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Monday, 2 December 2013

Tom Daley and other Sporting Heroes

Homophobic bullying is endemic in sport.

The truth of this statement is so obvious that it hardly bares stating. Many of us/most of us 
who are coaches and teachers dedicate ourselves to offering life-enhancing experiences through sport, yet operate within a system that is simply not welcoming to lesbian, gay and bisexual and transsexual (LGBT) people.  Sometimes exclusion is stark and frightening. More often, it is more subtle.

On a few, rare occasions, I have seen coaches verbally abusing LGBT players in front of their peers.  When confronted, the coaches gave the same response: surprise.  They were only teasing, they said.  Just messing around.  It is no different from teasing someone about the colour of their hair, or their obesity!  Apparently, adding the phrase 'only joking' renders even the most offensive comment harmless.  If the player cannot take a bit of harmless banter, one told me, then maybe they should consider a different hobby.

Words like 'poof', 'queer' or 'dyke' are casually used in sports clubs to indicate some failure of an individual to meet an unstated, but unquestioned standard of manliness / femininity.  Boys and men who fail to perform in the acceptable manner are told that they "play like a girl".  Girls and women who play well, but without the required degree of femininity, are labelled "butch".  In many sports, a posturing machismo represents the norm against which all other behaviours are judged.  Lesbian, gay and bisexual usually fall outside of this norm.

Some sports are clearly worse than others.  It seems to be that tolerance for different lifestyles is least among the most high profile sports.  For example, when United States international footballer Robbie Rogers came out as gay, he was only the third footballer after England's Justin Fashanu and Swedish midfielder Anton Hysen to have come out. Fashanu killed himself in 1998.

It would be easy, not too depressing to continue this sort of analysis with other sports.

Sport should be a home for everyone.  People of vastly different backgrounds can be brought together in a shared love of a game. Sport offers a shared language that can overcome differences of all varieties.

That is the claim. And at its best, this claim is true.  But the power of sport to include can too easily be corrupted and turned towards exclusion.  When this happens, the power of the group can shift from friendship to alienation to bullying.

Many lesbian, gay and bisexual young people continue to live lives in which one of the most precious aspects of their existence - their sexuality - must be kept secret.  

According to the gay rights charity Stonewall, more than 55% of of lesbian, gay and bisexual school pupils have been bullied.  A 2012 report by Cambridge University found that one in four young lesbian, gay and bisexual people had tried to take their own life.

So, it seems to me, that the fact so many of us in sport continue to tolerate homophobic behaviour is shameful.  Few, I am sure, explicitly support bullying. But many of us implicitly endorse it by failing to challenge it directly, or by taking steps to reduce the chance that it ill arise in the first place.  We tell ourselves that "there is no problem here", or that homophobic comments to individuals are just playing and not serious.  But lesbian, gay and bisexual people tell us that they are serious, they are hurtful, and they reinforce an environment that can end in exclusion, bullying, or suicide.

The revelation by Olympic diver Tom Daley that he is now in a homosexual relationship was an act of remarkable bravery. Tom knows, as all of us in sport know, that such an admission can be risky. He is a public figure, so the statement about his sexuality open to to all manner of hurtful comments.  But he is also a role model for countless young sports people.  His honesty and openness should inspire anyone struggling with personal challenges.

Sporting stars like Robbie Rogers and Tom Daley are inspirations. However, the most powerful role models in the lives of young sporting people are not the elite, but those they meet on a day-to-day basis.  Evidence shows that the most influential people are the coaches, teachers, and older players within the club or team. They are the ones who set the standards of behaviour: by what they say, and by how they act.

The simple fact is that many gay young people will never join a sports club for fear of a homophobic behaviour and bullying.  Those who do may feel they must remain silent about a core aspect of their nature, their sexuality. Sports coaches and teachers are among the most trusted adults by young people.  Young people talk to us about problems at school, with their parents, with their friends, and this places a enormous responsibility on us all.

If we genuinely believe that sport is for all, we need to take the issue of homophobia in sport seriously. It will not go away without a concerted effort from everyone involved, at all levels. But it is coaches and teachers of sport who need to lead the way.


