#coachlearninginsport: our game?

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Introduction

The word happenchance delights me. It brings together coincidence, serendipity and synchronicity for me.

Some time ago, I came across Seth Baker’s approach to Happenchance:

Happenchance is for anyone who wants to do things better: creative people, adventurers, travelers, wanderers, and dreamers. Anyone who won’t settle for the status quo, who wants to rise above mediocrity and conformity, and do something exciting, amazing, or engaging.

This site is for people with an open and relaxed attitude towards life.

  • People whose passion and interests take them in new and unexpected directions.
  • People who don’t mind trying new things.
  • People who aren’t afraid of failing.
  • People willing to embrace chance and serendipity.

I believe that by making our own luck, embracing chance, and working hard, we all have the opportunity to make our lives richer, more satisfying, and more fun.

By happenchance, I have come across a rich seam of ideas of late prompted by the mob at myfastestmile. Through them, I have been introduced to the remarkable Sporticus.

#Relearn

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Overnight, I saw this alert

I thought it was an outstanding reflection on the conversations stimulated by the recent #relearn meeting in Marlow hosted by myfastestmile.

In his post, Sporticus discusses a conversation with a former pupil, Josh, on a train. Josh played rugby for Sporticus’s school and was coached by him. Josh’s story told by Sporticus includes this:

Josh finished by saying that he stopped playing because he no longer wanted to play my game. MY GAME. We shook hands and parted at Paddington, but that train journey made me start to question many of my approaches I had to both teaching and coaching. I no longer wanted it to be MY GAME, I wanted to ensure it was their game. I wanted to see if there was another way, one that didn’t make children fall out of love with THEIR GAME.

This is a great story to share. I have been thinking all day about how as a meddler-in-the-middle I might be part of a process of building OUR GAME as a teacher and a coach.

This does involve  a concerted attempt to engage in meta-learning (learning about learning). I think storytelling is a great way to do this. I see the creation of OUR GAME as a wonderful co-operative venture.

As a teacher and coach, I aspire to have a compelling story to share. The older I become (and perhaps more experienced in life matters), the more I want to be part of the co-creation of the game that is inclusive, exciting and sensitive to personal differences.

It has an OURNESS about it.

Autoethnography

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In the late 1980s, I was completing my PhD in Physical Education. I decided to craft my thesis as a collection of stories about five teachers in two schools.

I was fortunate that at that time John van Maanen was writing about writing in anthropology. One observer wrote of John van Maanen’s approach:

His goal is not to establish one true way to write ethnography, but rather to make ethnographers of all varieties examine their assumptions about what constitutes a truthful cultural portrait and select consciously and carefully the voice most appropriate for their tales.

Sporticus’s story of Josh and the reflection prompted by their meeting is a great example of John van Maanen’s confessional tale. I have been fascinated how this kind of approach has produced autoethnographic accounts in the last thirty years.

Sporticus ends his post with these two sentences:

The start of that journey started with a story. What’s yours?

My response is to share a story that helped me think about OUR GAME.

May I introduce you to Anush and basketball fever?

Anush

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This story created a significantly long conversation in my PhD viva voce examination. My examiner wanted to know if this was a fictional account. I produced my fieldwork diary for the lesson and the storm passed.

It is a lesson enabled by an expert pedagogue. Anush is one of the pupils in the lesson.

This is the introduction to it:

Anush

The story appeared in print in 1992. The reference is:

Lyons, K. (1992). Telling stories from the field? A discussion of an ethnographic approach to researching the teaching of physical education. Research in physical education and sport: Exploring alternative visions, 248-270.

 

Bob helped me understand how the craft of teaching could create a most wonderful world of learning. His clarity enabled all his mixed ability classes to flourish.

Real Learning

Just after I received Sporticus’s tweet, I noticed an alert from Jay Cross about Real Learning. I think his video (3 minutes) might be a good way to end this post about stories and OUR GAME.

Al, Andrew and Mark at myfastest mile and Sporticus have made my day by nudging me towards my own reflection on learning. I am hopeful that my sense of learning resonates with them and has affinities with Jay’s views.

An inescapable OURNESS.

Photo Credits

Adelaide Oval (Jack Tanner, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

#relearn (Andrew Gillott)

Autoethnography (St. Blaize, CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Red Basketball Hoop (Acid Pix, CC BY 2.0)

Do People Who Have Lost Their Voice Have To Do It?

