Once again I ventured to a coffee bar in Marlow to listen and tell stories about sport. Those who sat around the table, from high performance to grass roots participation, came to share their stories about what has been troubling them. Stories are important to tell and important to listen to. They set the scene and convey the emotion of the story teller. They help us to enter conversations with the rest of our community to develop a certain way of talking, asking, answering and sense making, that will allow the narrative to deepen and flourish. Stories are told, links are made, and moments appear for the sharing of further stories, building a rich tapestry of sporting experiences.
It is clear that many of the experiences shared make us deeply unhappy. We are unhappy with how sport is managed in this country. We are unhappy with how talent is identified and developed. We are unhappy with how academies treat their young players. We are unhappy about how much pressure is put onto young children who want to play sport. We are unhappy about how secondary schools teach sport in the curriculum. We are unhappy about the experiences of sport and games children receive at primary school. We are unhappy about the quality of provision of coach/teacher education, especially for those working with children. We are unhappy with the system. We want the system to change. But we are part of the system. We are the system.
But before we try to change the system, I believe we have to change ourselves. As teachers and coaches of sport, we are the some total of our past experiences. We generally teach the way we were taught and taught to teach. We are socialised by our working environments, not willing to step away from the norm just in case we won’t be accepted. We then become the custodians of practices that might not necessarily be the best, instead doing what has been done before and never questioning why. To begin to change we need open to our own story. In reality I have three stories that have change my path from the one I was on. I have shared two previously. A train journey ride with an ex pupil who gave me brutally honest feedback on my coaching style, and an incident at a school fixture and the constrasting approaches between the experienced opposition coach and the NQT in my department. I’m not sure how much these would have resonated with me if it hadn’t been for my first experience, that made me start to question if something might be wrong:
When I first took over as Director of Sport, almost 6 years ago, I was given the task to raise participation numbers in our extra-curricular sports programme of rugby, football and cricket. Numbers were low and declined when children moved up the school. In certain year groups, in certain sports, we didn’t have enough numbers to make a team. I spoke to my department about the reasons why. Facilities? Transport home? Competing factors on children’s time? School sport no longer as important as it used to be? Increased workload on teachers? Lack of support from parents? Pressure on results? All reasonable answers, and in reality probably contributing factors to the problems. Many of them were beyond my control and I felt lost, until a colleague reminded me we hadn’t asked the most important people, the children. We surveyed every child in Year 7 to 11 about the reasons why they didn’t voluntary come to after school practices and why they dropped out if they did. The key two pieces of feedback from 640 pupils was that our teaching and coaching wasn’t fun and they didn’t get to play enough. So in response I took a series of observations of our teaching and coaching of sports. I observed alone. I observed with my department. I observed with others from outside of the department. None of us could see what the problem was. Then on a Monday afternoon I went to observe 128 boys in Year 7 play rugby. I watched four different teachers teach and was impressed. The lessons were active, there was lots of teaching and feedback going on, clear instructions were given. As I walked away up the slope our playings field have, talking and muttering to myself about what might be wrong, I turned back to look at the four lessons going on from a far. This was when I finally got my answer. Standing away from the busyness of the lessons I saw something very different. I saw around 40 children working on an isolated skill, with the rest waiting for their turn. A small group in each lesson would practice, no doubt make a mistake, get feedback from a member of staff who pointed out what they were doing wrong. They would then trot back to take up their position in the line and wait patiently for their next attempt. Zooming out from the teaching had given me a perspective that I didn’t have before. When I zoomed back in I saw things I had missed. The faces of the children weren’t happy. The feedback from the teachers were negative and focusing on what they did wrong. The faces of the staff weren’t happy either. It was then I began to think if their might be a different approach to learning sport.
If, like us, you feel that there might be a different way of doing that to the one you currently provide or observe then you should make contact with Mark, Al or Andrew. Come along to the next session and tell your story and become part of a movement that that deeply wants to create environments for helping people be their best in sport, whatever level or ability. If you can accept that solutions might not be given, that the process may be an uncomfortable one and you may leave with more questions than when you started, then Relearn may be just the community of learning for you.