Change or transformation?

If you will indulge me for one more post, I would like to revisit coach education and the development of the sports coach. Over the past three-years I have referred to various learning needs, a desire to improve my practice and become more effective in what I do. In doing so, I have highlighted the value, or not of the previous year’s online culture of coach interactions and the sharing of knowledge as a form of CPD. Many of these, as previously alluded to, have included the sharing of the lived experience and the individual patterns of learning of some of our ‘top’ basketball coaches. Indeed, I have taken a great deal from these engagements, but question how they translate into anything meaningful within my own practice. This is to say, I have found them insightful and interesting. I have compared some of the individual incidents within the various journeys. For example, the ‘leap’ from playing to coaching and the missed opportunities and gained experiences that make up the development journey of our coaching fraternity.

In a very separate but related activity, I sat down to a final dissertation supervision meeting with a current year 3 student. The focus of their project was the value of a coaching degree as a form of coach education. They had engaged the formal, nonformal and informal framework first put forward by Coombs and Ahmed (1974) and framed a degree as a formal activity. This got me thinking, and in a rather casual and non-scientific exercise I attempted to reflect on all the Podcasts I had listened to over the course of the last eighteen months and analyse the idiosyncratic nature of coach education. The short report to this thinking highlights a transition from playing to coaching as a way to remain in the game. It points to level 1 and 2 coach awards, and in some cases, level 3 as a means of gaining credibility and certification as a coach. And perhaps most prominent of all is networking, the sharing of ideas and engaging with fellow coaches to develop our practice. In other examples, coaches have been brave in their career choices and moved towns, cities, and even countries in pursuit of a ‘professional’ career. Unfortunately, most cite a lack of support, a structure that could possibly embrace and guide their aspirations towards professionalisation.

However, none of this is new, in fact, the Coaching Task Force (2002) and previous written attempts to report on the ‘state’ of coaching in the UK (NGB’s holding on to antiquated beliefs – Coaching Matters, 1991; standards of coaching be elevated to a professional standing – Vision for Coaching, 2001) have long discussed the professionalisation of coaching. As a result, the CTF recommended the implementation of a national certificate, a license to practice and a review of UK Coaching (then scUK). Perhaps in response to the then interest in coaching, Taylor and Garrett (2008) identified a number of characteristics of a professional field, including professional education, a career structure and pathway, and role clarity. Thus, as a return question, can basketball respond to these and other recommendations from the past twenty years with confidence? I suggest we must reflect on the breadth of employment opportunities available to the basketball coach. The EABL and DiSE (previously AASE) products have created access and opportunity through the emergence of Basketball Academies. Indeed, we have some excellent examples of partnerships with schools, FE providers and NBL / BBL teams. This being said, we do not have a professional league that retains external interest and is of a size that offers multiple employment opportunities. As a result, we must ask ourselves, what do our career structure and development pathways look like? Do we know what a professional basketball coach is? In short, we are good at theorising about the practice of sport coaching within basketball but less so when it comes to engaging in the structures and processes that lead to a more professionalised way of thinking and doing.

Coombs, P.H., & Ahmed, M. (1974). Attacking rural poverty: How non-formal education can help, Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press.

DCMS (2002). The Coaching task force-Final report. London: DCMS.

Sports Council (1991). Coaching Matters: A review of coaching and coach education in the United Kingdom. London: Sports Council (GB).

Taylor, B., & Garratt, D. (2008). The professionalisation of sports coaching in the UK: Issues and conceptualisations.

UK Sport (2001). The UK Vision for Coaching. London: UK Sport.

A return to all things coaching

‘Return to play’ has become a popular term associated with the reappearance of everything we used to know and enjoy. In fact, the phrase can be found in much of the guidance on offer from the various bodies tasked with governance and development. As we continue towards an active state, I wonder what our ‘return to coaching’ looks like? As previously discussed here, we have enjoyed a new way of doing, one that embraced the wealth of online content that was suddenly made available to us. Originally, the approach served to fill a void, that of actually coaching and turned our attentions to sharing ideas, the lived experience and upskilling our knowledge base. However, it then morphed into something more, the opportunity to learn, share and debate content, ways of doing and philosophical positions of interest in a large community of practice. Coach education could be seen to have evolved into a coach facing resource.

