There is no wealth but life: a sense of perspective for sport

There are some benefits of being trapped by volcanic ash in the North of England. I have been hoping to visit John Ruskin‘s home, Brantwood, at Coniston for some time. I manged to do so this week courtesy of Eyjafjallajokull.

Wandering around the house and grounds on a delightful Spring day gave me lots of opportunity to think about Ruskin’s work and how a visionary finds space in a culture to transform thinking and action.

I was struck by his affirmation in Unto This Last (1860) that there is no wealth but life:

Life including all its powers of love, of joy, and of admiration. That country is the richest which nourishes the greatest number of noble and happy human beings; that man is richest who, having perfected the functions of his own life to the utmost, has also the widest helpful influence, both personal, and by means of his possessions, over lives of others.

In Pre-Raphaelitism (1851) he makes some fascinating observations about work. Ruskin suggests that in order that people may be happy in their work:

  • They must be fit for it.
  • They must not do too much of it.
  • They must have a sense of success in it.

I liked his proposition that this sense of success is:

not a doubtful sense, such as needs some testimony of other people for its confirmation, but a sure sense, or rather knowledge, that so much work has been done well, and fruitfully done, whatever the world may say or think about it.

He adds that “in order that a man may be happy, it is necessary that he should not only be capable of his work, but a good judge of his work”.

In Volume 2 of The Stones of Venice he has some fascinating things to say about craft and skill. I am off to try to find these in context in the original. In doing so I am reminded how visionary nineteenth century writers were. Marcel Proust, for example, has been identified as a forerunner of neuroscience.

Ruskin and Proust would make fascinating primary source material for coaches and coach educators.

Photo Credits

Lakes 2006

Brantwood (2)

Coaches as Technologists

I am writing this post in the delightful seaside town of Grange-over-Sands at a time when I should be meeting friends and colleagues in Doha, Qatar. My flight to Doha from Manchester was cancelled yesterday due to the most natural of events, the eruption of Eyjafjallajökull, an Iceland volcano.

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Part of my time in Doha was going to be spent talking with coaches about technology and I think events in Iceland are a great reminder (if we needed reminding) about how basic we can be to support learning.

My thoughts about coaches as technologists are focussed on four themes and these were to be the basis of my conversations in Doha. Coaches as:

  • Educational Technologists
  • Users of Commercial Technologies
  • Users of Free Resources
  • Technology Developers

Educational Technologists

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Coaches facilitate learning and improve performance by creating, using and managing appropriate technological processes and resources. As such coaches (like teachers) are exemplary educational technologists. In this context coaches use “an array of tools that might prove helpful in advancing student learning” and educational technology is characterised by a broad definition of the word technology (material objects such as machines or hardware, and systems, methods of organization, and techniques).

I was going to exemplify this broad approach to educational technology with reference to, Katie Buckley, a PhD scholar in the National Institute of Sport Studies at the University of Canberra. In 2009, Katie worked with twelve football coaches (Australian Rules and Rugby Union) in four clubs. She noted that:

Coaches used their voices more than 20 dB louder than an everyday conversation. In some circumstances, this was over 40 dB louder. This louder volume occurred both indoors (meetings and indoor training) and when outside. Coaches used their voices around 20% of the time across training environments. This is comparable to other occupations that rely on their voice throughout the day (such as preschool teachers – 17%). This amount of voice use is considerably more than many other occupations, such as nursing and speech pathology (which range from 5-7%).

Katie concluded that:

This research showed that coaches are heavily reliant on their voices for success in their jobs. Despite not having considered their voices at work before, coaches were able to reflect on many aspects of their voice use. This included what impacted on their voices and what they found helpful to alleviate voice symptoms. However, they were generally unaware of why these strategies worked. They did not know how to prevent voice problems from developing. With greater knowledge about what impacts on their voices and how to use them effectively, there is good potential for coaches to improve their vocal health.

Discussions about coaches and technology almost always overlook voice and the organisation of training environments. I was hoping to draw out some of these ideas about the learning environments coaches create with a discussion of:

Users of Commercial Technologies

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Many coaches are innovators and early adopters of technologies. In the last two decades there has been an explosion of commercially available products that have interested coaches. In my Doha discussions I was going to look at:

  • Game and technical analysis
  • GPS tracking devices

These two categories exemplify the application of a particular kind of technology to sport. This SlideShare account shares some of the broader technology issues.

I think a discussion of the the paper by Randers, M. et al (2010) is an effective way to combine a discussion of game analysis and GPS tracking. The paper includes as authors Esa Peltola and my PhD colleague, Adam Hewitt. The paper concludes that “Our results show that the four systems were able to detect similar performance decrements during a football game and can be used to study game-induced fatigue. Rather large between-system differences were present in the determination of the absolute distances covered, meaning that any comparisons of results between different match analysis systems should be done with caution”.

I think this conclusion raises some great questions about automated data collection and the coach’s eye. It offers and opportunity to to explore the role augmented information plays in feedforward.

Users of Free Resources

Since late 2007 I have been exploring the possibilities of using cloud computing resources to share information openly amongst the coaching community. I was keen to develop the ideas I presented in Spotting (2009) and A Fourth Age of Sports Institutes (2009).

I am keen to explore how coaches and sport organisations with limited funds can develop a strong digital presence. As a case study I was going to present the work of my colleague, Leigh Blackall. He has the delightful role of Learning Commons Coordinator in the National Institute of Sport Studies at the University of Canberra.

Technology Developers


Just before my visit to the United Kingdom en route to Doha, I had an email from a coaching colleague in Australia. The coach had seen a paper by Ian White (2010) that described the development of “a potentially useful methodology for the capture, production, dissemination and viewing of stereoscopic video images using existing, low-cost technologies.” The coach picked up on the final sentence of the abstract to the paper “Applications in education as well as vocational and sports training are self-evident (coach’s emphasis).”

The coach’s enquiry is a great example of what Arthur Koestler called bisociation. Creativity in coaching is often made possible because  a coach joins unrelated, often conflicting, information in a new way.

Conclusion

I thought this fourth characteristic of coaching behaviour, technology developer, might be a good focus for all four characteristics of a coach mentioned in this post. I was keen to discuss in Doha how each coach develops his or her own learning environment. I do think that one of the next great developments in coaching, coach education and development will be the personalisation (individualisation) of coaching pathways and wayfinding. I imagined there to be a real workshop flavour to this part of my discussions.

I started this post with the report that a force of nature had prevented my travel to Doha. I am now using a digital technology to share in asynchronous time ideas I would have presented in synchronous time. My work is exploring how we can support each other even though we may be separated by thousands of kilometers and living in different time zones. I see this to be the digital dividend of our time and an approach that can support and develop conversations between colleagues with shared interests. I cite the example of CCK08, a connectivism course in 2008, as a guide to what can be achieved in this way.

I hope you find this post of interest wherever and whenever you read it. If Grange-over-Sands has a beach I am off to it!

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