Is there a need to relearn? That is the question that has been in my head since a chance meeting with Josh, an ex pupil, on a train a few years ago. I just didn’t know it. Not until Mark, Al and Andrew shared their vision online.
Mark, Al and Andrew have a grand plan. Of creating a space for a community of practitioners from a wide range of different sports, institutions and backgrounds to discuss learning and development in sport. They believe its time to rethink our current approach and have decided to create a forum for dialogue, where through a collective endeavour we can explore that future together in a trusting and supportive environment.
As teachers we have very few occasions to find out about our pupils once they leave secondary school for adult life. There is even less of a chance that we get honesty from them about what they thought of us. A chance meeting on a London Paddington bound train one evening gave me that experience, which has been with me ever since. I boarded the train and sat down. At the same time an ex pupil named Josh also sat down opposite me. Josh was my 1st XV fly-half in my most successful season as a school rugby coach. He was an excellent young man. I would be proud if he was my son. I instinctively asked about his studies and his life, curious to find out which direction it had taken him. We spoke to each other like we were long lost friends. However when I brought up the subject of rugby things went cold. Josh explained to me that the very last time he played rugby for the school, was the last time he played rugby never to return again. He had fallen out of love with it. Josh then paused, obviously unsure whether to say what was on his mind, but after a brief moment he pushed ahead and told me it was my fault. I still feel that jolt of guilt that hit me then, every time I think back on his words. He firmly but kindly, told me what I had done. The constant repetition of set piece moves. The constant highlighting of tactical and technical mistakes in practice and game. The inability to hide my disappointment when they failed. The singling out of individuals to drive home my points. The pressure that constantly mounted in training and playing through my coaching approach. It didn’t matter that we were successful. 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.
Do we learn from experience? Perhaps, but maybe it isn’t till we have told our story of that experience that learning can really begin. Our recall as humans might be poor and inaccurate, nevertheless the experience needs a rebirth through the act of story telling and sharing. The retelling of stories are frightening things. As the teller they can open us up and make us vulnerable to judgements of others. The retelling of stories are powerful things. They evoke memories in the listeners, who make link to their own memories and share their own stories. However the story first needs to be told. They are the initial step to take if you want change to really happen. This is when monologue can turn into dialogue, and from dialogue to conversations. Each time we revisit these stories it gives us the chance to challenge the beliefs, values and practices around them. They then in-turn create spaces in which those who are telling and listening can perhaps relearn from then.
I look forward to continuing my relearning journey with those who have been brave enough to share their stories in that coffee bar on a Wednesday night in Marlow. Exploring together what a positive learning environment in sport might look like, what systems need to implemented for that environment to flourish and what blockers we may need to overcome.
The start of that journey started with a story. What’s yours?