The terms associated with upskilling our coach community are contested and often make for confusing reading. This said, coach development, education and learning can all be considered, in the broadest terms, as a way to improve what we do. The idea of learning was previously conceptualised into three fields, a framework that continues to be employed in many academic journals and text today. The terms formal, informal and nonformal (Coombs & Ahmed, 1974) are accepted as forms of learning engaged in to improve our practice. I submit that much of what we have engaged with over the ‘COVID months’ is perhaps not as meaningful or appropriate to our coaching environments as we first thought. What do I mean? I have personally taken a great deal from the lived experience-based podcasts that I have listened to over the past several months, however, I question how they will reinstall my sense of coaching confidence and self-efficacy.

As I continue to ‘fight’ through my own deficiency in a bid to improve my practice and move to a state of effectiveness I see a very different landscape in front of me. I see young basketball players exhibiting very different levels of confidence, motivation, and a reduced willingness to engage in the same way. A diminished level of skill. And, perhaps most surprising of all, I see a declining pledge to all that we do. Perhaps this is due to the time away and the formation of new ideas, connections, and commitments. With this in mind, I find myself searching for new ways of doing the relationships that have been central to my practice. New ways of delivery, and new ways of supporting the young people in my charge. In short, there is a ‘gap’ in my practice, a void that leaves me disconnected from all things coaching and I wish to ‘fill’ it, to regain my ‘mojo’ and continue from the point at which I left.

This weekend sees a ‘return to play’, actual competition (Central Venue League). I wonder what the impact of our forced hiatus will be. What will our behaviours look like? Will we be overly instructional and directive. Will our coaching be free from the guiding light of the emotional intelligence spotlight as we ‘fight’ to demonstrate our value and regain a sense of our coach identity. I suspect that there will be evidence to support the presence of ‘over coaching’, that many of us will try to ‘sprint’ to our ‘old’ coaching selves in a bid to exonerate our own ontological sense of being. I am just not that sure that the results of such behaviour will be positive. In fact, who knows what the weekend will bring. I certainly do not have all, or even some of the answers. What I have is a nervousness, one that I am sure I will overcome very quickly, but one that is there, nevertheless.

Coach Perspective: Arranging our view

For anyone that has read a tweet, blog entry or FP post published by yours truly, the sight of a fairway or trail picture is a constant to my ramblings on all matters coaching. The pictures are typically from the same golf course or MTP route and represent my multiple views, the way I frame reality from differing perspective. This is to say, each day presents a new challenge, a new problem to solve and a new way of navigating the 150-yard approach or the 15-foot drop-off.

On my drive down the A15 at 05:05 this morning I mussed over my latest offering, the sunrise drenched 13th fairway of my members club when it suddenly dawned on me. As coaches we operate in a socially constructed reality shaped by the actors and agencies that frequent our space and the multiple influences garnered by our experiential interactions. As basketball coaches we are all presented with similar issues, that of steering the 3-dimensional dance in a bid to be effective in our practice and affect positive change in the people we work with. Yes, there are levels of operation that demand subtle differences in the way we approach our coaching, but the overarching challenges are the same. Where we differ is the way we chose to tackle the challenge, how we see our charges and approach the task at hand.

My epiphany was one of social constructionism, a joined-up reality that paints a picture of coaching practice. Indeed, I am pretty sure (I don’t know for certain of course) that the UK basketball coaching community share similar views, ideologies, and ways of doing that align in some way, shape or form. This must be true as through our interactions, exchanges and debates we share ideas, learn, and teach when and where possible, and are afforded multiple opportunities to build on what we know. Yet we are all different and approach our practice in different ways. Cushion refers to this as coaching ‘in’ and ‘through’ our practice. In other words, we engage in behaviours and models of coaching as a way to solve problems and in act learning.

