseryman was given permission to take cuttings from the tree. Since that time, all Bramley apples grown have come from a pip planted in 1809.

I wondered about the parallel with coaching and the seeds each of us sow as coaches. I thought too about the principles that guide coaches and how these become to root stock for subsequent experience and perhaps even a career in coaching.

Zhang Huan

Zhang Huan uses incense ash for some of his art work. This ash is produced from the burning incense in Buddhist temples in Shanghai. It is brought to his studio to be sorted by color gradation for his paintings and sculptures. Nina Miall (2007) has written in detail about Zhang Huan’s work.

She notes “these ash remains speak to the fulfillment of millions of hopes, dreams and blessings’.

Zhang Huan speaks about ash paintings and memory doors in this 2012 video. In the video he observes “Everything we are, everything we believe and want are within these ashes”.

This encouraged me to think about the hopes (ours and those whom we coach) we invest in the act of coaching and the memory doors we provide.

Towards the end of our trip home, Ivy asked me what sport I would do now if I had a choice. I said swimming. Ivy thought that might be her choice too.

Photo Credits

Lane 2 (Keith Lyons, CC BY 2.0)

The Bramley Apple Tree (Experience Nottinghamshire Now )

Zhang Huan (Frame grab)