More than just an English Word

As my girlfriend prepares for the start of the new academic year, in her 8th year as a teacher, she goes into her school during the summer to prepare her classroom for her new students. On a couple of occasion’s she has asked for me to come and help maneuver some of the furniture as she shapes her learning environment.

She is about to inherit 25 new students who are all unique. They come from different backgrounds, with different skills sets, they are at varies stages in their learning displaying both strengths and weaknesses. She has done her homework, she has taken the time to speak with the teacher about the individual students, she has read their reports, met the children themselves and is prepared for what lies ahead, but she also has the ability to adapt her teaching / educating to suit the needs of her children. I am sure that this is the case for many other teachers, but there is something else that she has that can impact on not only a child’s development but also a member of staff, and I was witness to this.

As we were about to leave after we had spent a few hours organizing her classroom, we bumped into one of the cleaners in the school. When he saw her, his eyes lit up and there was a smile from ear to ear. She started to converse with him in Spanish. He spoke very limited English, if any at all, but when she started to speak with him in his native language he was able to engage and the conversation flowed. In the school she is the point of call for any conversations that might be required in Spanish with a staff member and any parents.

Previously she had mentioned to me about a student she had in her class, who spoke very little English and as a result this challenged his learning, She was able to work with him not only on his education but also his ability to speak English. This gave great comfort to his parents who also found the language a stumbling block, and her skill set gave them hope and trust with their child’s education.

The reason I mention this is because I look back at my own education I feel I missed out on the opportunity to learn a new language, appreciate and understand another culture. I once worked with an international player from South America who was a top professional and a good player. We had a number of 1 on 1 session’s coaching him back to fitness, but he didn’t speak a word of English. Initial translations would occur through one of the therapists who was Spanish and they spoke English, but on the grass it was just me and him. We worked through this by using demonstrations, hand gestures, diagrams etc but had I known the language that connection could have been better. We worked well together but I just look back and think I wish I had taken the opportunity when I was being educated to take learning an additional language a little more seriously. I guess hindsight is always a easy thing, but had a I known then what I knew know that working with a multicultural industry learning and additional language would have provided me with further opportunities. I am not saying it is too late now, but if is obviously a little more difficult.

My girlfriend speaks 5 languages and she is fluent in all of them. She not only has the ability to converse and translate but she has the ability to empathize, build relations, share an emotion, develop trust and ultimately help develop an individual.

Self-Awareness pt.1: the MSc Student

 the advice I would give to ‘Me’ – the masters student 

Brunel Graduation

As I sit down with the ‘Me’ the 24yr old MSc Student studying Sports Coaching, along with coaching part time in an academy and working in education. The six bits of advice I would give him is:

1. Visit More to Learn

Take the time to visit more places to learn and develop. Not just in football, but look within other sports, other industries and experience other cultures. This will open your eyes; broaden your knowledge, awareness and appreciation for what else is out there. Ask questions, meet people, try things and by doing this you will learn, develop, and be more interesting to other people. After all, everyone enjoys a story………… so make sure you have a book of them.

2. Avoid Last Minute.com

I know what you are like; you enjoy the pressure of leaving everything to the last minute. Trying to complete an assignment in the last 24hrs with no sleep, after having had 3 months to complete it. It might give you an adrenaline rush, but you wont get a chance to demonstrate you true quality. It is important to use the time you have, to prepare, research, create, and review. It is a good exercise to project plan, work within time scales, set targets for yourself and this will provide you with enough time to ask questions, adjust and give it the full attention it deserves.

3. Presenting Skills

In the position you are in working in education, coaching football and studying for your MSc you are going to be required to speak in public, but in different ways and with different audiences. My advice is that you look into developing your communication skills; how you engage the people you are working with. Consider looking at things like telling stories, drawing reference to your experiences and link them within what you are trying to get across to your audience. Consider the language, the type of detail and feedback you provide. Focus on being simple, effective and engage the people early. Watch, observe, practice, fail, review, learn, practice, fail and review. Ensure you are prepared and enjoy speaking to people. By the way, look out for TED Talks when they come out, they are a very good tool to learn from.

4. Don’t be afraid of failure

You are still learning and developing. Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you make a mistake or fail that is not an identity, but a process. As long as you review and learn you can then move on. Don’t be afraid to ask for feedback, and make sure you ask for evidence and avoid basing your own reviews on emotions because you will be a lot tougher and unfair on yourself. Remember……..be kind to yourself and be willing to fail because it means you will have tried.

 ‘I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed’ Michael Jordan 

5. Step out your Comfort Zone

You will soon be asked to do something that you don’t feel confident about. You might be asked to coach a session that you have not done before, or work with a more experienced group, maybe present to high learners who might question your work or given the option to leave it on this occasion, and maybe try it later. My advice is don’t ignore, put off or decline the opportunity. Grab it with both hands and run with it. You may have been asked because they believe you deserve it or they see it as part of your progression, or they just have no one else available at that time and you were in the right place at the right time. Therefore, don’t ignore or avoid opportunities. People don’t develop by living in their comfort zone. Risks, opportunities, and uncomfortable situations have to be experienced in order to appreciate what you are capable of, and how you can move forward. After all, if you never test the limits do you really know what you can achieve? Challenge yourself to develop yourself. The environment and the situations you are prepared to put yourself in will determine what you can become.