Perhaps, with this in mind, it is time to come together and say that what we do and how we do it ‘depends’ on the context, the level of play/competition, and the situation we are faced with. Perhaps it is time to stop worrying about ‘what’ we are doing (to a point of course) and concentrate more on why we are doing it. What do I mean? As a coach interested in what we do during our interactions I utilise the term ‘behaviours’ as a way to describe distinct actions performed by the coach at any given moment. What I gain from this is a frequency model, Coach A demonstrated x number of instructions during the timeout phases of competition. I think this is an exciting, and important starting point, one that builds on forty-plus years of systematic research into the behaviours of the coach. However, I hope to move to a very specific setting, that of basketball competition and realise exactly what it is we are doing and why.

My research to-date tells me that each coach is very different, their behavioural profiles (if you wish to use that term) paint a divergent picture of the same setting – Regional Standard Basketball Competition. Does this mean that one is more or less effective than the next practitioner? I doubt that is the case. So, what does it tell us? Much like my fairways and trails, coaching practice is a socially constructed phenomena, it is idiosyncratic, chaotic, and very much the ‘messy swamp land’ Jones described it as. It is also a similar reality, one that we must navigate together as a way of creating new meaning and new ways to make each other more effective in our individual way of doing.

We were on a break: returning to effective practice

Week three of my return to the court and we are on a break! It is the May Bank Holiday, and our venue is closed. Reflecting on the two sessions since the ‘Return to Play’ leaves me divided. I am currently working with a wide range of colleagues, coaches with storied backgrounds, levels of experience and years of engagement. In fact, I feel quite lucky to have the opportunity to put forward my position, politick and muse over the pedagogical conundrum of ‘how to coach’. Indeed, we often move between variations of constructivist and behaviourist sensibilities in a bid to reflect our own knowledge and understanding of effective coaching. As a result, my intentions are clear, I have an enthusiasm for a return that engenders a greater athlete voice and moves me to the ‘shadows’, a position that is well documented within my planning, yet still my execution is left wanting.

My research over the past six years as led me to many corners of the debate, reasons for and against. However, there is an overwhelming presence, an evidence base that tugs on the thinking of many and puts forward a strong argument for autonomy supportive pedagogy. An approach that is underpinned by effective questioning, places the athlete at the centre of the process and reflects a symbiotic relationship. I would argue that many coaches are now aware of Jowett’s position that coaching is a relational activity, one that thrives on interpersonal connectivity. I consider myself to be a follower and have tried to develop my ability to engage and converse with athletes at their level, in their time and on their terms – a way of doing that I was introduced to as a National Teaching Fellow. In short if we want to engage students in a topic we must visit ‘their world’.

To this end, my questioning has improved, and I have worked hard to reduce the concept of ‘tell’ from my behavioural profile and embrace divergent probes in a bid to engage the ‘whole’ athlete. However, when faced with adversity, challenge in the form of a lack of understanding I found myself battling to resist the ‘tell phenomenon’, the low road to short term gain. Afterall, regardless of how we frame our practice, we are all contributors to the Player Pathway, and as such, we each have a responsibility to support elite and personal referenced excellence. However, to be effective, we must continue to practice from a place of authenticity, the ‘true’ coach-self, which takes me back through my many posts to the question of philosophy, why do we do what we do and how do our values and beliefs shape the behaviour we put forward as our true coach-self. Cassidy et al. (2009) referred to the concept as “a set of principles that guide an individual’s practice” (p57). The suggestion being that an effective session will reflect why we do what we do.

As I ponder the content for my third return to practice, I see chaos, games, conversations and challenges that are healthy, spirited, and most importantly of all, are underpinned by the concept of a motivational climate of learning. I see it, I can plan it, I absolutely believe in it. My remaining challenge is to effectively recreate the scene in my practice and through my behaviours.

