#coachlearninginsport: Phoebus moments



I have been thinking about how coaches transform their own and others’ learning environments.

I thought it might be instructive to look at how Edward Elgar found Phoebus moments to stimulate his creativity.

I wondered too if a mention of Rebecca Solnit might be of interest.

At its heart, this is a lost and found post.

Edward’s Dark Place

Edward composed a work for voices and orchestra in 1900 titled The Dream of Gerontius. The first performance of  was in the Birmingham Town Hall on 3 October 1900. One account of the evening notes:

The performance was considered a complete catastrophe, although the work itself gained some recognition. The lack of adequate rehearsal time became apparent as the chorus clearly did not know their parts.

Another account refers to the evening as “one of the great fiascos of musical history”.

Edward is reported to have become very depressed as a result of the premier.

Finding Himself

Martin Buzacott has researched Edward’s life.  In his discussion of Elgar The Cyclist, he observes “cycling allowed him to recover quickly from the disappointment in Birmingham”.

Martin adds:

Within a year of first taking to Worcestershire’s country lanes on two wheels, he began writing those long, loping melodies for which he would become famous – the Pomp and Circumstance Marches, the gorgeous viola tune of the Introduction and Allegro for Strings, and the Symphony No 1, not to mention his majestic The Apostles, a work whose climax was well-documented as having emerged during cycling expeditions.

His first bike, a Royal Sunbeam, cost £21. He named this bike Mr Phoebus. The first version lasted three years.

The name, Mr Phoebus, came from a character in Benjamin Disraeli’s novel, Lothair.


His cycling career lasted a decade. He had covered 1300 miles by 1903 and moved on to his second Sunbeam bicycle.

When he moved to Hereford in 1904 he cycled most of the way from Malvern. Kevin Allen has written about these years in Elgar the Cyclist.

Martin Buzacott produced an Elgar travelogue for ABC’s Classic FM in 2014. He wrote:

Two things struck me about the places Elgar cycled. One was just how steep some of the hills that he cycled over were. I myself had just come from France where I’d ridden my bike up the toughest climbs of the Tour de France, and even though Birchwood where Elgar learned to cycle doesn’t exactly compare with Alpe d’Huez, its location made me realise just how physically fit Elgar must have been to ride up that, and so many other surrounding hills, on heavy fixed-gear and two-speed bicycles.

The second thing I noticed was just how dangerous the roads were for cyclists – narrow, pot-holed, locked-in by high hedges, and downright scary when speeding cars came careering around the blind corners. While taking evasive action, I understood all too well why the rise in popularity of motor vehicles caused Elgar to give cycling away at the end of his halcyon creative decade 1900-1910.


There is a general agreement that cycling had an immense impact on his composition. One of his riding partners, Rosa Burley, remembered:

Our cycling trips began in earnest after Gerontius… There cannot have been a lane within twenty miles of Malvern that we did not ultimately find … to Upton, to Tewkesbury or Hereford, to the Vale of Evesham … to the lovely village on the west side of the hills … as we rode, he would often become silent and I knew that some new melody or, more probably, some new piece of orchestral texture, had occurred to him.

Finding Yourself Whilst Lost

Edward’s decade of cycling had an immense impact on the composition of music in the early twentieth century. He found himself on Dr Phoebus after his experience in Birmingham in 1900. His Phoebus experiences created space for him to move away from his perception of failure and the related depression.

As I was researching his experiences of a change of focus, I came across Maria Popova’s review of Rebecca Solnit’s A Field Guide to Getting Lost. This sentence struck me from an introductory essay:

Leave the door open for the unknown, the door into the dark. That’s where the most important things come from, where you yourself came from, and where you will go.

In a different essay, Rebecca writes about one aspect of loss as “the unfamiliar appearing”. She suggests:

Looking forward you constantly acquire moments of arrival, moments of realization, moments of discovery. The wind blows your hair back and you are greeted by what you have never seen before. The material falls away in onrushing experience.


What space?

Edward and Rebecca offer some fascinating insights into how a change of environment can be transformative.

I am left thinking about how we support coaches and athletes to explore different spaces. I do see very strong resonances here with the #relearn conversations that will be occurring in the next month in England.

Edward had some well established maps to help him as well as experienced riding companions. Rebecca’s discussion of loss is itself a guide. Part of my next personal learning will be addressing how to be present during those wind blowing your hair back moments when coaches are greeted by new experiences.

Photo Credits

Edward Elgar and his Royal Sunbeam bicycle

Riding the Sunbeam 1903.

Elgar Birthplace Museum, Lower Broadheath.

In the clouds (Joe Hunt, CC BY 2.0)

#UCSIA15 Opening Eyes a Little Wider?


#UCSIA15 is a free, open, online course that explores informatics and analytics in sport contexts.

It starts on 23 February and will run for a month as a course.

