Try looking at things from a different perspective
For those of you studying at University, you may be under the impression that there is only one way of doing things. Try to look outside of the parameters of the people who are marking your assignments.
Here are some useful tips to get the ball rolling:
Get some space between you and the daily grind- 15 minutes of non-electronic communication\ noise time. It is difficult to be creative with your mind being full of bills\ work\ relationships.
Look at something different that you have never read or seen before, something completely unrelated to the norm. E.g. read Good Housekeeping magazine,watch how a beetle moves, or study a postcard in detail. Then write down 3 things that you have observed, or learnt.
Creative coaching to help solve problems
Once your mind is a bit clear, and you have been exposed to some new ideas or concepts, then it is time to try and apply this to your coaching or training.
You have written down 3 things that you have observed, now write down your 3 best coaching points and your 3 biggest coaching problems.
See how you can connect the good coaching with your problem via one of your observations on a non related subject.
It sounds bizarre, but in order to change, you have to try looking at things from a different perspective.
It is a lot more interesting than just copying someone else’s drills.
“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.
In my last reflection I spoke about needing to have confidence in myself and I have certainly been working towards this with James’ help. I had the great opportunity of taking theAthletic Training Group which runs on Wednesday evenings at Exeter Uni.
During the past couple of sessions I have helped James out with, we have been doing some Olympic lifts. I have not done these types of exercises before so my knowledge and confidence in this area isn’t very strong.
I did feel that because I am a personal trainer, I should already know these lifts, techniques, teaching cues etc. I felt a little guilty telling James that I didn’t feel confident enough to teach these by myself. His answer…”that’s why you’re doing this internship.”
How can you improve without learning and correcting?
He was completely right. I am learning and growing as a trainer and coach all the time, especially during my time with Excelsior. It’s ok not to know things.
So my job is to increase my knowledge and understanding of these movements through James (and the level 2 S+C course James runs.) I am allowed to not know things, just as athletes are allowed to make mistakes.
I am looking forward to hopefully starting courses and a development group like the one I help James out with in Cardiff when I move there at the end of March.
I have also been doing a lot more research through reading, online and through coaches that have more experience in their fields so that my knowledge grows further still.
I took this 5 week course due to having an interest in Astronomy and the big ideas of the Universe.
I have seen Martin Rees, Michio Kaku and Simon Singh present on various themes and read their books on “Space science“.
I thought this course would help me understand more. I was unprepared for the mathematics that would be involved (which caused more than one cup of coffee being spilt by me banging the table in frustration).
Answering the big questions
The course was based around answering these questions:
How did the Universe begin?
What is its fate?
What is it made of?
What are its fundamental laws?
Where do we come from?
The video lectures by Murayama were entertaining, and very interesting. I got lost with some of the maths (well, most of it), but the concepts were well explained.
Atoms make up less than 5% of the Universe (pictured), the rest is made up of Dark Matter and Dark Energy.
The Universe was crumpled at the beginning, then has gradually smoothed out. This has left some wrinkles in the patterns and density of matter (pictured). This explains why there are clusters of galaxies together.
How scientists are discovering and measuring these concepts was explained really well in the course. Massive collaborative projects that are underground such as the hadron collider, group arrays of telescopes, the Hubble Telescope and underwater stations.
Patience and luck seem to be two of the main factors responsible for discoveries.
The big numbers
It is hard to grasp the sheer size of what is out there. The Universe started out less than the size of a virus and expanded into galaxy size in less than 1 second.
The initial state was one of disorder because of the heat and energy being released.
When it cooled (?) to 4 quadrillion degrees the Higgs Boson was able to freeze. The Higgs Boson is a crucial component because it slows (!) every elementary particle down to the speed of light.
It keeps our atoms together; without it we would evaporate in a second. Electrons are therefore able to fly around the atom without falling apart.
Some galaxies are colliding at a speed of 4500km/ sec!This can be seen by light being distorted due to the mass distorting gravity and light bending. If you can get out at night and look up at a clear sky, think of what is happening up there.
I really enjoyed learning about the history of the Universe, and what it contains.
There were no reading materials associated with the course which I thought was poor. Each of the MOOCS I have done has had different materials associated with it. The best have a balance of video and links to reading materials, along with the homework assignments,exams and discussion forums.
The maths involved in the course was horrendous, and there was no warning beforehand. If it had stated “You should be familar with advanced mathematics” then I would have taken a different course.