Take two

Second session back, my ‘coaching legs’ are just about stable and the initial anxieties of session one all but vanished. My intention, from the conclusion of session one was to improve on my delivery, have more courage to implement the whole of my plan as opposed to just the small sided games. I wanted to see the constraints applied to the players exploration of tactical knowledge and execution and promote a two-way challenge between coach and athlete. In short, I wanted to foster a new way of thinking, one that reveals basketball players as more than empty vessels awaiting content through instruction and direction.

During my nine to five I have occasion to deliver different sports. This week I had engaged with volleyball and introduced several concepts associated with differentiation to enable students to explore coaching pedagogy, and in particular the application of the STEPS principle. We played volleyball with balls of various shapes and sizes, we reduced the court parameters and the number of participants per team, and most controversial of all, we introduced the ‘catch’ as a recognised shot. Our small-sided games were meaningful, spirited and a great deal of fun. I wanted to apply the same thinking and doing to my basketball practice. So, with a pep in my step I marched into session two ready to continue my courageous endeavour, one that would separate us from the traditional doing of historic basketball practice. Unfortunately, it was not to be, I was greeted with a new presence to our practice setting, a higher being, one that insisted that we “watch them play” in a bid to identify and select ‘talent’ for our flagship programme.

I did my best to interact with players, discuss their previous years experiences why they waited for their turn. I gained some satisfaction in the fact that the sixty or so young people were playing sport, they were engaged in what I had once called a three-dimensional dance, and all seemed happy to be back playing. I on the other hand wanted more for them. I had planned, anticipated, and pictured a very different two hours of learning and exploration. Perhaps that was my coach-centred self framing the ‘perfect’ practice environment? I hope not. I merely wanted to return to practice and employ the actions and reactions deemed appropriate within a coach setting.

I left practice less than satisfied, disappointed in my inability to ‘push back’, to challenge convention and move us to a more contemporary way of doing. I sat and reflected on what had passed. The young basketball players, for the most part were smiling, happy, sometimes loud, and all the time playing or waiting to play. Surely that should be the victory? I wasn’t so sure. I retreated to my ‘position statement’, my reason for coaching and for appointing myself as coach. I saw fun, respect, honesty, effortful engagement, and learning. It might have been chaotic, but it was very close to be all of the things I strive for. It just looked different. Much of the associated research literature refers to coaching in this vein. Perhaps the session was more of a success than I wish to admit? Who knows?

The road back to coaching

Like much of the world (I imagine) the pandemic has given me pause for thought, an opportunity to reflect on my coach-self in a bid to define, and perhaps more importantly, redefine my coach identity. To begin with (lockdown 1.0) I engaged in podcasts, Zoom calls, individual conversations and additional reading as a way to embrace the gift of time and improve my practice in the absence of practice. It was exciting, in fact, I wrote pages and pages of notes, ‘to do’ lists and references to further self-help, instructional and biographical material. If nothing else, I was going to be more informed, knowledgeable and ready to re-enter the hardtops of West Yorkshire. The problem was, I was doing a great deal of theorising and no practice, I was holding on to volumes of information with no opportunity to explore, discover or reflect on my actions and reactions. Instead, I started to muse over my coach-identity, who my coach-self was and what purpose my coaching served.

Many of my engagements with lockdown learning material had reflected contact with the lived experience, biographical journeys through the coaching lives of many practitioners. Indeed, I too had shared my story, and in doing so, I uncovered a reality yet to be recognised. I was a part-time coach, I entered and exited the domain with little more than six to eight hours of exposure to the coach-athlete interactions I enjoyed. For many years I have sought the title of coach, chasing voluntary positions in a bid to gain recognition and be seen as a coach of standing. In support of this goal, I have enjoyed various modes of learning, education and upskilling in a bid to add credibility to my coach title. However, in the midst of a forced hiatus I found myself re-prioritising, returning to family and friends and indulging in secondary activities such as mountain biking and golf. In short, my coach-self had retreated in a bid to allow me time and space to reimagine my practice.