Thereafter the resources will remain available … openly.

One of the themes in the course is Audiences and Messages. My hope is that this theme will enable us to discuss how we craft stories and share them.
Wolfgang Iser (1976) suggests that when we produce a story to share we should think carefully about how we construct the story and imagine the recipients of the story. He notes that any story has “a network of response-inviting structures” that enable the reader or the listener “to grasp the text”.

In the introduction to their e-book on Data and Design (2014), Trina Chiasson and her colleagues at Infoactive note Maria Popova’s (2009) description of data visualisation at “the intersection of art and algorithm”. Maria adds:

Ultimately, data visualization is more than complex software or the prettying up of spreadsheets. It’s not innovation for the sake of innovation. It’s about the most ancient of social rituals: storytelling. It’s about telling the story locked in the data differently, more engagingly, in a way that draws us in, makes our eyes open a little wider and our jaw drop ever so slightly. And as we process it, it can sometimes change our perspective altogether.

I was thinking about the connection between Wolfgang’s “network of response-inviting structures” and Maria’s jaw-dropping whilst looking at some of Neil Charles’ recent work.

I think his three-part discussion of How to Do Football in Analysis in Tableau is outstanding and I hope it will be an important resource for #UCSIA15.

What stopped me in my tracks was Neil’s visualisation of the Football Analyst network.

Multicoloured+-+smallerSource: Neil Charles, Football analyst network vis: New and improved! (29 January 2015, accessed 12 February 2015)

Neil’s interactive version of the map can be found here.

The impact on me was similar to my first sighting of the Republic of Letters project.

In Maria’s terms, the creativity that produced the visualisation did draw me in, opened my eyes a little wider but my jaw dropped more than ‘ever so slightly’.

I liked the transparency of Neil’s achknowledgements at the end of the post:

Thanks go to…

@balbezit for the tips, Gephi for a brilliant bit of visualisation software and to Scott Hale for his fantastic Sigma.js exporter that was used to build the interactive vis.

A few months ago, I suggested that #UCSIA15 aspires to be a modest open online course rather than a massive open online course.

As I have searched for resources to support the course, I do think modesty and humility is the best way to frame the course.

There are wonderful resources available in the public internet.

I am hopeful that the connectivist approach we are bringing to the course will allow us to share these resources and expand our knowledge of them and their remarkable creators.

Photo Credit

Cooperation Game (David McSpadden, CC BY 2.0)

Connecting 131009


I enjoyed an exchange yesterday about my Connection 131008 post with Irmeli Aro.

Irmeli observed that “I’ve discovered the most heartfelt and productive collaboration through disconnected nomadism!” In my haste to respond, I wrote about my admiration for Irmeli’s connectedness. In terms of the Dan Pontefract’s matrix I was sharing, I thought Irmeli was a wonderful example of a collaborative learner.

I was thinking about the personal learning network Irmeli has developed when I read in OLDaily today that Stephen Downes will be discussing self-directed learning. Stephen linked to Jeff Cobb’s post about self-directed learning.

In his post, Jeff proposes that “the successful lifelong learner”:

  • Takes initiative
  • Is comfortable with independence
  • Is persistent
  • Accepts responsibility
  • Views problems as challenges, not obstacles
  • Is capable of self-discipline
  • Has a high degree of curiosity
  • Has a strong desire to learn or change
  • Is self-confident
  • Is able to use basic study skills
  • Organizes his or her time
  • Sets an appropriate pace for learning
  • Develops a plan for completing work
  • Has a tendency to be goal-oriented
  • Enjoys learning

Stephen picked up on Jeff’s point about being comfortable with independence:

Self-directed learners do not always act autonomously or independently. Indeed, increasingly they must cultivate their networks to learn effectively. Nonetheless, successful self-directed learners know how to be self-reliant.

Perhaps this is where my exchange with Irmeli comes together … nomads are self-reliant but have some fundamental lessons to share with others in an eco system flourishing through cooperative and collaborative networks.

Today brought another example of the opportunities to learn through open sharing. Paper.li brought me a link to Maria Popova’s post on How to be an Educated Consumer of Infographics.

I have been think a lot about visualising data after visiting the Sydney Moderns exhibition. I liked the quote from David Byrne in Maria’s post “It’s not easy, as one can be seduced relatively easily by colors, diagrams and funny writing”.

I take one of the real benefits of connecting with our networks is that our seduction helps us to appreciate and learn. (Beth Kanter’s post is an excellent first step.)

I am hopeful that connecting does enable us to become the connoisseurs Elliot Eisner so appreciated and enabled to flourish.

Exchanging ideas with a colleague in Finland from rural New South Wales in Australia underscores just how exciting trying to become a connoisseur can be.

Photo Credit

Practicing (Irmeli Armo, CC BY NC-ND 2.0)