The graduate assistant setting the homework realised this and added some remedial videos. But, my time is limited and if I had wanted to do a maths course, I would have! I still managed to get 83.6% for the overall course.
I am no scientist, but I like studying and reading proper science. This course gave me a greater understanding, for which I am grateful and inspired.
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“.
This course was hosted by Coursera and was my fourth MOOC follo
wing “Crash Course in Creativity”, “Data Visualisation and Infographics“, “How Things Work”.
I start “Exercise Physiology: Understanding the Athlete Within” next week.
Goleman, D., Boyatzis, R., & McKee, A. (2001). “Primal leadership: The hidden driver of leadership. Harvard Business Review, December.
Smith, M., Boyatzis, R.E. & Van Oosten, E. (2012). Coach with Compassion. Leadership Excellence, 29:3, 10.
I have just returned from another fantastic GAIN (Gambetta Athletic Improvement Network) in Houston, Texas.
The 5 day event was full of ideas, tips and sharing of coaching philosophies.
This year Vern Gambetta opened the conference with a quote from Frank Dick “We don’t coach javelin throwers, runners or jumpers. We coach people who happen to throw, run or jump”.
This idea occurred time and time again throughout the conference. There was plenty of whys, whats and how tos, but it all means nothing if you fail to bring the people with you.
I shall be reporting on the nuts and bolts in more detail in a few weeks time. I need to reflect on what we did, review my notes and then practice some of the things. It’s all too easy to come back with “Monday’s workouts” written down.
Cross Pollination of Ideas
This conference is unique in my experience in that it brings people from different nations, different sports (e.g. lacrosse, cricket, track and field, soccer, gridiron, ice hockey, field hockey, wrestling, Aussie rules, rugby, cross country skiiing, downhill skiing, swimming) and different practices (sports coaches, chiropracters,athletic development coaches, physiotherapists, athletic trainers, strength and conditioning coaches) and puts them together to share knowledge and practices.
We all tend to be a bit bunker bound within our own sport, country or profession. Looking at an athlete from all these different view points enables us to step back and see with fresh eyes. This was true interdisciplinary learning.
It is refreshing to see people like Jim Radcliffe and Bill Knowles sat through lectures furiously writing notes down.
Some highlights for me, in no particular order:
Every day is pancake day at GAIN, meal time conversations is where the real learning takes place.
Andy Stone skipping master class (not on the agenda, but added bonus).
Land training for swimmers by Nick Folker, learnt more from this hour and chats with Nick than I have done in last 3 years observing “dryland training”.
Clay Erro on coaching young people in a school setting. “Everything we do in life is a cooperative endeavour”.
Olympic Panel: lessons learnt from the past Olympics and ones before, including how to get the athletes self reliant and their warm ups robust.
Greg Thompson’s P.E. class one morning: every kids should benefit from this type of teacher and session content.
Cross country skiing chat with Head Coach Bryan Fisher: learnt more about Heart Rate training at breakfast than I have in my life. Gold dust.
Steve Magness on applying science in the coaching environments: YES he gets it and does it.
Jim Radcliffe’s practical sessions in the gym and out of the gym: this guy is outstanding and he works hard at being able to do it.
Vern Gambetta on coaching pedagogy “Know the basics, master the basics, don’t deviate from the basics”.
But the overall highlight is having great people, who are all trying to get better, sharing ideas and inspiring each other to do the same.
Do you get stuck in a rut and find it difficult to come up with new ideas or solutions? Me too.
I have just completed the Crash Course in Creativity run by Tina Seelig at Stanford University.
Looking at things with fresh eyes was how I would summarise the course.
“How can you teach creativity?”
We are all creative at birth, just look at how young children will play with wrapping paper and boxes this week.
Unfortunately it is beaten out of us as we are forced to sit in cubicles or desks and try to please teacher or pointy haired bosses. Seelig got us students to look at ourselves and our environments.
We had to to various team or individual projects that required us to go out and investigate, create, collaborate and brainstorm solutions and ideas. The project designs and video lectures were very good. The demands of working on teams across 3 continents and multiple time zones were not so good.
This was my first attempt at an online course, and I found it quite demanding. It coincided with a busy work period of only having 2 days off in a month. The course took between 4-6 hours a week for about 8 weeks.
It was worthwhile not only because it has helped me redesign the Excelsior website, but also that learning new things is important for mental well being.
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 Google+ community 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?