Some 13-months later and I walked through the arena doors to a crowd of young people, there was a hustle and excitement in the air, everybody appeared relieved to be back on the hardwood and ready to reengage in the three-dimensional artistry we call ‘Ballin’. I had sat the previous evening contemplating my return, diagramming our practice and theorising my contribution. I was keen to move away from blocked practice and promote a more variable version of learning. One that I had mused over, promoted within my contribution to the Player Development Framework, and now was excited to implement. Williams and Hodges (2005) introduce the concept of game intelligence, an overarching term that captures the importance of player anticipation and decision-making. I too had reported many times on the need to promote and encourage basketball players to become independent thinking athletes and reject the overt instructional behaviours exhibited by many during competition. This was my chance to be true to my thinking.

I drew a breath, expelled through my Wilson whistle and called the crowd to attention. I was suddenly very aware of the multiple eyes and attentions focused in my direction. I scanned the room, smiled and with great pleasure, welcomed myself and co practitioners back to the world of coaching basketball.

Who Am I?

I was asked to write something about myself in contribution to a student project, the focus was Black History Month and the passionate students were attempting to shine a light on every day stories. In short, they were looking for biographies that were ‘closer to home’ and that might resonate with them and their audience. Unfortunately, questions were asked about the content and as yet, the project has failed to garner support, and thus remains behind closed doors. However, having spent some time recalling many unpleasant memories, I did not want my efforts to go unread. What follows is a brief biographical portrait, one that I hope is presented to you in the true spirit of #BHM.

Beenie Man poses a profound question in his hit single[1], “Who Am I?” This characterization question (Schechtman, 1996[2]) seeks to unravel notions of personhood and self-identity towards the conceptualization of self, and the distinct features of one’s personal identity. In responding to the question, I lean on the culinary, musical and social characteristics that have fashioned the man in the mirror. Indeed, I enjoyed Sunday dinner made of stewed brown chicken, yam, callaloo, fried dumplings and peas. However, Who Am I is also a reflection of the numerous battles that I have faced and continue to face. It is both an internal and external mêlée, one that I have tussled with, sought understanding from, and one that continues to define me. As such, I invite you in to view the portrait of who I am.

I, like many of African-Caribbean decent, grew up in a lone parent family household, not a bastard as I was born in wedlock, but my father left shortly after my third birthday. He was a strong man, born into abject poverty in 1941 in Clarendon, Jamaica. He spent his childhood years in a small ranch like construction, no more impressive than a makeshift shelter. He did not enjoy the privilege of formal schooling, travel or play. Yet, when presented with the opportunity, he joined the Windrush[3] generation and made his way to Britain. 

My mother, the daughter of a GI bride,[4] spent her early life in the southern States of America, in itself a challenge. On returning to Britain following the collapse of her mother’s marriage, she lived a humble life prior to meeting, and later marrying my father.  This was all at a time when segregation, discrimination and overt racism prospered.

I was born October 1970. My early childhood was littered with dreadful acts of racism, all of which were accepted behaviour in the ‘Me Decade[5]’. The overt distaste and disrespect for people of colour flourished, and to which I fell victim, over and over again. The ridiculous caricatures and the outlandish perceptions of what it was to be black penetrated my exterior and stained my soul. Indeed, the barbed insults, such as ‘Monkey’, ‘coon’, and ‘wog’, in themselves were excruciating, but the reinforcement of these thoughtless imitations of blackness left me indignant. Yet, it is not the case that these epithets were so ingrained and perpetuated by popular media, rather that they were unconscious terms wherein the agent did not understand the hurt and level of upset exacted upon me. In other words, to them they were not always used as insults, which made their use even more heinous. 

“I am not de problem, but I bare de brunt of silly playground taunts an racist stunts.”

