“Sometimes Excel just has to be beaten into submission”
After many hours of staring at screens and wrestling with Excel, I have finished my final work on the “Introduction to Infographics and Data Visualization” course.
What started as interest in infographics turned into an understanding of how data should be presented in order to clarify and educate, rather than to obfuscate.
Not knowing what you don’t know
Do you know much about defence spending as part of GDPs, tax rates around the world for incomes over $300K, or the Eigen factor? Neither did I before this course started!
The sketch to the right shows my idea for an infographics showing how defence spending as a proportion of GDP is correlated with geographical location around the Middle East.
This is an example of the work we were assigned: look at existing data and how it was presented, then come up with an alternative way of presenting that data.
Marks were not given according to drawing ability (thankfully). Instead, we were encouraged to start with a blank sheet of paper and start with the end in mind.
This then lead to storyboarding and telling a story for the reader using images. My first effort on Academic tenure and what it means for University education in the USA can be seen here.
Thematic mapping and data:ink ratios
The course started off with reading chapters from Alberto Cairo’s “The Functional Art” plus watching video lectures. Extra reading included Stephen Few’s “Data Visualization for Human Perception” which goes through in some detail how the human eye can perceive height and depth, but less able to perceive area.
This is important when choosing which type of graphic to use to present the data.
Pie charts are popular but are ineffectual in showing comparisons amongst data sets.
(The exception being this Yoda pie chart!)
It is easy to get caught up in what looks cool, rather than what is easy to interpret.
Pretty is different from functional.
Once you have chosen the right type of graphic, it then has to be made easy to read. The default option of programmes like Excel is to make things overcomplicated, but pretty.
A few simple edits and background effects that add little meaning can be removed, such as:
extra words on axes
too many different colours
text that is replicated in charts
This increases the data: ink ratio
Making my eyes bleed
Throughout the course, Cairo emphasised that design came first, the ability to use the software came second.
We were given access to adobe illustrator and tableau publishing software to help produce the graphics. However, I thought I would use Excel as I have got continued access to that.
I designed my Coach’s dashboard, then tried to programme accordingly. I then got sucked into a vortex of functions, formulae errors, circular references and other pop up boxes that constantly reminded me why I avoid spreadsheets.
My coach’s dashboard was designed to show an overall picture of work being done in the gym with that on the field and in matches. My experience has shown that often no one sees the overall work being done. (With young athletes factor in different sports and p.e lessons and the result is a shambles).
Here it is:
This is the front page of the Excel document, with test data and individual programming on the other sheets. The spin button is designed to scroll through players so that the coach can see how much work is being done by each player.
I split it into current work and future work. That way the coach can see how things are looking over the next 4 weeks, compared to the last 4 weeks. Pitch and gym time can be planned accordingly.
Without the overall picture, it is difficult to see what is going to happen.
That was the theory: having the programming skill of an amoeba stopped it from working as I had wished!
The course was well set up with interaction amongst students, practical work, lectures and reading. I learnt quite a bit and in conjunction with reading Dan Roam’s back of the napkin, I think that my ability to use diagrams and portray data has improved.
This is an essential part of communication which almost every Coach says is important when coaching.
I absolutely detested getting stuck with Excel, exactly what I had tried to avoid. However, I have come through the other side and whilst no Excel Jedi, I might be an acolyte. (Too much time on Excel will lead to the Dark Side I am sure).
Thanks to Alberto Cairo for running the course. The opening quote came from Tara Richerson who runs a good blog on excel for educators and gave some great feedback to me. Thanks to Ollie Whitehead for providing some of the data.
Effective leaders bring out the best in people, they do this through inspiring hope,being mindful and coaching with compassion (1).
That was one snippet from my recently completed 6 week course led by Richard Boyatzis called “Inspiring Leadership Through Emotional Intelligence”.
The premise of the course was to make us more aware of our own emotional states and how it impacts our decision making and interactions with others.
