Coach education: watch making and pinball?

This is a photo of the Prague astronomical clock, or Prague orloj (Czech: Pražský orloj [praʃskiː orloj]), is a medieval astronomical clock located in Prague, the capital of the Czech Republic. The clock was first installed in 1410, making it the third-oldest astronomical clock in the world and the oldest one still operating.

This morning, John Kessel shared a poem with me (and his network of coaches) written by Terry Pettit.

The title is If I Could Coach Again. I copy it in full as a postscript to this post.

The poem arrived early morning here in Braidwood and made a great start to my day. The first line … “If I could coach again, I would speak in a softer voice”.

The poem landed just as I had finished reading a post in The Scholarly Kitchen that contained this quote:

The world changed from having the determinism of a clock to having the contingency of a pinball machine. (Heinz Pagels,  The Cosmic Code: Quantum Physics as the Language of Nature, 1982.)

There is a visualisation in the post. Although it refers directly to scholarly publishing and communication, I thought a visualisation of coach education environments might look similar:

A visualisation of the Future Lab's 2021 tech trends which appear as a pinball table.


Todd Carpenter, the author of the post, noted that the creators of the visualiation, the Future Lab group:

envisioned the new environment of our community as a giant pinball machine, with different components ricocheting the “ball” of value around the field of play, buffeted by bumpers, and potentially high-scoring opportunities in service of various areas. Just like a true pinball machine, there are risks and gutters where one’s ball can be lost.

This took me back to “the determinism of a clock” and this example of design and production:

The journey from John’s shared poem to this post was completed by contemplating Charles Jennings’ discussion of knowledge and learning transfer.

We can’t and don’t transfer knowledge between people.

We can create and use techniques and approaches that help and facilitate knowledge acquisition. We can share information in the form of data and our own insights. We can create environments where people are likely to have their own insights – their lightbulb moments – and we can help people extract meaning and learn through their own experiences.

But we don’t transfer knowledge. Not between people, or even between organisations.

Somewhere in this amalgam there is an opportunity to contemplate precision and chance in coach education. In Terry’s words we can open our practice to anyone who might be interested … watchmakers and pinball wizards.

A photograph at the end of a rugby union final in 2017. The coach thinks this is the start of a learning journey with a group of players and his own coaching.

Photo Credits

Prague 313 (fourthandfifteen, CC BY 2.0)

The end of the beginning (Keith Lyons, CC BY 4.0)

Postscript: the poem

If I Could Coach Again
I would speak in a softer voice
I would let players discover
More things for themselves
I would find ways
For players to take care
Of themselves
I would empower my assistants
To speaker in a louder voice
I would recruit a more
Diverse roster
I would control less
And empower more
I would travel
In the preseason
I would encourage each
Team member
To befriend the disabled
The disenfranchised
The people less fortunate
I would take more
Risks in scheduling
On the road
I would purchase
Season tickets and give
Them to people who
Did not have access
I would open practice
To any who wanted to watch
I would fight harder
For opportunities for women
I would risk losing more
Matches in the season
To prepare for the tournament
I would work to develop
The trust that I had with setters
With other positions
I would let go of the game
When I got to home
To my family
I would wait until the next day
To speak to a player
Who had not played her best
I would make the effort to understand
What players are dealing with
Off the court
I would let players know they are
More than their performance
I would share more with other coaches
But this is not going to happen
Because my time has passed
I have left the arena
And I will not coach again.


Perceptions of Performance


This week has converged for me around conversations about performance.

On Sunday, I was involved in an after action review of my crew’s performance on a fireground.

On Monday and Wednesday, I continued my critical friend conversations with colleagues at the University of Canberra about performance review and preview … and the ownership of a personal narrative about performance.

On Tuesday, I received a link to Scott McLean, Paul Salmon, Adam Gorman, Gemma Read, and Colin Solomon’s (2017) paper What’s in a game? A systems approach to enhancing performance analysis in football.

All of which sent me back to think about performativity. I noted, in particular, Karen Barad’s assertion:

Performativity, properly construed, is not an invitation to turn everything (including material bodies) into words; on the contrary, performativity is precisely a contestation of the excessive power granted to language to determine what is real. (2003:802)

By good fortune, I had an opportunity to discuss this contestation, at a regular coffee and pizza unmeeting on Wednesdays at the Mizzuna Cafe at the University of Canberra.

Performance Unmeeting

Each Wednesday takes its own turn. There is an open invitation at noon to come to drink coffee and eat pizza. Our conversations mingle and extend around the interests of those who are there. This week there was a data scientist, a philosopher, a football coach, a CEO of an Analytics company and myself.

By a delightful serendipity, the football coach was one of the eight subject matter experts who informed the development of a systems model of a football match used in the Scott McLean, Paul Salmon, Adam Gorman, Gemma Read, and Colin Solomon paper. Our conversation explored the role of analysis in supporting coaches. My colleague had two questions to ask of an analyst:

  • What do you see?
  • What can I do about it in training?

At which point the data scientist joined in a discussion about performance observation, analysis and robustness. He shared an his experience of using Stephen Toulmin’s (1958) scheme for laying out arguments.

The philosopher, who was in another conversation, caught the word ‘argument’ and joined in an exchange that engrossed the whole table for the next half hour.