Benjamin Zephaniah[6]

Throughout my formative years I lived in the inner-city neighbourhood of Hyson Green, a ward overwhelmed by poverty, prostitution, drugs and violence. This socially constructed habitus was my daily worldview, my socialised existence, considered by cultural participants and outside observers to be nothing more than a frozen norm. In other words, just the way it was. I recall, as an eight-year old boy (I think) one such day:

It was a normal school day, my mum had woken me as she did each day, asked me to be good, to be honest and to be just as I prepared myself. What was special about the day, to me at least, was that I had woke to a dead body in front of our flat. A young woman lay embedded in the grass verge not ten feet from our door, yet all around me life continued completely oblivious of the death. I was quickly dressed and ushered out the door and towards whatever sense of normal I could grab hold of for the day.

School was punctuated with daily incursions by ‘enemy forces’ occupying many and all fronts. The playground bully, the local gangs, and even the professionals charged with my care. Every teacher in my junior school was white, they didn’t look like me and they didn’t sound like me, yet for some reason they boasted of knowing exactly who I was. I was ‘trouble’, I ‘had an attitude’, ‘a look about me’ that would get me nowhere in life! My father would scoff, “na bodda wid dem, jus tek wat yuh need.”  This would be an education, the capital required to develop self, to better prepare for the world at large. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. School was difficult, the daily thrashing of the cane, reminiscent of the vicious punishment depicted in Roots[7]. I found both the portrayal and the reality painful. 

Moving up to the secondary school, we (I forgot to mention that I am an identical twin, a point noted by my teachers as they referenced us as “double the trouble”) were afforded the opportunity to attend Bluecoat Comprehensive School (I purposely name this institution as a classic example of structural racism), an architecturally impressive building with a reputation for advancement across its student body.

My first day on campus was illuminating to say the least. We (six students from an inner-city junior school) had come from a diversely rich environment and yet, with limited warning, found ourselves thrust into a white space. In fact, we were the first cohort of non-whites to join the school. We all knew it wasn’t going to work. The conscious intolerance for people of colour was repeatedly impressed upon us in the daily exchanges with staff and students. The racial hierachy held a dominant place deep within the fabric of the school.

Having survived compulsory education, I enrolled on a Youth Training Scheme[8] (YTS) as opposed to considering my place in further or higher education. During this period of my life, and as a young man living in Nottingham in the 1980s, I, like many people of colour, endured the popular Police stop and search[9] procedures of the time. The strategy has been widely reported to be disproportionately employed in an overly aggressive manner towards young men of colour (Equality & Human Rights Commission, 2010). I recall many such incidents, however, one exchange in particular stays with me: 

After an evening out in a city centre bar, myself, my brother, and two friends were walking home through the Chapel Bar area of Nottingham. We were suddenly, and aggressively accosted by four male police officers. Officer ‘A’ stepped in front of me and asked me where I was heading. My comeback, atypical of a 17-year old was brisk. His response was to grab me by the collar, push me up against a wall and spout “look nigger, if you want trouble you can have it.” In a sudden state of shock, my friends and I did not offer any retort or sudden movement, we merely stood compliant. The officer continued to refer to me as ‘nigger boy’ and asked if I wanted to fight him. In fact, at one point he begged me to throw a punch so that he could “put me where I belong.”

I have attempted to present my early lived life with verisimilitude. In doing so, I am able to reflect on the brutal physical and emotional reality of living black in the UK. Unfortunately, the sentiment of racial inequality has not dwindled in frequency. Time has failed to soften the tenacity of the racist, it merely offers cover, and at times, authenticity to the thinking behind the behaviour.  As an adult of some standing, I continue to face the challenges of my past. I was recently stopped by a police officer, physically handled and verbally abused because, in the officer’s words, “I looked like an immigrant.” Whilst pursuing a career in sport development I applied for a position that I believed I was more than qualified to do. Following my unsuccessful interview, the feedback was, and I quote, “you didn’t look me in the eye.” I view both incidents as examples of asymmetric communication, a power relationship that would have me respond “yes master” and cower to the prevailing power structure.