It showed ways of creating true empathy which genuinely opens up to the other person which is very powerful (The less effective empathy is seeing the other person through a reflection of yourself.)
It showed how inspiring hope and dreams are important coaching tools. Athletes respond to that and sometimes get caught up in what other people think they “ought to do” rather than what they “love to do” (2,3).
It showed how being mindful is important for my relationship with athletes (I can respond better to their needs and desires) and also for my own benefit (clarity of thought, renewal).
It was tough, with a bigger workload than expected, but well worth it.
“When we use the term compassion, we go beyond the typical Western interpretation to one coming from Confucian philosophy. Compassion is the experience of benevolence, of being open to others. It is caring for others who might be in pain (more hedonic) or those in joy (more eudemonic) or those in search of growth (eudemonic) (4).
Who has inspired you?
Try this simple exercise: take 5 minutes out and write down a list of people who have inspired you throughout your life: Family, teachers, coaches, colleagues, friends.
Think about what was it they did that inspired you? Remember as much detail as possible, again write it down.
If you have done the exercise, well done. How did you feel when you were doing it? You will probably be feeling pretty good now.
You have activated the parasympathetic nervous system by thinking of positive emotional attractors. You are now in an open state of mind and have experienced some “Renewal“.
Our daily lives are filled with encounters and events that are quite stressful: being held on the phone, dealing with the National Governing Body that wants meaningless reports, stuck in traffic etc..
This activates the Sympathetic nervous system which is good when you need to focus on an essential task or deal with an immediate event. The downside is that it limits access to all of your neural networks and the excess cortisol produced hinders your immune system.
You become narrow minded and risk illness.
A daily dose of Renewal helps counter this: play, moderate exercise and learning new things are examples of how to activate your Parasympathetic system.
One of the discussion points on the course was what ratio do we need to have between the Positive Emotional Attractors (PEA) and the Negative Emotional Attractors (NEA)? We need to consciously build in PEA time due to the amount of NEA we experience (5). For me, it was about 5:5 normally and 8:2 if I am thriving.
Hearts, Minds & Bodies
As a coach do you activate the PEA in your athletes or the NEA?
I have found myself in the past looking to “fix weaknesses” in athletes.
By focussing on their “problems” it means that I am less tuned into them as people.
I have tried now to win their hearts first by inspiring hope, then explain why we do what we do, then get their bodies to follow.
If you think of how NGBs often try to get their athletes to get fit, you will see how flawed it is.
They put athletes through a series of fitness testsand then tell the athletes what they are bad at (NEA)
They give out a bit of paper with some exercises with funny names on it. Give a quick demonstration (often by sports coaches who are poor at them) and say “do these at home “(compliance).
See the athletes again in 6 weeks and tell them off for failing to do their homework! “They are not engaged“.
They test the body, confuse the mind, and then break the heart! (This is why I refuse to work in that type of environment and have resigned from some contracts).
The key to sustaining good effective coaching is building relationships. One way to do that is to focus on what people love to do rather than need to do. Find out what the athlete is good at and buiild from there.
Once trust is established, a shared vision can be created that is very strong and will lead to success (6).
I learnt huge amounts on this course. It enabled me to deepen my relationship with a lot of the athletes and coaches I work with. That has had immediate results in their performance which was unexpected.
I have also ditched some work that was just too negative. Life is too short to be dragged down by trolls!
The course had a balance of:
quite tough self reflection exercises
All of these were very useful, except the group discussions which were unwieldy due to the sheer amount of people involved. That could have been better structured.
I would recommend the course to all coaches: in fact it should be an essential part of every coaching course/ pathway. Far too many “coaches” are in fact “instructors“.
Nutrition advice for athletes based on real world situations.
This was not a comprehensive review, but more of a stimulus to spark off ideas and thoughts for the coaches.