Introduction

I undertook three years of fieldwork in two schools in the mid 1980s as part of my part-time PhD studies in the teaching of boys’ physical education in the secondary school. Other than a chapter in a book of readings edited by Andrew Sparkes (1992) the only account of my work is in the thesis (1989).

The thesis raised some sensitive issues and with the agreement of those in my fieldwork I placed a voluntary embargo on publication. Twenty-one years on all those involved have moved from the fieldwork schools and I would like to share some of the contents of the thesis as a way of exploring qualitative enquiry in physical education.

Telling Tales From The Field

When I came to write up my thesis all those years ago I tried to explore the process of writing an ethnography too. I was fascinated by the debate going on in the discipline of anthropology at that time and was particularly interested in John Van Maanen’s approach in Tales From The Field (1988). His text has become a classic reference and I bought one of the first copies on sale in the United Kingdom.

I pointed out that John Van Maanen’s monograph is founded on the belief that:

The joining of fieldwork and culture in an ethnography entails far more than merely writing up the results culled from making friends, staying sane and healthy, worming one’s way into back regions and taking good notes in the field. (1988:6)

He challenged the persistent conviction among social scientists that “the problems of ethnography are merely those of access, intimacy, sharp ears and eyes, good habits of recording, and so forth” (1988:6). In making his case he argued that:

A culture or a cultural practice is as much created by the writing (i.e., it is intangible and can only be put into words) as it determines the writing itself. (1988:6)

In the thesis in my account of the teaching of physical education, I posed as problematic the documentary reality presented to the reader. My intention was to develop an account of the writing process that moved on the debate about qualitative research in the study of physical education. Like John Van Maanen I contended that not to pose ethnographic writing as problematic “reduces ethnography to method” (1988:6).

Emboldened by John Van Maanen and excited by writing I used insights gained from Elliot Eisner, Jeanne Favret-Saada, Wolfgang Iser, Miller Mair, Charles Olson, James Spradley and Willard Waller to re-present my fieldwork.

My PhD is based on five physical education teachers in two schools. Three teachers taught in a state secondary school (Bridgetown) and two taught in an independent school (Riverside). The schools were located in close proximity to each other and were separated by a chain link fence. Their proximity enabled me to explore Alan Tomlinson’s observation that:

Physical Education, if it is to be more than a set of taken-for-granted activities and values or a crude form of social control, must be studied and, if necessary, made and re-made as a significant element in our wider culture. The way forward, I believe, is to reject any notion of objective, value-free study of isolated ‘variables’, and to make connections between the different aspects of our social lives and cultural experience. (1982:53)

There are a total of two hundred and sixteen pages of tales from the field for the five teachers. I have a separate chapter for what I termed Noises Off (inspired by Michael Frayn) for the voices of pupils, headteachers and other teachers on the staff of the two schools. Here I share a story from one of the lessons taught by one of the teachers, Ed, at Bridgetown School.

Do People Who Have Lost Their Voice Have To Do It?

On a bright but cold Spring morning, I am sitting outside the changing rooms used by Bridgetown School for its games’ lessons. The changing rooms are off site and, depending on the motivation of teachers and pupils, are between five and twenty minutes’ walk from the main school site. During my fieldwork I have arrived usually first at the changing rooms and awaited the arrival of teachers and pupils. This is the case this morning. I am waiting for Ed and the second year boys for heir double lesson of rugby union.

The first pupils start to drift in some five minutes after my own arrival. From my seat outside the changing rooms, the postilions of the main group of boys are visible on the approach road to the playing fields. Shortly after this first sighting, two pupils arrive on the same bike (the kind made popular by the film E.T.). One is riding whilst the other (Ritchie) perches expertly on the rear spindle which seems customised for this kind of transport. As the bike is parked, two pedestrian pupils arrive and the four set about devising games to pass away the time until the arrival of other pupils and Ed. Such creative playful activity characterises much of the waiting time pupils have at the Bridgetown games’ field.

On this occasion the two walkers play a game of ‘splits’ with a penknife whilst the bike riders set about a game of pretend shooting and gun fights. As the boys play near me I take it that my presence is not intrusive and that the daily business of play can take its course.