In summary, I occupy many and most spaces in solitude, striving to break through various barriers to be seen as a coach, an educator, and as a professional. Still, I continue to face ignorance, refusal and rejection, comments such as “it is nice to see someone like you here” – National Teaching Fellowship Scheme awards dinner, 2017. “How did you get this position?” – Sport England Regional Sports Board, 2009. And even more ridiculous to digest is the deeply rooted misconception buried in a statement directed at me by a manager, “don’t you go to the barbers for your drugs?” – Curriculum Team Leader, Bradford College, 2015.

The list is long, I could go on, detailing incident after incident, however, I have been asked to write of my experiences in celebration of #Black History Month. In doing so, my task was to invite you in and grant you access to my lived experience, to the person behind the colour. To this end, I have enjoyed success in many quarters. I am a five-time graduate currently engaged in Doctoral study. I am an Advanced HE[3] Senior Fellow and National Teaching Fellow recipient, the first to be recognised from Higher Education in Further Education. I am the first black UKCC[4] Level 4 coach, and one of the first three coaches to complete the programme. I have been nominated three times for the UK Coaching ‘Coach of the Year’ award and am a recipient of the 2019 Basketball England ‘Regional Coach of the Year’ award. 

I wear these achievements with pride. They provide me with a sense of accomplishment despite the treatment exacted upon me. I can say that I have coached and taught hundreds of young people, and that I have been recognised for my contributions to their lives. I cannot say that I am recognised as an equal or afforded the same respect, parity, and dignity of those alongside me. No matter the setting, the battles remain constant.

In closing, and as part of the promise[5] that underpins Black History Month, I reach out to you the reader and ask you to engage in dialogue, to allow yourself to be vulnerable so that we may begin to effect change. Shying away from the difficult conversations does not reduce the threat, it merely shelters and preserves the racial hierarchy. To challenge the very roots of racial prejudice we must speak up. We can no longer accept any level of injustice, and certainly not a George Floyd (41), Breaonna Taylor (26) or Alatiana Jefferson (28). We must seek fairness, equality, healing and freedom. 

[1] Many Moods of Moses, 1997

[2] Schechtman, M. (1996). The constitution of selves, Ithaca, Cornell University Press.

[3] People arriving in the UK from the Caribbean between 1948 and 1971. MV Empire Windrush brought workers from Jamaica

[4] War brides who married military personnel

[5] Tom Wolfe, 1976

[6] Rasta poet and Oxford Professor of Poetry nominee

[7] 1977 miniseries based on Alex Haley’s novel Roots

[8] Outlined in the 1980 white paper A New Training Initiative: A Programme for Action

[9] Police Stop and Search activity is carried out under Section 1 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (PACE)

[10] Senior Fellowship is awarded to professionals who demonstrate they meet the criteria of the Professional Standards Framework for teaching and supporting learning in higher education

[11] United Kingdom Coaching Certificate

[12] A time to rejoice and celebrate integrity, leadership and determination. It is about showing your true character.


I spent my first week back on court after a six-month hiatus. I am also looking forward to a new year, a new semester and to getting back to teaching as I prepare for the 20-21 intake of undergraduate students. This being said, it is clear to me, and all that reside on planet earth, that all will not be the same, that the status quo is a new norm, a new way of being. One that will stretch our ability to engage, interact and produce meaningful learning, learning that is of value to the athletes and students in my charge. As a result, I recently sought to better understand value, and more specifically, value within my role as teacher and coach. Questions of self-worth, worth as measured by others, and the degree of my impact on teaching, coaching and learning. For example, I was recently notified that I had been nominated for the UK Coaching Performance Coach of the Year, something that I feel very proud to be able to say. However, what does it really mean? Is it a measure of my will to coach? Or, does it reflect the impact of my coaching practice on my athletes? Do the athletes / students hold me in high regard? Maybe I ask the same of the people I work with, or perhaps my employer? Interestingly, in Rousseau (1989) Psychological Contract theory the terms of the exchange are framed along a continuum, ranging from transactional to relational and are underpinned by values and beliefs. In other words, what one wishes to gain from the exchange and how one is seen. With this in mind, I offer what somebody gave to me in response to a challenge of my psychological contract:

A father said to his daughter: You graduated with honors, here is a car that I acquired many years ago … it is several years old.