Former rugby international and 'Strictly' star Ben Cohen has launched a charity that focuses specifically on challenging homophobia, especially in sport.  Click on the image below to find out more, and Stand Up against all kinds of bullying.

Sunday, 17 November 2013

The Art and Science of Crap Detection

One of the ironies of modern culture is that, despite the remarkable advances of science and medicine, many people continue to believe utter nonsense.

The sea of dubious information has clearly been fed by the emergence of social media.  Anyone who uses Twitter or Facebook will be confronted with a continual stream of bold claims, shocking controversies, and supposed secrets for improved health, wealth and happiness.  Some of these claims come from genuine experts, some come from people trying to make a fast buck, and some come from fools.

Telling the difference can be frustratingly difficult.

Two examples.  I've just been reading a report in a newspaper about advances in cancer treatment. The same issue also includes an article about the powers of Chinese "internal healing".  Another source, this time an online magazine, juxtaposes a piece about recent advances in brain science with a quiz inviting readers to find out whether they are "left brain" or "right brain" thinkers.

In case you are not clear yourself (and who could blame you?), there is no compelling evidence in favour of either internal healing or left/right brain thinking.  They might be attractive ideas. They might conceivably turn out to be true at some point in the future. But, in the words of the late, great Carl Sagan, "extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence".  And, at the moment, the evidence is missing.

The genius of social media is that it has democratised knowledge. Information is no longer the preserve of a select few.  We can all access vast amounts of information.  But democracy cannot work without an educated population.  It assumes that people have sufficient knowledge, skills, and understanding to make informed judgements about the decisions confronting them.

The simple fact is that the vast majority of people have not been educated to make such judgements.

The writer Ernest Hemingway famously said, "The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shockproof, shit detector."  That inspired Neil Postman to claim:
As I see it, the best things schools can do for kids is to help them learn how to distinguish useful talk from bullshit.
Most schools do not do anything that remotely resembles this. Consequently, they send young people out into the world inherently vulnerable to bullshit.  And that seems rather shameful.

Of course, it is not just schools who have failed to prepare their charges.  Many universities force their students to complete 'learning styles' assessments, despite the fact that it is well-known that most experts on learning and the brain deny that such styles exist at all.  Even worse, an informal review of sports coaching education programmes in the UK by my colleagues and me revealed that all of them taught questionable or erroneous theories as scientific fact.

Remember Power Balance?  The bracelets that used "hologram technology" to "resonate with and respond to the natural energy field of the body", resulting in the improvement of sporting performance.  Sounds implausible?  Not so much that it prevented tens of thousands of sports coaches, athletes, and normal people from from around the world buying one, just in case they actually worked.

People bought the devices even after scientists demonstrated that they had no effect at all.  Television news items even demonstrated, with the most basic of tests, that the bracelets were useless.  But people continued to buy them, right up until the company that produced them went out of business, mainly due to a court ruling that the company should stop making unsubstantiated claims and that dissatisfied customers should be given a full refund.

Anyway, the company has relaunched under a new name, and people have started buying the bracelets again.

What is to be done?

Surely, the ultimate solution must be to change education programmes to better prepare people to do with the barrage of bullshit with which they will inevitably be confronted during their lives. This is as much to do with a sceptical mindset as specific techniques.

For a start, though, consider this list of questions from the writer Michael Shermer, which make up his "Baloney Detection Kit".


  1. How reliable is the source of the claim?
  2. Does the source make similar claims?
  3. Have the claims been verified by somebody else?
  4. Does this fit with the way the world works?
  5. Has anyone tried to disprove the claim?
  6. Where does the preponderance of evidence point?
  7. Is the claimant playing by the rules of science?
  8. Is the claimant providing positive evidence?
  9. Does the new theory account for as many phenomena as the old theory?
  10. Are personal beliefs driving the claim?