Some five minutes after the ‘official’ start of the lesson (9.30 a.m.), the main group of boys in the class can be heard on the approach road. With the prevailing weather conditions conversations and some singing are audible. The second years are on their way!

Two minutes later they are at the changing rooms and some of the pupils, with whom I have a nodding acquaintance, greet me and I them. Small groups form and I assume that these cohere around friendship preferences developed inside and outside classrooms. It is a time for banter and informal game playing. Some boys decide to climb nearby trees and I am prompted to think about some of the ethological literature I have read about the social behaviour of primates. A grounded member of the troop tries to sell me a rather grubby Smurf sticker ‘for charity’. I decline his invitation because of implausibility (clearly marked on the sticker is advice on dental hygiene) and lack of ready cash. I make both these points to him and he moves off to try his sales pitch elsewhere.

Nearby, a pupil I recognise as a regular non-participant in the formal physical education curriculum, is chatting with a small group of friends. This pupil, Stuart, is small and bespectacled and is talking about his and others’ recent ‘escape’ from the top ability group in the second year games’ course. He opines that “The top group think they’re it” and this draws from one of the group the comment that “Yeah, if you miss the ball they tell you off”. As this conversation ends they start to offer me a variety of excuses for not taking part in today’s lesson. Ultimately, only Stuart sticks to his non-participant role.

Ed arrives sixteen minutes after the ‘official’ start of the lesson. He reports that he  has had to organise cover for another PE teacher who is away ill and adds “What a way to start the day.” He unlocks the changing room doors and encourages the boys to change quickly. As he does this the tree-climbers rush back to collect their discarded kit bags. Ever hopeful some of hem ask “Can we do football?”

One of the pupils tries to negotiate his non participation in the lesson by asking “Do people who have lost their voice have to do it?” Neither the pupil nor Ed seem aware of the paradox of this clearly audible question. Ed treat this question and others with a cultivated deafness that is the hallmark of a teaching tradition focused on a curriculum model that provides curriculum content regardless of consumer preference.

Meanwhile, other pupils are engaged in the variety of routines that mark one of the unique aspects of the physical education lesson: undressing in public. The changing room is cold and windowless. On this occasion the floor is clean as it is the first lesson of the day, and fairly pristine feet come into contact with the cold concrete floor. At this time of day hopping around is due mainly to the temperature of the flooring and the imperfect balance prompted by forcing feet into football socks. Later in he day, boys will be hopping around trying to shake off the chewing gum-like pieces of mud that will find their way into the changing room regardless of each teacher’s exhortation to remove boots at the door. (This exhortation leaves those pupils without football boots who contrive to slip and slide their way through outdoor PE lessons with a semantic escape.  They have no boots to take off.)

The ritual of public undressing proceeds at a variety of speeds. The first to change today are those enthusiastic to get started and those who have come to school with their PE kit on under their school uniform. The motive for this latter group appears to be a desire to participate although a small number of boys use it as a way of dealing with (not) undressing in public.

Ed gives a rugby ball to those who have changed quickly. They go outside and start an impromptu game. I pump up some rugby balls for the lesson and decide to observe from a distance today. As pupils change into their kit they go out onto the pitch and engage in varying forms of activity, some related to rugby others more to do with continuing conversations and news-swapping.

Twenty-four minutes after the ‘official’ start of the lesson, Ed leaves the changing room, calls the group into him, says a few words and sets of with them for a warm-up run. Two slow changers are left behind. Ritchie, who has given Ed a verbal excuse for non-participation ( a sprained ankle), runs after the group in his school uniform. Ed demonstrates exercises in the course of the run. The two slow changers, both wearing track suits, catch up with the group by careful orienteering.

Discussion

I thought this account might be an interesting point to start a discussion about ethnographic accounts of teaching in general and physical education in particular. On this day, as with most days, I had a notebook with me to record events and to write down verbatim utterances. Throughout the fieldwork I did not take the role of a teacher and each PE teacher explained to the pupils that I was there because I was interested in PE.

I tried to get to lessons ahead of pupils as my own career as a PE teacher had made it clear that pupils’ enthusiasm for PE was measured very well by eagerness to get ready. The off-site fields created significant logistical problems for teachers at Bridgetown and I was keen to monitor the impact of this on pupil engagement in lessons.