But before I give it to you, take it to the used car lot downtown and tell them I want to sell it and see how much they offer you.

The daughter went to the used car lot, returned to her father and said, “They offered me $1,000 because it looks very worn out.” The father said, “Now take the car to the pawn shop.” The daughter went to the pawn shop, returned to her father and said, “The pawn shop offered $100 because it was a very old car.” The father asked his daughter to go to a car club and show them the car.

The daughter took the car to the club, returned and told her father, “Some people in the club offered $100,000 for it since it is a Nissan Skyline R34, an iconic car and sought after by many.”

The father said to his daughter, “I wanted you to know that the right place values ​​you the right way.” If you are not valued, do not be angry, it means you are in the wrong place. Those who know your value are those who appreciate you. 

Never stay in a place where no one sees your value.

– Author Unknown

Lockdown: Developing the Coach-Self

Amidst the chaos and turmoil that has been and continues to be our pandemic experience, stories of who we are, our strength of mind and inner character present themselves across our preferred media outlets. We see examples of determination run free across the open spaces, connected networks and shared narratives of the World Wide Web. Indeed, among it all I too have been drawn in to the new norm, and as a result, jump to engage in the next Zoom or Skype call, an MS Teams clinic, and whatever is on offer in an attempt to develop self. In short, this new time and space we have been granted has allowed us to construct professional networks and to pursue visions of the effective coach-self, the very self I have waxed lyrically over in the months prior to the pandemic world and in my own corner of the web. However, I now wish to pause and consider the value of these experiences and to question exactly what it is I have gained from the new order.

The associated research literature tells us that coaches develop through a blend of informal, formal and non-formal means, and that central to this brocolage of learning is the lived experience of the practicing coach. We may wish to frame this as workplace affordance, a concept that provides us with access and opportunity to career development through our observations and experiences as a practicing coach. Indeed, much of my own research reflects this form of learning and a personal desire from each of my research participants to engage in observations and conversations as a way to clarify their understanding of the coaching process. Our latest non-formal endeavour promotes the use of social media as a way to connect with the lived experiences of others and to build meaning from their stories. Certainly, within the personal narratives we can find creativity, passion and a willingness to share what they do and why they do it. The question is, can we find learning within the experiences of others, and if so, how do we transfer this new knowledge to our own practice environment?

Non-formal learning has been situated as a prominent form of coach development, a means of advancement that has been reported to hold the most value to the practice  of the sports coach. It comes in various shapes and sizes and is often described as a clinic, seminar or webinar. This mode of development reflects the collective needs and wants of the targeted subgroup and provides opportunities for each member to interpret information through their own contextual lens. Thus, the process of learning rest with the individual and the subsequent interpretation and conceptualisation of their working knowledge. This personal agency is what moves the coach-self to engage with the lived experience of others and to successfully dissect the narrative in order to inform and shape their own practice.

Returning to our new order and the emergent provision of ‘Question & Answer’ sessions via a Zoom call, can we say with a degree of confidence that this organised and semi-systematic approach to a ‘coach conversation’ has helped to develop our coach-self? Certainly, I believe it fair and just to describe the content of the provision as a form of proximal guidance, identifying what is and isn’t known. In fact, interaction with various master coaches from around the world has been situated as a valuable means of coach development. With this in mind, I would like to position the experience as a valuable contribution to my professional development and would encourage the UK basketball coach community to pause and reflect on the musings of the knowledgeable others. In doing so, the coach-self can begin to interpret the many messages shared within the conversations and begin to construct meaning that is both personal and important to them and their context. For example, the notes I have made throughout the lockdown include consideration of communication, what I do resonating with my athletes, being curious in all that I do, and the importance of planning. The next stage for my development as a coach is to interpret these messages and frame them within my own context, something I employ us all to do.