Crap detection can be framed even easier than this, as one simple but profound question:
How do you know?
If every student was taught to ask this whenever confronted by a new idea - no matter who offered it - they would be making a giant step towards being genuinely educated.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

6 Must-Read Books on Coaching and Learning

Coaching and teaching are essentially thinking activities. Excellent coaching and teaching demand imagination, reflection and analysis. For this reason, books are, and will remain, the one necessary resource.  Fashions come and go in education, but we have found nothing to replace the quiet, simple act of reading, and the intellectual revolutions that it promises.

This blog recommends six really useful books on coaching and learning (subsequent blogs will look at motivation, and other areas of interest to coaches and teachers).  I'd love to hear your thoughts about them, and any suggestions of your own, via the wonderful world that is Twitter - .

“The more that you read,the more things you will know.The more that you learn, the more places you'll go.”(Dr. SeussI Can Read With My Eyes Shut!)

Stafford, I. (Ed.). (2011) Coaching children in sport. London: Routledge.
The most authoritative book on the subject.  Covers a wide range of subjects in and accessible way.

Bransford, J.D. Brown, A. L., & Cocking, R. R. (2000). How People Learn.  Washington, DC: National Academy Press
Quite technical in parts, a bit old, and long, but this is the best single-volume guide that explains the science of learning.

Myerson, J. (2005) Not a Games Person.  London: Yellow Jersey Press.
A memoir of someone who didn’t ‘get’ sport!  Very funny, but also revealing for those of us take the joy of sport for granted.

Medina, J. (2010)  Brain Rules: 12 principles for surviving and thriving at work, home, and school.  Seattle, WA: Pear Press.
A well-written and engaging book on the brain and learning (and some other things).  Much less awful than most books on the brain!

Pink, D. H. (2010)  Drive: The surprising truth about what motivates us.  Edinburgh: Canongate Books.
An excellent book on motivation, with ideas that can be immediately applied to coaching and teaching.

Physical Education for Learning: a guide for secondary schools.  London: Continuum.
A wide-ranging and comprehensive book, focusing on the support of learning in physical education and sport.

Thursday, 29 August 2013

'Hoover is only one brand of vacuum cleaners' - some alternatives to Powerpoint

Some products have become so ubiquitous that their name has morphed into a generic noun.  I still find myself referring to 'Hoovers' years after their dominance in the world of vacuum clears has subsided (all hail the Dyson!).  And I still talk quite freely about 'Durex' as a catch-all term for contraceptives, despite learning to my cost (and embarrassment and potential injury) that the word means sticky tape in Australia).

Some trademarks and brands have become completely absorbed into everyday language.  You might be surprised to learn (as I was) that 'Aspirin' is not the name of a drug, but actually a proprietorial brand.  And the same is true of Astroturf, Bubble Wrap, Hula Hoop, Frisbee, Ping Pong, and Jacuzzi.

Microsoft's Powerpoint is another case in point.  In most Universities and schools, 'powerpoint' simply means presentation.  And it is the most commonly used software, to the extent that departing from the norm can prove inconvenient or even impossible in many institutions.  In fact, so all-pervasive is Powerpoint that not using presentation software at all - whether or not it is appropriate - is seen as the behaviour of a Luddite!

But there are good reasons to consider alternatives.  The first is a political one: I suggest to you that conformity and obedience should be resisted as a matter of principle. It is our duty as free men and women (apologies to readers in North Korea).  Breaking free of the heavy hand of Microsoft in schools and universities can be a daily dose of "anarchist callisthenics", that exercise the freethinking muscles!

A more fundamental reason to resist is that Powerpoint, like any software is a tool, and all tools have their inherent limitations.  Use only kind of software and weaknesses quickly become acceptable, then normal, then inevitable.  Introduce another type of software and choice suddenly becomes an option.

Powerpoint contains a remarkably comprehensive range of functions, but it is not as intuitive or pretty as Apple's Keynote (although you would also need to swap your PC for a Mac ... which is another great reason).  It is also not non-linear nor as flexible as the online program Prezi.  Nor is it free like Google's Drive presentation, PowToon, and 280 Slides.

If the intention is to do the same sort of thing as Powerpoint, but with a different look or feel, it is worth considering Sliderocket.  If multimedia is your thing, then the new SlideSnack is excellent.

