#coachlearninginsport: hooking … and triggering


I use #coachlearninginsport to pull together my thoughts about coaches’ learning journeys.

This post started with a prompt in a post written by Bryce Tully. Bryce proposes that “the current trend within high performance sport is to place disproportional weight on the collection of scientific data, while the organizational and psychological factors essential to its success are largely ignored”.

A second prompt came from a Nathan Kinch discussion about design processes that hook attention.

Both these prompts (which speak to my interest in educational technology and learning experience design) coalesced around  a short talk I am giving this evening at a meeting of the Braidwood Regional Arts Group.

In the talk (called Parallel Tracks), I hope to look briefly at the impact of the arts on my approach to the observation, recording and analysis of performance in sport. I am going to ask the audience about their memories of the impact of a work of art on them ( and connect this with a sport experience).

Parallel Tracks

As I was thinking about how to phrase this question, I thought back to my exposure to Turner’s picture of a railway engine, Rain, Steam, and Speed – The Great Western Railway 1844.

I saw it on a visit to the National Gallery in 1980. My response then was that I did not see the point of the picture. I was expecting a representational picture of an engine crossing a bridge.

However, it was an unforgettable image for me. My attention had been hooked. I have only made sense of the picture years later. It has grown on me. When it appeared in the film Mr. Turner, it seemed like an old friend.

The image had subliminally triggered my learning about sharing the essence of something.

… which leads me to Marcel Proust and the triggers for memories.

In his In Search of Lost Time, Marcel tastes a piece of a ‘petite madeleine‘ cake steeped in lime-blossom tea, then:

No sooner had the warm liquid mixed with the crumbs touched my palate than a shiver ran through me and I stopped, intent upon the extraordinary thing that was happening to me. An exquisite pleasure had invaded my senses, something isolated, detached, with no suggestion of its origin. … this new sensation having the effect, which love has, of filling me with a precious essence; or rather this essence was not in me, it was me.

As he reflects on this experience, Marcel notes “I can hear the echo of great spaces traversed” that ultimately leads to recapturing memories of his childhood.

Heads Up

This merging of ideas set me of thinking about how coaches trigger their own and others’ learning opportunities. I wondered if ‘hook’ might have a non-pejorative meaning in this context. I wondered too how we might mobilise memories to trigger engagement and learning.

I found myself rereading Bruce Hood, Douglas Willen and Jon Driver’s (1998) to think about gaze and the importance of eye direction detection. They note:

infants as young as 3 months of age can detect the direction of gaze as indicated by the eyes alone, and that this detection influences their own direction of attention reliably, as revealed by latency and error data from their subsequent orienting to peripheral probes. (1998:132)

They suggest that research should explore “the perceptual basis of the mechanism that triggers attention shifts that follow perceived gaze”.

More recently, Saara Khalid, Jason Deska and Kurt Hugenberg (2016) have discussed how when others make eye contact with us, we are encouraged “to impute minds into others”. They conclude:

ascriptions of sophisticated humanlike minds to others are modulated by targets eye gaze –targets with direct eye gaze are ascribed more sophisticated minds than their averted gaze counterparts – and this differential ascription of mind is related to expectations of social interaction. (2016:27)
Ironically, I have discussed my own learning with my gaze at a picture and a fragment of text. In my case, I have tried to imagine the minds of Joseph Mallord William Turner and Marcel Proust.
I do hope my talk does hook attention and trigger conversation. I hope too this post contributes to the discussion of coaches’ continuing learning journeys as they (we) find ways to engage athletes as learners. I am hopeful that this might mean we have a heads up pedagogy.

Photo Credit

Rain, Steam and Speed (National Gallery, CC BY-NC-ND 4.0) (Joseph Mallord William Turner, 1775 – 1851. Rain, Steam, and Speed – The Great Western Railway 1844. Oil on canvas, 91 x 121.8 cm. Turner Bequest, 1856. NG538)

Smell and Memory (Deb’s World blog post 2013)

Aap-Noot-Mies/ Primer in the classroom (Nationaal Archief, no known copyright restrictions)

Losing, Dreaming


4699957368_b5cb15beac_oI have been thinking about losing lately.

A few days ago I wrote about vicarious goalkeeping.

My goalkeeping years have come back to me this week in part because of Bert Trautmann’s death and also as a result of a number of very big defeats in sport. The most recent of these being the Australian defeat in the Second Ashes Test at Lord’s.

Back in the late 1950s, I had Bert Trautmann and Lev Yashin as my goalkeeping models.

I saw them on television, never in real life. The pictures of them were black and white and filmed from the halfway line.

From fleeting glimpses of them, I constructed my goalkeeping acrobatics. Even with these imagined movements I did concede (lots of) goals in the games I played. I could not dive in my stony lane but when I reached the recreation ground I could dive expansively on the grass.



My team lost a lot of games and as the youngest player and the goalkeeper I was held responsible by my team mates. Losing became a daily experience but as we played many games each day, winning was part of the mix too.

Years later, when I was reading Marcel Proust, I discovered a quotation from Elstir in Remembrance of Things Past:

We cannot be taught wisdom, we have to discover it for ourselves by a journey which no one can undertake for us, an effort which no one can spare us.

I am not sure if my football friends have read Proust too.

I thought we gained a lot of wisdom through play that was bound by a consensus about fairness. Losing was one of the risks you accepted in games. In my town people had lost a great deal more than football games in the preceding forty years. Losing in games was only distressing or a source of regret if you ever forgot the scale of suffering elsewhere.

I think I was fortunate to have grown up at a time when the media did not amplify performance and create constructed hopes.

Conceding goals when I played provided numerous opportunities to engage in self and other talk … as did great saves, particularly during re-plays of the FA Cup Final.  I think that is when I started commentating on performance.


In her discussion of regret, Melanie Greenberg introduces a quote from John Barrymore:

A man is not old until regrets take the place of dreams.

I have been wondering about how to hold on to dreams despite losing consistently. Melanie’s report of functional MRI brain scans has an interesting conclusion:

regret is a negative emotion that may be adaptive if it motivates action to learn from mistakes and become a smarter or better person. However, getting stuck in regret where there is nothing that can be done to change the situation can be damaging to mind and body.  … Feeling that one has done the best one can, given the circumstances and letting go of regret can lead to self-compassion and peace.

Two other quotes came into my reading today and encouraged me to think about dealing with losing and having a sense of peace:

Blaise Pascal

the sole cause of man’s unhappiness is that he does not know how to stay quietly in his room.

MAMuhammad Ali

the fight is won or lost far away from witnesses – behind the lines, in the gym and out there on the road, long before I dance under those lights.


I have spent much of my professional life trying to find ways to support people who have a profound work ethic that enables them to dance under public gaze. I have hoped that assiduous care in observation and the collection of performance data can support their dreams and aspirations.

The ‘wisdom’ I have is based upon making many, many mistakes and learning from occasional, fleeting success. I have a lot to thank Bert and Lev for as my introduction to losing and dreaming.

Photo Credits

Letter Home! (National Library of Scotland, no known copyright)

Parada (Imamom, CC BY 2.0)

Muhammad Ali (Frame Grab)

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)