I wrote this account a week after the lesson and continued to work on it throughout my fieldwork. I do not make any claims for this being a representative lesson for all PE teachers. As with much ethnographic writing I am interested in how it resonates with readers. It is a narrative that I hope offers moments of recognition whilst having within it some important issues to explore for teaching and learning in physical education.

References

Lyons, K 1992, ‘Telling Stories from the Field?: A Discussion of an Ethnographic Approach to Researching the Teaching of Physical Education’ in Research in physical education and sport: exploring alternative visions, ed A Sparkes, Falmer Press, London, pp. 248-270.

Lyons, K 1989, A Sociological Analysis of the Teaching of Boys’ Physical Education in the Secondary School. Ph.D thesis, University of Surrey.

Tomlinson, A 1982, ‘Physical Education, Sport and Sociology: The current state and the way forward’ in Physical Education, Sport and Leisure: sociological perspectives, ed I Glaister, Glaister, Milton-under-Wychwood, np.

Van Maanen, J 1988, Tales From The Field, University of Chicago Press, Chicago.

Photo Credits

LSE Sports Day

Two Boys Playing Leapfrog

Speaking About Performance: Hearing Other Narratives

Back in 1988 Donald Polkinghorne produced the delightful book Narrative Knowing and the Human Sciences. In his preface to the book he observes that “practitioners work with narrative knowledge. They are concerned with people’s stories…”

In Chapter Two he notes that “Narrative is the fundamental scheme for linking individual human actions and events into interrelated aspects of an understandable composite.” His insights resonated with qualitative research I was doing in the 1980s and have informed my work ever since. They added to my reading of Miller Mair‘s work at that time too.

I have been prompted to revisit their ideas about narrative and storytelling following two fascinating radio programs and the discovery that Miller Mair is a keynote speaker at the 2010 CPN Conference. His workshop at the conference is titled Imaginative Writing as Psychological Enquiry. The information for the workshop states:

If we are psychologists, counselors or psychotherapists, we live and work in conversation. This means we have to engage more fully with the ambiguities, surprises and riches of language. Writing as a significant mode of inquiry will be approached as a form of conversation.

These “ambiguities, surprises and riches of language” enchant me too! The Clyde Street blog contains a number of posts about writing and narrative. There are posts about performance too. My interest centres on how these elements are focussed in coaching and learning.

The two radio programs that ignited my desire to write today are Barry Lopez’s discussion with Ramona Koval on Radio National’s Book Show and Ramona Koval’s interview with Lady Antonia Fraser.

In the first program, Barry Lopez (who is taking part in the 2010 Perth Writers’ Festival) discusses Home Ground: Language for an American Landscape (edited by Debra Gwartney and Barry Lopez). I enjoyed in particular Barry and Ramona’s discussion of William deBuys‘ discussion of ‘ripple’ in his story of New Mexico.

A week before the Barry Lopez interview, Ramona Koval interviewed Lady Antonia Fraser about her account of her life with Harold Pinter Must You Go? I enjoyed this interview enormously partly because of Ramona Koval’s questions and Lady Fraser’s discussion of the role of a biographer in telling the story of a creative artist. I thought Ramona’s use of her own meetings with Harold Pinter at the Edinburgh festival were wonderful anchors for her conversation with Lady Antonia.

This convergence of ideas around narrative has furthered my interest in how we discuss, describe and share performance in sport. My thoughts about narrative and story telling were framed two decades ago by Donald Polkinghorne, Miller Mair, and John van Maanen. They were harbingers of a wonderful approach to story sharing. In the last year I have become a real fan of Ramona Koval’s Book Show and her interviews with Barry Lopez and Lady Antonia Fraser were gems. Collectively they all provide a discourse that has enormous possibilities for those interested in exploring coaching and learning in sport.

I believe any discussion about performance in sport is enriched by our openness to the forms and contents of other narratives. This post is part of an ongoing story about coming to know performance.

Photo Credits

Private Conversation http://www.flickr.com/photos/danisarda/4204257051/

Donald Polkinghorne www.usc.edu/uscnews/experts/841.html

Miller Mair http://www.constructivistpsych.org/2010/mair.html

Barry Lopez www.upaya.org/newsletter/view/2009/03/16

Ramona Koval www.abc.net.au/rn/bookshow/about/

Lady Antonia Fraser http://www.flickr.com/photos/35803015@N03/4345794258/

Bluebells http://www.flickr.com/photos/anguskirk/2684740057/