I'm not going to offer a proper review here.  Nor will I dissect the virtues and vices of the different systems.  My aim is to make a simple point: there is more to presentation software than Powerpoint, and it is well worth taking a little time to check out some of the alternatives.

In the era of web-based and cloud-based programs, the horny old 'PC versus Mac' question becomes somewhat redundant (the answer's Mac, by the way!).  And many programs are offered free of charged, or at greatly reduced prices, so money is less of an obstacle that it once was.

So don't do it for me.  Do it for your colleagues and friends who have had to suffer through countless hours of tediously similar slides and effects!  Do it for those poor souls for whom the sight of a clever transition or animation no longer brings shrills of anticipation; just the deadening certainly that another bloody slide is coming along.  Do it for those who still think that being told 'but we always do it this way' is reason enough to do something else!

Thursday, 15 August 2013

Practically Perfect Presentations

The new school and university terms are approaching, so it is a good opportunity to reflect a while on the elements of excellent presentations.

With this in mind, I asked a few people with greater knowledge of the subject than me to share their words of wisdom.  These are people whose work on this subject I respect and / or who I have seen live and thought "I wish I could do that!"

I would like to take this opportunity to thank them for contributing their thoughts.  I hope you find their ideas as valuable as I do.

Professor Margaret Talbot, President of the International Council of Sport Science and Physical Education (ICSSPE), the worldwide umbrella body for sport, suggests:

"Always respect your audience, and make sure you are well prepared for both the topic and the audience.  So many people think they can 'wing it', and it is always obvious when they do!"

Andy Reed OBE, former Member of Parliament, now the Director of SajeImpact Ltd, works with a number of sports and charitable organisations, and is the chair of the Sport and Recreation Alliance.  Andy wrote:
"Know who your audience are and what their knowledge and expectations will be.

"For me it's about sharing a passion for a topic and therefore being enthusiastic and authentic.  It's about being aware of strengths and weaknesses and being prepared for different situations. I am poor at formal presentations without detailed notes, but prefer minimal notes/ PowerPoint when its more informal and a subject area I know well.

"Be prepared to alter direction.

"I always personally prefer Q&A as a large proportion of the talk - getting to understand what people want to know - it's about dialogue. Not just imparting everything you know!

"So know your audience, be yourself and authentic, prepare to the right level for the event, be authentic and engage."

Hiran Ilangantileke is an accomplished Musician and Public Speaker. He has trained, facilitated and presented to a wide range of audiences from Media companies to High Risk Organisations. As a professional commercial Musician he has engaged crowds of many thousands.

"My top tip for being a great presenter?…..Prepare for Presenting as you would for any major performance of skill.

"Consider the effort spent by an Athlete or Musician preparing for their, often, very public performance. An Athlete will know their event, a Musician their song and accordingly, a Presenter needs to know their material. This is Fundamental preparation, but is it enough to be a great communicator?

"To make presentations sparkle I often adapt a simple mental rehearsal technique from the world of sports. The best time to do this exercise is the night before your presentation, after you have revised your material.
  • The most important step is to set a good psychological and physical state. For most people this means to relax, but choose the state you want to carry into the presentation and transmit to the audience. Ask yourself, what state or personal qualities will elicit the response that you want from the audience? e.g. if you want your crowd to be motivated/inspired/relaxed etc. what state should you be in?  Your breathing rate is the foundation to your psychological and physical state, change your breathing – change your state.
  • Once you have set your desired state, close your eyes and mentally rehearse the presentation (performance) whilst all the time maintaining your state, as indicated by your breathing rate. Start the mental movie well before you’re in front of the audience. Rehearse everything from approaching the stage to leaving it. At all times whilst you are visualising, notice how your state supports your voice quality, recall of information, flexibility and overall, elicits the responses you want from the audience. It's okay if you don’t know what the room or audience looks like yet, just use your imagination. That said, it can be very powerful to run this technique whilst in the actual room you’ll be in the next day.
"Enjoy your great performance!"