Agility Principles and Progressions
Having given an overview, I then extrapolated agility and looked at it in much more detail. I explained the three stages:
Motor pattern development
Each stage has various aspects that need to be included, but none can be addressed if the previous stage is not firm or entrenched.
I spent some time looking at each stage and giving the underlying reasons why each is important and the components of each.
By having a systematic approach to agility the coach can then select the right exercise or drill for the athlete/ team at each stage. Rather than doing STUFF.
We then spent over an hour going through this in practice. I emphasised the need to Coach each aspect, each drill and each player.
A lot of the time I just watch people going through the motions and not trying to get better.
It was good to see the Coaches grasping the concepts and connecting the dots, learning what to look for and how all the activities were inter related.
Community of Practice
We then wrapped up by discussing how we were going to implement and develop the Excelsior community of practice.
A community of practice is just a way of sharing ideas informally, it is free and is a recognised form of learning. A lot of best practices come from informal conversations or “coffee break coaching“.
It was great to see the coaches sharing ideas and information at the end of the day. If anything, it is soemtimes just to know that the problems you have aren’t unique!
Any coach who has completed a level 1 or level 2 course gets free access to specific resources here. We are expanding this into idea sharing and problem solving by using the Facebook page and the workshops to really help each other develop and improve.
I believe the best way to see Britain is on a bike! So that’s what I did….
I and 5 others decided to tackle one of the great British endurance challenges, cycling from Lands End to John O’Groats. It is said to be a distance of 874 miles, however for some reason we managed to make it last just over 1000 miles!
One of the common questions we were asked was ‘why are you doing this?’ Also a question a few of us asked ourselves! Some key reasons were highlighted:
To challenge ourselves
To have something to train/aim for
As a holiday from work!?
For charity (Diabetes UK, Headway, Multiple Sclerosis and Alzheimer’s society)
We were all aware that this challenge would require a bit of training, considering none of us were regular cyclists!
I aimed to cycle one long ride a week and get out on the bike 2 or 3 other times a week for shorter rides. This doesn’t seem much but with work commitments and hockey I will admit I struggled to achieve this in the first few weeks.
However having an end goal in sight motivated me to train! I think goals/targets are something all athletes should set themselves.
After a very cold winter, postponing our training, we managed to get on the bikes by the end of January.
Weeks 1-4 consisted of 20-30 mile cycles on flat and hilly routes.
Weeks 5-8 we upped the mileage to 30-40 miles but stuck to flatter routes for the longer rides
Weeks 9-12 more consistently riding 40-50 miles including big hills
Weeks 12-16 the mileage was upped to 55-70 miles
During weeks 9-16 I was also strength training, focusing on:
o Back squat
o Front Squat
The Actual Ride
The training definitely made pedalling up those hills a lot more bearable. Although there was some sore legs and very sore bums, everyone was fit enough to complete the challenge. A full blog of our adventures can be found at www.lejogmay2011.blogspot.com.
Nutrition and hydration
Burning approx 500 calories an hour for 5-6 hours a day meant energy intake was essential. On average we needed to consume between 4500 and 5500 kcal a day. I used carbohydrate drinks during the day with full meals in the evenings, trying to include some protein for muscle recovery overnight!
It is advised to drink approx 150ml for every 15-20min of exercise – so approx 3 liters during the ride with 1-2 liters before and after. I’m not convinced I managed to drink anywhere near that amount, good job I wasn’t racing!
Final Trip Statistics
Average Daily Distance: 73 miles
Total distance: 1007 miles
Average Speed: 12.5 mph
Time spent in the saddle: 79 hrs 29 mins
Estimated calories burnt: 39,750 Kcal
Total money raised: approx £700 for Diabetes (approx £4000 combined)
I really enjoyed the experience as a whole although some windy days were a struggle! It was nice to train for something other than hockey, my normal sport, and to challenge myself. I fully recommend it to anyone who likes the idea of putting their body through its paces.
Comments welcome, be good to hear from anyone else who has done this?