A Fra Mauro kind of week

Fra Mauro was a cartographer. He lived in the Republic of Venice in the fifteenth century.

I found out about him in James Cowan’s (1997) A Mapmaker’s Dream. In that account, Fra Mauro welcomed visitors from all over the world in his monastery and used their news to develop his map of the world.

I loved the idea that he could be in Venice and yet be connected with voyages of discovery and established trade routes.

I had a Fra Mauro feeling this week in rural New South Wales. Social media, particularly Twitter, brought me news of adventures elsewhere.

Jacquie Tran was on her way to a Sports Performance Research Institute New Zealand conference:

Javier Fernandez was at a conference:

Mark Upton was writing about returning ‘home’ in South Australia after all his travels. In his discussion of living in fellowship he wrote “We DO need to balance and share power by exploring the dynamic interaction of leadership and followship” (original emphasis).

By serendipity, I met Jo Gibson, who lives just 50 kms away. Jo is researching leadership and followership in the dynamic way that Mark advocates. I have the good fortune to be her PhD supervisor.

I ended my week, delighted in reading a quote from Albert Mundet far away in Spain: “We compete in the short term, but we may cooperate at longer term”.

From a Fra Mauro perspective, this sharing is immensely powerful.

For many years, I have hoped that open sharing is the new competitive edge and that through sharing we transform sport in the ways that about which Mark Upton and his colleagues write so eloquently and has been demonstrated so well in New Zealand and Spain this week.

Photo Credit

Venezia (Roberto Defilipi, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

Coaching Ideas

Two fragments came together yesterday and sent me off thinking about coaching.

The first came in an email message from Jo Gibson. She is writing up her PhD at the moment and we have been discussing narrative forms. In her email, Jo shared a description of a short story as:

something glimpsed from the corner of the eye, in passing. An illuminated moment … a glimpse of truth, about which you have forgotten to ask.

When I read that I thought that it was a powerful description of coaches’ experiences as they try to extend their practice. I particularly like the “forgotten to ask” part.

In my own coaching, the forgotten parts emerge through reflection and become part of the next short story, sometimes made explicit, but often left unsaid, embedded in the guided discovery I have planned.

The second fragment also came in the form an email. A friend had seen the first episode of Monty Don’s Paradise Gardens programs. In that program, Monty visits Isfahan, Kashnan, Shiraz and Pasargadae in Iran. There is archeological evidence of a garden at the heart of Cyrus’s 6th century palace at Pasargadae. The program note observes:

When the Arabs invaded Persia in the 6th century, it was these Zoroastrian gardens that influenced their ideas not only of what a garden should be, but of paradise itself.

What struck me about this was that our gardens today are connected to this garden. Our practices have their roots (literally and metaphorically) in Persia.

These two fragments came together in my thinking about how we learn to be coaches and develop our own sense of coaching.

In our coaching, I believe we glimpse the coaching of others who preceded us. On some days, the way a coaching session evolves gives us a taste of ‘paradise’ … in Iranian, a word that describes an enclosed space.

At such moments, our coaching is connected with the ideas that have been explored in other places and are realised in our own design.

Photo Credits

Grenada in 2D (Alexander Savin, CC BY-NC 2.0)

Wrestler and his coach (Michael Heiniger, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Entangled, Following, Leading


I had the opportunity to visit Long Beach on Thursday. It is an hour’s drive from my home in Braidwood, New South Wales.

Long Beach is normally deserted when we get there. We have a choice of wherever we would like to be. There are no surf lifesaving flags. There is no surf patrol there. Everyone who visits the beach understands that they have a personal responsibility for their own and others’ safety. It is a shallow, family friendly beach with no dangerous rip currents.

We were one of two families on the beach. Both of us were inducting young children into the delights of swimming.

I thought the day provided a great metaphor for some of the issues I have been thinking about of late prompted by discussions I have been having with Jo Gibson about #leadershipfollowership.

Jo is looking at the entanglement of leadership and followership in nursing contexts. Her insights have helped me think more carefully about:

  • Player-led environments in high performance sport
  • Flipped learning opportunities in an open and non-linear online course #UCSIA15.

These have led me inexorably to think in more detail about pedagogy and power.

All these thoughts have coincided with two conversations with world-leading coaches. Both are finding it difficult to work with their national sporting organisations. These organisations are uncomfortable with the coaching approaches of both coaches. They are expecting a much more authoritarian approach to coaching as hierarchical telling rather than a democratic acceptance of entangled opportunities to lead and follow.

If both organisations were in charge of Long Beach there would be a very narrow bandwidth of acceptable beach behaviour. Families would not explore the beach, they would avoid it. Freedom to be different becomes constraint.

This video about the Bodleian Library encouraged me to think about how we can transform an institution

An Open University publication, Innovating Pedagogy (2014) has helped me extend these thoughts. The report published in November looks at:

  • Open social learning
  • Learning supported by analytics
  • Flipped classrooms
  • Bring your own devices
  • Learning to learn
  • Dynamic assessment
  • Event-based learning
  • Learning through storytelling
  • Threshold concepts
  • Bricolage

All of these point to the self-monitoring and self-management that occurs at Long Beach and with the generations of children who have learned to play and swim there. It is a place of considered autonomy.


In addition to Jo’s prompting, my thoughts at Long Beach were catalysed by a line from an article in the Atlantic earlier this year (April). Derek Thompson discusses The Saviour Fallacy in basketball. In it he mentions Kevin Pritchard‘s “treadmill of mediocrity”. The treadmill captures

the widespread feeling that average teams are doomed to walk in place for eternity with no hope of advancement: they lack the talent to contend, yet never get the acclaimed top-of-the-draft picks that could meaningfully improve their rosters.

My hope is that a move to the entanglement of leadership and followership addresses this sense of eternal doom. It is a very fallible move as we learn how to transition to a shared learning space.

I find it profoundly disappointing that two coaches on this journey are having difficulties in their organisations. Their valuing of process over outcome ironically has led to some of both sports best ever results.

Quite a day at the beach!