Dr David Morley, from Leeds Metropolitan University, is an outstanding workshop leader. He stressed the importance of building rapport with the audience from the very beginning of a presentation:
"Engage everyone with eye to eye contact in the first minute of the presentation."

Finally, Daniel Coyle is the author of the excellent The Talent Code, and one of the masters of communicating the art and science of outstanding performance.  Daniel offered advice for putting mistakes into proper perspective:

"Always remember that mistakes aren't verdicts - they're information to help you make the next reach."

Tuesday, 2 July 2013

What's your style?

I recently came across this talk by the philosopher and populariser of eastern mysticism, Alan Watts, about the choices we make in our lives (via the superb Brain Pickings). He asks, "what would you do if money were no object?"

Watts was my first intellectual hero.  He had discovered Buddhism as a child, and later moved to San Francisco a decade before the 60s' embrace of Eastern philosophies. Many scholars are quite sniffy about Watts' writings.  I suspect that their disregard is partly because his writing is clear and rather beautiful: an unforgivable sin for most academics.

I can't quite remember why I suddenly decided to read his "Way of Zen", but the effect was profound.  I had just left school, and the source of its influence was not so much in the content in as in the implicit insistence that there are alternative ways to thinking to those with which we had grown up and become accustomed. Like many people, my schooling had been more about compliance than education, in any meaningful sense.  Watts (and other heroes like Jiddo Krishnamurti, Bertrand Russell, and Robert Pirsig) insisted that each of us had a choice about the paths we followed. Nothing was determined.

Like most very important question, Watts' is beguilingly simple. And, of course, some may say that the question is pointless or ridiculous because money is an object.  Very few of us can do exactly as we please. We have responsibilities, bills to pay, people to look after. And if money was no object, I probably wouldn't be speaking to the likes of you!

But that misses the point.

Remember Alice stumbling through Wonderland, when she came across a strange cat?

‘Cheshire Puss,’ she began, rather timidly … ‘Would you tell me, please, which way I ought to go from here?’  ‘That depends a good deal on where you want to get to,’ said the Cat.  ‘I don’t much care where,’ said Alice.  ‘Then it doesn’t matter which way you go,’ said the Cat.  ‘So long as I get somewhere,’ Alice added as an explanation.  ‘Oh, you’re sure to do that,’ said the Cat, ‘if you only walk long enough.’

I understand Watts to be saying much the same thing: "it all depends on where you want to get to".

Which reminds me of a comment from the splendid old queer Quentin Crisp:
'It's no good running a pig farm badly to 30 years while saying, "really I was meant to be a ballet dancer."  By then, pigs will be your style.'

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Richard Feynman on the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something

A friend recently introduced me to this wonderful presentation by the great scientist Richard Feynman.  A winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics, a member of the Manhattan Project, and outstanding communicator (and bongo player), Feynman is one of those people universally acknowledged to be a "genius".

The focus of this talk, which was part of an interview with the BBC, was science education. This became a recurring theme in Feynman's later life, as he felt that most schooling was at best dreadfully dull, and at worst pointless.  In this case, his concerned can be summarised quite neatly:

"I learned very early the difference between knowing the name of something and knowing something."

It is possible to watch this short clip again and again, and take different lessons from it each time.

Feynman stresses the relative unimportance of names and words in learning, and that is an important lesson for those working in systems that tend to prioritise the superficial aspects of knowledge.

But his story also tells of a teacher (his father) who was willing to admit his own ignorance. And in doing so, inspired his son to go out and learn for himself. Learning was not a matter of remembering, but an adventure!

I think, implicit within this short extract of a conversation between the father and son was an introduction to the nature of science.

“I can live with doubt and uncertainty and not knowing. I think it is much more interesting to live not knowing than to have answers that might be wrong. If we will only allow that, as we progress, we remain unsure, we will leave opportunities for alternatives. We will not become enthusiastic for the fact, the knowledge, the absolute truth of the day, but remain always uncertain … In order to make progress, one must leave the door to the unknown ajar.” 

