The Show Must Go On: 2014 Reflections

What a year it’s been. When you look back on the highs and lows of 2014, the year seems to have come and gone in the blink of an eye, yet many occurrences seem a distant memory already! How has your year gone? From a coaching year at the outstanding Millfield School, to a Physical Education PGCE and coaching position at Cardiff Metropolitan University, here are just four themes that might be worth sharing, as they have consistently reared their heads at various points throughout a hugely challenging, enlightening and enjoyable year.

1) The Power of Social Media
It would be interesting to ask Mario Balotelli, Kevin Pietersen, Welsh Rugby’s Liam Williams and Blackpool FC Chairman Karl Oyston what their views are now of social media – Twitter in particular. For all four are just a handful of sporting figures that have been caught out recently and sanctioned by their respective governing bodies for inappropriate use. A large number of people remain wary of Twitter – perhaps understandably so. The sending of one tweet or photo however innocently intentioned, can instantly reach hundreds of thousands of people, causing huge unwanted controversy and media attention. Schools, clubs, universities, businesses – almost every industry now has its own social media policy which speaks volumes about the growth of the internet and sites such as Twitter and Facebook in recent times.

That said, these sites if used appropriately are an extremely powerful tool. I’ll admit – I wasn’t an avid twitter user before 2014. Having had the chance to see the effect it can have has swayed me however. What other piece of technology allows you post or promote something that instantly reaches hundreds of thousands of people around the world? What better way can you keep people that have an interest in your school or club informed about recent developments? Better still how about you raise some money? Though not sporting examples you only need to think back to the worldwide craze of ‘No Make Up Selfies’ and ‘ALS Ice Bucket Challenges’ earlier in 2014 that raised in excess of £100m between them. How crazy is that?! At the end of the day social media, if used with common sense can give you and/or your organisation great exposure to the rest of the community and indeed the world! If you haven’t jumped on the bandwagon yet – DO.

2) Empowerment: Just an Illusion?
When you discuss empowerment in a university lecture it seems like a piece of cake; a pedagogical theory that shouldn’t be too difficult to apply in a practical coaching, teaching or indeed any other environment.

How many times have you asked a question to your audience of pupils, players or team – listened to their response, and ended up actually getting them to agree with what you already had in the back of your mind? Umm I have! This isn’t always a bad thing (though make sure you do actually listen to the response!) but it shows that empowerment can be nothing more than just an illusion. You appear to be giving learners the opportunity to interpret the instructions or task in the way they see fit. They’re supposed to be developing independence and demonstrating creativity.

But what if the learner’s interpretation of your instructions is not what you want? Take Felipe Alviar-Baqeuro off 2014’s The Apprentice, who interpreted Alan Sugar’s vague instruction of “find a full sized anatomical skeleton” as a cheaper folded up paper version as an alternative to the more traditional sculpture – arguably within the guidelines of the instructions. What happened when Sugar found out? He got rid of him, but not before humiliating him for trying to be smart. Isn’t part of empowerment trying to think outside the box? Shouldn’t you as the established figure expect your learners to do this? Apparently not in this case, which begs the question that empowerment might actually be just an illusion – for the learners end up doing what you wanted them to do anyway!

Empowerment can be a hugely effective coaching and teaching strategy, though it needs careful management, patience and most importantly an open mind! It is important to remember you cannot micro-manage every aspect of the process – be it teaching, coaching or an alternative avenue of work. Kevin Pietersen’s controversial autobiography conveyed that message at least. At some point you have to trust your players or learners to make the right decisions. As long as you have provided the foundations and are that scaffolding figure to facilitate the decision making process, that is sometimes all you can hope for.

3) The Shackles of Structure
Now here’s an interesting one for you, and one that I have perhaps mentioned before on previous posts. Have you got the perfect lesson, session or presentation safely written down, stored away? The answer should be a firm no. Why? Because you can’t plan for the perfect lesson, you just can’t. I’ve had many a coaching sessions and school lessons that have gone better than I ever hoped they could go. Doing them again with a different player or class the next day, I have come away confused and frustrated as they were a mere shadow of yesterday’s efforts.
Again, why? The lesson in essence was the same as in it followed the same structure, the same activities and tasks. Maybe this in itself is the problem as every session/lesson needs to be tailored to the specific group. More importantly though it is those aspects of the session – the aspects ‘out of essence’ – that can determine success; the conversations, the mood of yourself and the class, the interaction, the on-the-spot improvisation of activities – the list goes on!

2014 has taught me (and 2015 will continue to!) one of the most important lessons a coach/teacher needs – a large part of success comes through improvisation, and you cannot plan for this. Some of the most productive sessions and lessons this year have lacked a detailed plan (perhaps in the light of day as a PGCE student not the best idea!) – moreover they have had a specific goal within a theme. The journey to reach that goal is one of flexibility, experimentation and improvisation. It is liberating to coach or teach without a written plan of what is exactly going to take place in the next hour. Simply because I don’t always know, and that is how it should be, rather than taking the robotic approach of continuing along the guidelines of the lesson plan just because it is there.

Try it next time you coach – go in there with a theme, a clear idea of what you want your player/s to achieve but remain very open about how it happens. You’ll be amazed at the outcome!

4) Hard Work Always Wins
It might seem an obvious statement, and actually it really is. How many opportunities are there though to take the easy option? Over the course of 2014 there will have been many opportunities for each and every one of us to take that easy option. Only you will know what the outcome was as a result of that choice, but one thing that 2014 has reiterated to me is that hard work ALWAYS wins. Whether it’s that willingness to attend to that extra layer of detail, to go that extra mile to put someone at ease or help them out, or to use your time off adding to your skill set instead of sitting idly by. With this of course comes the importance of rest, and I hope the Christmas period has allowed you all to recharge your batteries somewhat for the term and year ahead.

2015 will no doubt be another busy one with many challenges along the way. Bring it on!

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