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.

Basketball Coach: ‘An Honest and Open Conversation About Racism’

The following ideas, thinking and practices emerged as a result of an ‘Honest and open conversation about racism’. Coach A (white male) engaged in a conversation with Coach B (black male) in an attempt to elicit the lived experience of being black in the United Kingdom. The idea was conceived out of a willingness to have an uncomfortable conversation as a way of developing cultural competence. In fact, it is true that in order to address anti-black issues we must recognise their existence in a multitude of spaces, and that these spaces contribute to structural racism.

The conversation began with Coach B sharing his personal experiences at the hands of the Police, education and sport, all considered to be social structures entrenched in battles for equality. During the conversation, terms such as ‘whiteness’, ‘institutional racism’,  ‘structural racism’, ‘prejudice’ and ‘civil rights’ were discussed, and Coach B shared his understanding of these terms. It should be noted that Coach B believes that in order to be effective in our practice, each and every coach should understand the definition and delivery of each of these terms.

  • Race – the grouping of society (humans) based on what is considered to be common physical and/or social qualities
  • Prejudice – an idea deeply rooted within an individual, organisation or sub-section of society that is driven by distaste over reason or actual experience
  • Civil Rights – an essential component of democracy in as much as they seek to guarantee the rights of everybody
  • Equality – an equal condition, be that social or otherwise, in promotion of access and opportunity to goods and services
  • Exercise of Power – power structures serve to influence and shape society through their organisation and statue
  • Structural Racism – “A system in which public policies, institutional practices, cultural representations, and other norms work in various, often reinforcing ways to perpetuate racial group inequity” (The Aspen Institution)
  • Institutional Racism – racism expressed in social and political institutional

What a coach can do to be effective:

  • Communication – consider how you communicate with your charges, and more importantly, how equitable your dialogue is. This may include the use of colloquial terms, colourful language and/or sweeping generalisations that marginalise the recipient. As a general rule, we should be aware of the content, context, timing and frequency of our information-giving and acceptance behaviours.
  • Language is perhaps a consideration within our communication profile; however, it is important that we do not attempt to ridicule, imitate or possess what is not ours. In other words, our language should be authentic, appropriate and non-bias. Furthermore, it should not be pejorative, so we must understand the origins of language and how words may contribute to minimisation of a community (see below for examples):

Coloured – Racial slur, ethnic descriptor employed in South Africa to describe non-whites
Half-Caste – Impure, unequal, cast-off
Nigger – originally denoted black people, the word was used to oppress and segregate people. The word has been described as the most ‘loaded and troublesome’ word in the English language

  • Coaching Practice – within our practice, do we offer equality in access to opportunities, these include, demonstration, response, questioning and time (both personal and collectively)? In order to provide an equitable learning environment, each and every individual should feel as though they have a voice, that they are heard, and that they can come to you as the coach should the need arise.
  • Empathy not sympathy – the Black Lives Matters campaign is about acknowledging the imbalance, the lack of parity within the structures and systems that serve to marginalise and reduce the importance of the black community. What is needed is a collective representation from ALL that equality should be front and centre to all that we do. What the black community do not need is for an individual to live their life in an attempt to sympathise with them. Again, this point goes back to the concept of authenticity.
  • Removal of stereo typing – a point very closely linked to language and communication, but nevertheless a very important consideration within the philosophy, thinking and practice of the basketball coach. Expectancy theory suggests that sport coaches formulate opinions with regards to their athletes ability. We must be mindful of the perceptions we construct and ensure that they do not include any bias, discrimination or judgement based a specific stereotypes.
  • Voice – allowing all within our charge to have a voice, to be heard and understood.