Mechanisms and Machineries

Mark Upton has posted his eighth fragment in his compelling discussion of sport systems.

I am fascinated by Mark’s insights. His latest post coincides with the end of my visit to England (and Ireland) after a month of conversations with coaches. Mark’s theme resonates powerfully with the direction of our conversations.

In his post Mark quotes Carol Black on schooling and notes ‘the fallacy of social engineering ’ that is:

the false belief that it is possible to institute a top-down, mechanical structure, impose it on a complex living system, and expect predictable results.

Mark observes of this:

it is unfortunate yet not unexpected that this influences the approach taken to designing “learning”, “education” and/or “development” of coaches, players and other roles in sport.

Mark contemplates how this might be different if we explore an organic approach that Carol proposes:

The key to the development of human intelligence and learning is that it is an organic process, in which a myriad of elements – some seen but many unseen – engage in a dynamic interplay to produce results which are stubbornly unpredictable in both timing and ultimate outcome. (Original emphasis.)

Mark concludes his post with this paragraph:

I’m looking forward to discussing this topic tomorrow with a coach who has been involved in one of the most successful player development environments for the last 20+ years. I sense he is unsettled by the mechanistic approach that sport academy systems are increasingly disposed toward.

I am keen to learn how that meeting went. By serendipity, each of the twenty-four conversations on my current visit have touched upon and sometimes explored in animated depth coaching processes. Our conversations have been five years in the making.

I think I have been exploring Mark and Carol’s juxtaposition of mechanistic and organic approaches to learning, being and becoming. My guide has been Karin Cestina and her thoughts on epistemic cultures:

those sets of practices, arrangements and mechanisms bound together by necessity, affinity and historical coincidence which, in a given area of professional expertise, make up how we know what we know. Epistemic cultures are cultures of creating and warranting knowledge.

She adds “the focus in an epistemic culture approach is on the construction of the machineries of knowledge construction”. (My emphasis.)

I take Mark’s work to be exploring these machineries.

I have not mentioned Karin to the coaches I have met but I have been using two catalysts as variations on this theme for conversation. One was the concept of everywhen and the other was Nigel Redman‘s conception of coaching as a Michelin star experience (discussed recently in another context by Kurt Lindley).

I take everywhen to be the connectedness of all time in the present. Who we were, who we are and who we will be are focused in our present and presence.

I think this allowed us to discuss coach as coach and athlete experience in terms of a Michelin system.

One star: Very good cooking in its category
Two stars: Excellent cooking, worth a detour
Three stars: Exceptional cuisine, worthy of a special journey

The combination of both ideas helped us to talk about the processes of coaching and how the coaches in the group might advocate for coach learning environments to address the rich diversity of practice that can emerge from shared and contestable experiences.

I am in Belfast at the moment and am looking forward to exploring the city today. I am particularly interested in the mural art.

Many years ago, a friend at Dartington College of Arts, suggested that the murals had two dimensions: territory and aspiration.

Without pushing this connection too far, I do think Mark’s most recent fragment encourages us to contemplate the pictures we paint about coaching and learning. Mechanisms and machineries have territory and aspirations.

My hope is that by considering how we might frame both differently we can transform coach and athlete experience by creating the opportunities, in Carol’s words, under which “human brilliance may unfold and flourish”.

Photo Credits

The three pictures shared here are:

1. Looking out to sea past the Titanic Museum, Belfast. (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)

2. Guido van Helten’s mural at Coonalpyn, South Australia (CNN)

3. The advocate: a Belfast mural. (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)

#coachlearninginsport Everywhen experiences

In May 1975, Gurindji people were successful in having an area of their own land excised from the Vestey pastoral lease at Wattie Creek in the Northern Territory. Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and Gurindji leader Vincent Lingiari celebrated the handover of the land at Daguragu. The event was recorded by Mervyn Bishop.

I have been immersed in conversations with coaches for the last two weeks and have the opportunity for two more weeks of meeting coaches 1:1.

