The permanently rickety elaborate structures of living …

There was a formal celebration of Celia Brackenridge’s life on Friday 12 October. Celia’s family and friends from all over the world came together to share the day. (Video link)

It was the culmination of months of planning by Celia’s partner, Diana Woodward. We learned too that the content of the day was also planned by Celia.

Celia’s friend, Sue Ravenlaw, led the celebrations and was able to help all those present focus on Celia’s life and her journey. She was assisted with her role by other friends Celia had asked to speak  “at any event that might be organised”.

Anne Tilvas read a letter from Tracey Crouch, the Minister for Sport.

The story of when Celia was very young was shared by Celia’s sister, Dinah, and her words were read by Celia’s cousin, Jo Carroll.

Celia’s journey at school and her subsequent academic career was shared by Mary ‘Austy’ Kirkland, a lifelong friend. Mary had accessed Celia’s papers to research her part of the celebration and gave us a fascinating insight into Celia’s love of music and sport. I was particularly interested to hear that Celia kept a record of every game of lacrosse she played in her diaries and had reflected on each performance.

A cello performance by Erica Simpson connected us with Celia’s passionate interest in music. Erica played J S Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 in G major. I thought Celia would be delighted with Erica’s performance. It was a wonderful expression of virtuosity in celebration of a loved friend.

Rosie Mayglothing provided an insight into Celia’s advocacy and championing of causes that persisted despite sport’s attempts to ignore the issues. Rosie and Celia were friends for over four decades and Rosie’s account helped put Celia’s work from the mid-1980s onwards into an important cultural context (as did the Minister of Sport’s letter).

Rosie was followed on to the stage by Celia’s stepsons, Alex and Nick. The title of this blog post comes from a poem by Ursula Fanthorpe, Atlas, that was read by Nick. It was a poem read at Celia and Diana’s Civil Partnership in 2006. I think it was an inspired choice then and was perfect for a Friday celebration at Wembley. Celia would have been immensely proud of Alex and Nick’s sharing of their life with her and Diana.

The formal part of the day ended with Diana’s story of being with Celia for thirty years. I do not have a vocabulary to express my feelings about Diana. Her fortitude over the last three years has been a beacon for me. Her actions have taught me how to care and love in a profoundly different way. My wife, Sue, and I tried desperately not to contact Diana when she was being inundated despite wanting to hear whatever news there was. We had the great good fortune to spend some time with Celia and Diana the last time we were in England late in 2017. It was an occasion to ensure we did not have subsequent ‘if, only’ conversations.

Sue Ravenlaw concluded the formal part of the day and we exited the room to Celia’s choice of a Mills Brothers’ song from the 1930s.

Then it was time for the informal part of the day. To meet and laugh with family and friends about a most remarkable woman.

I have not written about Celia’s work in women’s sport, child protection and safe sport. I thought Rosie’s part of the celebration did this very powerfully.  There is a digital resource at The Change Makers that provides a comprehensive record of Celia’s work. I was delighted to learn of the receipt of the Celia Brackenridge International Research Award by (AJ) Alexandra Rankin-Wright. AJ’s work is exactly the kind of evidence-based approach that Celia championed. I think she would have admired immensely AJ’s acceptance words for the award.

Our son, Sam, came with us to the celebration. He has met Celia many times in his thirty-three years. Sue and I were able to introduce him to some friends in the informal part of the day who were also part of Celia’s story … and like Atlas “keep our suspect edifice upright in air”.

Celia Brackenridge’s notational analysis journey

In 1985, Celia Brackenridge co-authored (with John Alderson) a discussion of Match Analysis for the National Coaching Foundation.

At that time, Celia and John were working at the Sheffield City Polytechnic.

Both were part of a small group of staff in academic departments in the United Kingdom who were starting to explore, in a disciplined way, the notation and analysis of performance in sport.

Their Match Analysis paper summarised discussions held at a seminar on match analysis co-hosted in April 1985 by the British Association of National Coaches, the British association of Sports Science and the National Coaching Foundation.

Celia and John had been exploring hand notation and computerised notation for some time (see, for example, Brackenridge, C.H. and Alderson, GJK (1983) ‘Interaction analysis in a team game with particular reference to the use of microcomputers’, in D. Brodie. (Ed.) Proceedings of the Annual Conference of the Society of Sports Sciences, Liverpool University, September).

The Match Analysis paper shares ten examples of notation. Example 7 is Celia’s BRACstat system that she used with lacrosse, hockey, basketball and football. In her system:

The resulting transcription is read rather like a musical score and gives a permanent record which can be consulted in subsequent seasons or can be compared with past performances.

One of the notations shared by Celia is a lacrosse game with notations compiled in columns. An example from other work by Celia is an 1984 game of lacrosse between England and the USA:

In this notation “you follow the movement of the ball by reading from top to bottom of the columns”.

In a separate discussion of match analysis (Brackenridge, nd), Celia reported:

Thanks to a grant of £1200 from the National Coaching Foundation I was able to spend some time developing and pilot testing the lacrosse notation system around 1983-84. It was a laborious process! First, I divided up the field of play into sections and decided on a set of symbols to represent these, the players and the techniques. Next, I used a hand-held dictaphone to speak a running commentary of these elements from the pitchside. After each game, I replayed the tape and notated the match using a set of vertical staves and the set of symbols: I called this system ‘BRACstat’. A full match of 50 minutes would cover 7 or 8 pages. From the notated score I could then extract frequency analyses of passing and shooting patterns, individual player profiles and various other things. It was possible to read the score to see different tactical ploys, e.g. fast breaks, zone defences, and whether or how they were effective.

Celia used this system when she was an assistant lacrosse coach at Harvard University. Her colleague, Anita White, used it for hockey notation too (Celia and Anita had captained their national teams). Both shared their work at the 1984 pre-Olympic Scientific Congress in Eugene, Oregon.

Celia was the England head coach at the 1986 lacrosse world cup tournament. That tournament marked the end of Celia’s notation work and she moved into a new field of research that took her on a four decade journey as a researcher and activist in child abuse and violence prevention in sport.

Celia reflected on her analysis of sport experiences thus:

Looking back, I am proud of my few years of match analysis work in Women’s Lacrosse. It certainly helped me and many of my national squad members and perhaps helped to boost the acceptance of science in sport.

I think her work is a vital contribution to the notational analysis of performance in the formative decade of the 1980s in the United Kingdom and its integration into coaching. She modelled disciplined inquiry for other female analysts to follow.  In doing so she combined a long career as player and coach, forensic academic insight … and a love of music that made notation a perfect opportunity to share her observations and analysis.

Vale Celia

Celia Brackenridge has died at her home after a long illness.

It is the news we (my wife Sue and I) have been dreading for some time. Now it is here we are at a loss. Sue has known Celia since the 1960s.

I am one of her late 1970s friends.

I have been wondering how to celebrate a life that has touched so many people in so many different fields.

For now, I am going to remember a cello playing lacrosse player who brought music to the lives of those she touched.

I was fortunate to say this in person to Celia when we met for our last time.

I imagine there are people all over the world, like Sue and myself, who are lamenting the loss of a most wonderful friend.

Today, we have found ourselves smiling as well to celebrate a special life. This comment from The Guardian broadened our smiles for and about our friend.

By nature a rebel, Celia would challenge authority, whether at local, national or Olympic level, to take action to protect young people in sport – often facing hostility from those who would not believe that such a problem existed.

She helped anyone who was prepared to listen to understand that these problems did exist.