Thanks to Ray Askew coach of the great Invicta Gym for introducing this clip to me.
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Saturday, 20 April 2013

On the Duty of Being a Pain in the Arse

When I recently invited people to share their views on the so-called Olympic legacy, a colleague tweeted that she hoped people would remain optimistic in their responses.  Another respondent worried that sports professionals had a tendency to be too negative about issues like legacy, and maybe it was time we all positive-up!

These comments struck me at the time as extremely revealing, entirely reflecting a certain way of thinking that finds a welcome home in central sports agencies and some national governing bodies in the UK, and sometimes elsewhere.

Perhaps it is a natural response to a policy environment that is so unstable.  Some times we are flush with cash, other times not.  Sometimes that cash is directed into the shiny, beautiful world of elite sport, justified with, let's face it, a series of ludicrous claims about benefits tricking down to the dirty, much less glamorous worlds of community sport and school sport.  At other times, sport is hailed as the new public health prescription.  And then, in the blink of a general election, it changes again.

So 'keep smiling and carry on' has become something of a motto in British sport, much as a sense of humour became a defence against the horrors of bygone Britain.  Who can argue with that?  A certain wilful hopefulness has characterised the sports profession for as long as I have known it.

The only problem arises when this chirpy optimism is incompatible with intelligence.  Positive thinking is a worthy strategy, but it should not be at the expense of reason and evidence.  Just as there is a vital difference between an open mind and a whole in the head, there is a difference between constructive optimism and truth-blindness.  And here lies a bit of a problem for sport in UK, and elsewhere.  Criticism of policy has traditionally been as welcome as a fart in a duvet.

Critics are trouble-makers.  Stirrers.  Awkward questions are spoilers.  One senior sport leader used to publicly condemn the 'yes but' folk who could not just accept new schemes and initiatives without piping up and pointing out their potential problems.  The way these poor fools were described and the laughter of derision they inspired made it perfectly clear that, in this context at least, a critical friend was a contradiction in terms.

No UK government in recent times has sought out expert opinion in sport in any serious or meaningful way.  And this applies whether that expertise lies in Universities, sports agencies or professional associations.  From time to time, and out of a sense of grudging obligation, new policy documents are waved at the professional community, and they are warmly invited to send their comments by last Tuesday.  Generally speaking, the people who run sport for a living are seen as obstacles to be overcome, rather than resources to be tapped.

There are many reasons for this situation.  For example, a great deal of money is invested in even the most small-scale schemes, and perhaps those charged with promoting them feel under pressure to defend them too.  A more plausible explanation is that sport suffers and benefits from being politically sexy.  All sorts of people, including the general public, have views about it.  So any sports policy carries with it expectations both of politics and public opinion.  So, some policies need protecting from criticism because they are bullshit (in the sense I have defined elsewhere in this blog: "The bullshitter does not care if he or she is lying or telling the truth; only whether the statement advances a particular objective.  The bullshitter makes claims to persuade, or sell, or convince.  Whether they are true or not is irrelevant.").

Geoffrey Wheatcroft’s account of the most gifted bullshitter of recent history is helpful because it makes the art more real for us:

“Blair isn’t a liar, not in the sense that most of us are.    That is, most of us have on occasion told untruths, usually to get out of trouble of some kind or another .. but we crucially knew what we were doing .. By contrast, Blair is something different, and far more dangerous: he s not a liar but a man with no grasp at all of the distinction between objective truth and falsehood.”

A more recent example of policy bullshit is Education Secretary Michael Gove's repeated calls to increase the amount of competitive sport in schools.  One clue that this is the case is the fact that it was Mr Gove, himself, who was responsible for undermining one of the most effective competitive school sport structures in the world, when he attacked the PESSCL/PESSYP scheme, and especially the School Sport Coordinators role.  Apart from this, I am willing to bet my liver that Mr Gove has never given school sport a second thought since he was a pupil himself (I assume he failed to make any of the teams, and was forced to watch the matches with the wheezy children with notes from Matron).  But he must say something stirring about competition in schools because he is a Tory minister, and that is the sort of thing they have to say.