This is my fifth year of conversations with this group of (twenty-five) coaches. Each time we meet a theme emerges that appears to resonate with them and me. On this visit it is ‘everywhen’.

We have been discussing learning journeys and career options. For some reason these discussions brought up thoughts about the anthropologist Bill Stanner.

In 1953, he wrote about Aboriginal Dreaming. Bill’s understanding was:

A central meaning of The Dreaming is that of a sacred, heroic time long ago when man and nature came to be as they are; but neither ‘time’ nor ‘history’ as we understand them is involved in this meaning.

He added:

 One cannot ‘fix’ The Dreaming in time: it was, and is, everywhen.

Why I think this has been an important conversation with coaches is that is has enabled us to talk about current practices … how we are.

It has been particularly helpful for me in discussions with coaches who are having difficulty finding a new job opportunity. The temptation in their job applications is to talk about past events. I have shared this quote about Aboriginal Dreaming from Bill with them to explore their everywhen:

they do not, in aversion from present or future, look back on it with yearning and nostalgia.


… it has for them an unchallengeably sacred authority.

Everywhen has been important too in conversations with coaches who are employed and have some security of contract. It has been fascinating to explore their practice including contemplation of the coach they will become.

The Dalai Lama came to my help too:

I have left this quote from Bill’s book to another conversation about journeys with coaches:

White man got no dreaming,

Him go ’nother way.

White man, him go different.

Him got road belong himself.


Photo Credit

In May 1975, Gurindji people were successful in having an area of their own land excised from the Vestey pastoral lease at Wattie Creek in the Northern Territory. Prime Minister Gough Whitlam and Gurindji leader Vincent Lingiari celebrated the handover of the land at Daguragu. The event was recorded by Mervyn Bishop and stored here.

Home is where the hut is


Radio National’s Bush Telegraph had a great item yesterday (23 June) on Huts in the Wild.

Greg Muller interviewed Dianne Johnson about her new book on Huts.

Dianne has been interviewed by Radio National’s By Design program too.

In her Bush Telegraph interview, Dianne made some fascinating observations that helped me think further about my changing sense of space and place. She found a great ally in Greg in the interview. He too was passionate about huts.


Amongst the points Dianne made in her interview were:

  • Being “struck dumb” by the beauty of the Waldheim Chalet on Cradle Mountain
  • Huts as liminal spaces  that mediate between the built landscape and nature
  • Huts are spare and sparse: they are not designed as stores (unlike sheds)
  • Huts offer enchantment and are imagined, mindful and slow spaces
  • Huts are creative spaces within which to think and reflect and on some occasions take on demons
  • You must not stay for a long time in huts and avoid Martin Heidegger’s experience of overstaying
  • You are the honoured guest in a hut. It is a place of respect and hospitality.
  • Huts are egalitarian, they are inclusive. Each has its own distinctive portal.
  • Each of us has a sense of our wild spaces and our hard country. These are places of wonderment that energise the spirit.
  • Huts tend to be built in magnificent places.
  • Huts are temporary and  raise issues about preservation. Part of the experience of a hut is its ephemerality … ‘hutness’ is about coming from from the earth and returning to earth.

At the end of the interview Greg asked Dianne if she had a favourite hut. She mentioned Dixons Kingdom Hut.

Place and Space

I have been thinking a lot about space and place. My recent journey started whilst contemplating Everywhen. Developments around Commons spaces at the University of Canberra have accelerated my reflections.

Dianne and Greg have helped me travel further in my thinking. Given the essential characteristics of ‘hutness’ I wonder if I ought to stop thinking about research centres and units and work to develop huts for ideas and practice. It would be wonderful to develop a way of being that stimulated the imagination, enhanced sociability and celebrated liminality.

Such huts would not be places of permanent residence. They would be way stations that had varying configurations of people and ideas that were nourished by the place.

Photo Credits

Wallaces Hut

Davies Run (Tasmanian Huts Preservation Society)

Dixons Kingdom Hut (Tasmanian Huts Preservation Society)