6. Enjoy the Moments

Make sure you enjoy everything you do and have no regrets. The opportunities that you have created for yourself and the experiences you are having need to be cherished. These are the stepping-stones for you to move forward and work towards your goal. If you enjoy it, you are more likely to appreciate it, work harder for it, learn from it and develop from it. There will be times when things are hard, challenging and even frustrating, but that is part of the journey and you can enjoy these because at the end of it you will have become a better person for it.

‘Normality is a paved road: It’s a comfortable walk, but no flowers grow’  Vincent van Gogh

Playing With Friends

I recently came across an article that drew reference to a study that had been carried out on the amount of time that children spend playing outside compared to their parents and previous generations. The research found that the parents, as children during the 1970’s and 1980’s were spending no fewer than two hours outside per weekday and no less than nine hours at the weekends regardless of the weather. Whereas today, children are spending on average an hour a day on a weekday and fewer than five hours a day at weekends.

Although this is relevant to children of all ages, children aged between 5 – 12 years are going through some of their most critical stages of development, which are influenced by the environments and activities they are exposed to. Therefore, how are allowing children to spend these critical periods of development in front of a screen as oppose to playing outside where they will be developing their physical, cognitive and social skills. Which will enable to not only become better athletes, but will enable them to carry out every day activities more effectively. When children play they learn to interact, observe movements, be creative, mimic actions, develop motor patterns and improve visual senses to mention just a few, and this is all part of their development. If, however, they spend most of their time sitting down, in front of a 2 dimensional screen then they won’t get the chance to develop the above and therefore are we really providing them with the start they require?

As children develop it is important that they learn to interact and play with friends, within various environments. I want to put forward a case that I believe has helped players develop from the previous generations, the generations where children spent a lot more time outside playing with friends, which gave them the opportunity to develop the required skills to play such sports as football. When children play football or any sport with their friends, they are free to try and express themselves. They are given the platform to implement new skills, work things out, be independent without a coach instructing and placing fear in a player. This environment provides them with the opportunity to make their own decisions, make their own mistakes and willing to fall down, pick themselves up and try again. They will play with friends of all ages, sizes and numbers on a variety of different sized pitches on various surfaces using a range of size balls. All in which will provide them the experiences they require to improve their overall development as a player. They will learn from others, inadvertently coach each others by observing, mimicking, encourage each other to try a new skill. They will have the chance to pretend for that moment to be their favourite athlete, carry themselves in the way that their idol plays, try skills without worrying about being shouted at, celebrate the way their hero does when they score a goal. Within all of this and for me, which is the most important thing, they will have fun, enjoy, practice more, work harder and learn. Therefore, playing with friends is arguable one of the most important, yet withdrawn activities that a successful player should have as part of their program.

From my own childhood I can recall a typical day when at school: I would be getting into school early, first thing in the morning meeting friends to play football, which had been pre-arranged the day before. We would meet in the playground, it would often be with a tennis ball with ‘jumpers for goal posts’ (bags in our case), and this would range anything from 1 v 1 to 5 v 5 or even a 1 v 2 depending on numbers. This would carry on up until the bell rang for the start of school, therefore it was important to get in real early so the game would be longer. Summer months were great because of the light mornings and generally good weather. It was made a little more difficult during the winter with dark, rainy, cold days, but that never stopped us. In those days we had a morning break between classes that lasted 20mins, there was no surprise that this involved football, it would usually be the game continuing from before school and that would carry on throughout the week. Then at lunchtime it was the big game, the game we had planned for, and from what I recall at Junior school (7-11yrs) we were playing international games, Northern Ireland v France. We had even made up programs for the fixture, time of kick off, current league standing and the name of each player we individually would be taking the role of. It would often only involve a small number of players, maybe a 3 v 2 or 3 v 3. I always preferred being on the 2 against 3 because of the challenge. I never enjoyed dominating games, I liked the drama and challenge of being an underdog and having to work hard to win, it felt more of an achievement. There was quite the build up to the game, especially in the mornings, planning during class, discussions about where the game would take place and about getting out as soon as the bell went, often avoiding lunch to ensure we had more time to play. In the afternoon we would have PE, which involved a range of sporting activities that included cricket, rounder’ and athletics. I used to enjoy playing any sports, as long as I was outside. Then in the afternoon we had another 15min break, that would normally involve typical playground games and yes, the lads played hopscotch as well. After school we often played in the playground waiting for parents, or in the park, as parents would walk groups of children home. which we would negotiate with them by suggesting they could talk and have a good catch up. Although, I know my mother did not need an invitation as she always enjoyed chatting with her friends. ‘Another 5 minutes’, which always led to an hour, which was great because it meant I could with my friends. On some days we had either school football training or a game. Other days we would schedule to go round to a friends house, for tea, which usually involved playing football or others sports in the garden.

Therefore I ask this question, are we giving our children the chance, the best possible opportunities to become not only a creative footballer and athlete, but also a creative person? By providing them with opportunities to ‘play’ and to be free in an environment, which is led by them and not by coaches. The environment, that surrounds us by positive peers that can influence, help educate and shape the person we become. If you have ever read the book ‘Bounce’ by Matthew Syed he draws reference to the environment and situations that led him to the career he had in table tennis. We need to do more as parents, educators and coaches to provide our children to best chances to develop some of the required skills that help them perform in the sporting arena and perform in life.

‘I am always ready to learn but I don’t always like being taught’ Winston Churchill