Of course, open discussion is not a panacea.  It may be that certain issues are too complex to be laid open to genuine discussion, although I have never come across an instance where this applies in sport or education.  Is the bases of ideas and schemes are made clear to everyone, and open dialogue on any problems or concerns takes place, those with greatest influence can be challenged to justify their views all to change them.  And, of course, it may well be that these ideas turn out to be entirely reasonable. The whole point of open discussion and dialogue is to allow all sides to detect errors and correct them, for the greater good. And also that, where changes need to be made, they must emerge from the discussion, and not be made in advance by those with power or control.

This is so radically different from the model assumed by most public agencies in the UK and elsewhere that it might seem naive. When I have asked why there is so little open consultation before new schemes are finalised, I have been told that it would not be practical, and that special interest groups merely slow-up the process of implementation.  In many cases, the special interest groups contain far more expertise then is held by the government and quasi-government agencies, so this position is clearly ludicrous.  Experts only cause "trouble" if they let errors or inconsistencies or nonsense slip by into practice.

If this is accepted, then we need to think again about the importance of discussion and criticism in public discussions of sport.  Those in control need to reflect a little on their own limitations. The rest of us need to step up and take our responsibilities seriously as active participants in the exchange and improvement of ideas.

And those people who we have been told are the most loyal and most supportive, who stand behind policy no matter what, should be exposed for what they are: freeloaders. There is a large numbers of people and groups in the current climate who have identified that compliance is a safe and secure strategy. There are outraged at criticism of any sort, and imply that those disreputable folk who criticise the creators of policy are not team-players. In fact, the opposite is true. These bland, cowardly individuals add nothing to the quality of public discussions. They contribute nothing to learning, and merely act as anchors, resisting change and progress.

Humans, all humans, make mistakes.  We are fallible.  Criticism is the best way we know to put those errors in check.  So criticism is vital.  It should not be merely tolerated; it should be invited, encouraged, and celebrated.  And those who seek to protect their ideas from criticism should be exposed and condemned.

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Saturday, 13 April 2013

Olympic Fortunes - what has been the legacy of London 2012?

A few weeks ago, I asked fellow travellers in Twittersphere about their views of Olympic Legacy.  This was not just a random act of nosiness, as Sebastian Coe had just been given responsibility for the International Inspirations, which seems to be seen by those in power as an important part of the Legacy programme.

For no very good reason, I decided to turn my little survey into a 'Family Fortunes' style affair, and stopped the poll at 100 responses.  As (depending on your age and nationality) Vernon Kay, Les Dennis, Bob Monkhouse or some large-toothed American TV presenter might say:


It is important to recognise that this is not in any way a scientific study. The aim of the survey was simply to take a snapshot of people's views, and those people formed what researchers called a self-selected sample. In other words, it would be a mistake to assume that the hundred people surveyed here work in any way representative of the population as a whole.

On the other hand, this strong dose of humility ought to be partially balanced against the likelihood that (since the survey was promoted mainly through my Twitter-feed) most respondents worked in or near sport, in one way or another.  So, perhaps they could claim some special insight into the matter.

I lack the computer skills (and inclination) to offer an interactive reveal of the findings.  And maybe that is not necessary and the results are fascinating enough.

The results are what politicians might euphemistically call "disappointing". 65% of respondents claiming that Olympic Legacy commitments have been based is a rather damning report card, although a figure of less than 10% claiming that commitments had been met is possibly even worse!

Respondents were also invited to make a comment about the Olympic Legacy, and a selection of these responses has offered below.  I have decided not to organise them, but rather let them speak for themselves as individual contributions to the debate.

Is it too soon to be able to measure this yet?

Clearly some legacy commitments are quicker to achieve than others, and rightly so, it shouldn't just be a flash in the pan process. Others will take time such add the cycling cross rail development in London. Others will take time to realise success or failure such as the impact on school sport and participation rates. Dispute the gloom mongers we can't judge too soon, whilst she same time those with responsibly at all levels must remain focused on the legacy cause and steadfast in their approach to achieve legacy commitments.

It will take 10 years to make the population level changes, as young people 'inspired' mature and adults inspired stay involved.

Lack of commitment in the run-up to the Games and a lack of imagination.