I have been asked ‘when does an unmeeting end?’. At the University of Canberra it occurs either when we have exhausted a conversation or more usually at the end of the free one hour parking place. Wednesday was that kind of day. We had run the argument to a natural conclusion and the time was up at parking.


Stephen Toulmin’s (1958) scheme for laying out arguments involves the clarification of:

  • Claim
  • Grounds (Data)
  • Warrant
  • Backing
  • Qualifier
  • Rebuttal

I am midful that Bart Verheij (2005) has elaborated on Stephen’s scheme but I have not included his clarification of defeasible argumentation here. I think this will be a fertile topic for subsequent posts.

In Stephen’s work:

A claim is “a statement that you are asking the other person to accept. This includes information you are asking them to accept as true or actions you want them to accept and enact”.

Grounds are “the basis of real persuasion and are made up of data and hard facts, plus the reasoning behind the claim. It is the ‘truth’ on which the claim is based.”

A warrant “links data and other grounds to a claim, legitimizing the claim by showing the grounds to be relevant. The warrant may be explicit or unspoken and implicit”.

The backing for an argument “gives additional support to the warrant by answering different questions”.

The qualifier indicates “the strength of the leap from the data to the warrant and may limit how universally the claim applies. They include words such as ‘most’, ‘usually’, ‘always’ or ‘sometimes'”.

“Despite the careful construction of the argument, there may still be counter-arguments that can be used. These may be rebutted either through a continued dialogue, or by pre-empting the counter-argument by giving the rebuttal during the initial presentation of the argument.”

In deference to our unmeeting, I thought I would apply Stephen’s approach to the (2017) paper What’s in a game? A systems approach to enhancing performance analysis in football.

Deciphering Research

Many years ago (1982), I was very impressed by Gerry Rose‘s approach to deciphering sociological research. He was my methods tutor at the London School of Economics and his course used the draft of his book on deciphering as the reading material for the course. Each week was a chapter.

To my knowledge, he did not use Stephen Toulmin scheme, but my thoughts about using Stephen’s approach to deciphering the football paper owes much to the insights Gerry shared with me all those years ago.

My reading of the papers is:

Feature Illustration
  1. Despite more than five decades of research in this area, current football Performance Analysis (PA) methods remain beset by various issues, including a lack of standardised operational definitions, a lack of match context, and the discrete measurement of isolated variables.
  2. Previous PA research has had only a minimal impact on practice.
  3. Football match performance has not yet been described in its entirety.
  4. There remains a substantial number of features that need to be defined and measured in football PA to ensure that the data are of benefit to practitioners
Grounds Three major contributions to PA research were identified in the current study.

  1. The analysis confirmed that the game of football is indeed characteristic of a complex sociotechnical system.
  2. A substantial contribution of the analysis is that it has identified aspects of performance, considered by the elite level football Subject Method Experts as important to optimal match performance, that are not currently measured (e.g. adaptability, communications), where existing knowledge is minimal (e.g. tempo, regaining possession), or where the investigated variable is not currently measured in the appropriate context (e.g. area of the pitch where important actions occur).
  3. The WDA revealed a substantial gap that exists between current football PA literature and the measures that are useful to coaches in everyday practice.
Warrant A different approach is needed to advance the current approaches used in PA for football. In particular, the novel measures identified in the current study require new measurement techniques, and the complexity engendered during football matches requires an integrated approach that considers multiple aspects of performance.
Backing Recent comments from researchers have indicated the need for a multi-disciplinary approach for the development of sport science. Applying Human Factors methods to football research helps to address this issue, and can be used to examine the complexity of football and some of the gaps in existing PA methods. Furthermore, we have identified that a research-practitioner gap exists that needs to be addressed in order for PA research to be beneficial in everyday practice for coaches and practitioners. Lastly, several new PA functions and measures have been identified, which in the opinion of football experts, has the potential to advance our understanding of PA in football.
  1. In our opinion, to align research and practice more closely, the integration of sport scientists and football experts is required to fully understand PA in football.
  2. We hope that this article provides the impetus to bridge this research-practice gap.

I have not included a rebuttal section here.


Excessive Power

I did not introduce Karen Barad’s assertion about performativity as “a contestation of the excessive power granted to language to determine what is real” into our conversation on Wednesday. But much of my week has been about this contestation.

Just as I was completing this post, I received an alert from John Kessel about a New Yorker article written by Elizabeth Colbert, Why facts Don’t Change Our Minds. Elizabeth writes:

Providing people with accurate information doesn’t seem to help; they simply discount it. Appealing to their emotions may work better, but doing so is obviously antithetical to the goal of promoting sound science.

Which seems like a cue to let her and Elizabeth to know about Wednesdays at Mizzuna’s … and Scott, Paul, Adam, Gemma, and Colin.

Pizza anyone?

Photo Credit

Air Tanker (Paul Jenks, Twitter)

Hit by a car (Nationaal Archief, no known copyright)

Cyclists crossing a closed railway crossing (Nationaal Archief, no known copyright)

Getting ’em up (The US National Archives, no known copyright)

One of those days: fireworks

Today has been one of those days.

An early morning link shared by John Kessel sent me off thinking.

When this happens the day becomes timeless. It is a fireworks in the head time.

Ironically, the video link John shared was about fireworks.

3 minutes 11 seconds of help to think about caring, teaching and learning.

Some information about Ben … the musician in the background.