I feel strongly that the olympic "legacy" has been very much missed. The thrust of Sport england's initatives are currently 14-25 (at best a difficult age group to engage) - we need to make a concerted effort to (re)introduce "sport" in all its forms to primary school children.

The jumping on the back of other programmes is not a London Legacy. These seems to be little, if anything, that has actually been inspired by L2012 rather than programmes that were in operation already that L2012 has given a polish to.

Much of the legacy aspiration is in talking up something that had never been planned properly in order to ensure that it was achieved. It is now simply and mereley government and organisational rhetoric with no substance at all.

The interest was created in the initial aftermarth of the games, where many people had the drive and motivation to be more active, the amount that have carried that on and the reasons behind that are at presently up for discussion. So a kind of half way house. Personally I believe that as well as what hasdn't been done, what has and what has been effective should be extended / researched.

Issue is twofold - people see the legacy as creating new gold medal winners whilst others see it as a way to address the health of the nation. If the health of the nation was improved dramatically but we got no gold medals in Rio would people be happy with the legacy?

Nothing has really changed outside the east end of London, kids still do to little exercise and are mainly driven to school by their parents The only thing that has really changed is that i have a set of good memories!

Strategy has focussed on activity provision at local level - more of the same. However, what I believe we need in UK is a cultural shift i.e believing, thinking and then doing Health Sport and Education considered in a holistic fashion with investment looked at broad terms not segmented in historical silos and competition on who gets what and why We need all of the spectrum of physical activity, sport and physical education provision If we were starting again we would take an alternative and somewhat radical view of how our current provision is deployed.

All talk and no action.

Cuts completely undermine this. Look around at local level posts of people who have had an impact on youth participation and how quickly they are disappearing.

Not enough investment and activity following the Games to make a meaningful impact from grass roots to elite sport.

I think many factors contribute towards a succussful legacy, from participation rates, regeneration of London, improved and accessible facilities to the nations attitudes towards sport and eachother. This is why it seems almost impossible for us to know if there is a legacy, and how positive the legacy is. The question of timing also needs to asked, at what point do we draw the line and collect data to determine if we have a legacy or not? And if we do that, what do we do as a result of the information. We could celebrate what has been achieved and continue to develop it, or just admit defeat and maybe hope that the best is yet to come. I think a lot of positives have come from the Olympics and Paralympics which is why I believe we are nearly there with the legacy. The main priorities of legacy need to be integrated into the roots of sport to ensure that we have infact inspired a generation, and the next one and the next one … A lot more needs to be done to integrate into a society a culture of physical activity and healthy living to ensure the Olympic legacy is positive, and long lasting.

Sport in school was cut when the Tories came in and no way of making it better has been worked out.

Now that the games are over there is no sign of any legacy. I see no additional attempts to persuade or indeed help fund young people to have ago at new sports.

If anyone mentions actual 'legacy' within months of the games, that's like saying there is a Wimbledon legacy as tennis courts fill up for a fortnight.

So much promise to start with, new facilities, new passion and new opportunities but it seems it was just a phase and now we are left to be independent again and the Olympics is 'put to the back of the draw' as to speak. Would the 'legacy' not indicate continuation and additional effort such as primary school specialists and coaching? Maybe not, maybe the inaccessible arenas will motivate the nation.

Games that inspired a nation but the 'dream legacy ' is an unfulfilled one .We need some government backing, some decisions and some drive. It’s all there. 2012 proved that. But unless something is done - it will all be - a dream.

Most people talk about the Olympics that amazing summer last year... But that's it! No legacy. I thought school would be bombarded with Legacy projects in the new term ... But nothing. The momentum, I fear, has been lost.

It appears that it is all talk and no action. In fact if what we read is true it is going backwards with the selling off of playground space, no expectation of sport and physical education and cuts in funding.

I believe that despite all the percieved good the Olympics have done for participation in Sport, they are still an out-dated institution where able-bodied and disabled competitors are segregated. They also focus on the competitor over any of the other important roles that make the games, events and sports happen, ignoring the whole community of practice as it were. 

It would be great to receive further commentary on this important issue via Twitter (@DrDickB).