CARVER Coaching & Performance Newsletter

Hi, Paul here,

I hope this finds you well. This week’s theme is…

Hope & Inclusion

This week I will change things up a little and share with you an essay of my own I recently wrote for a book called: Mental Health for Millennials- Volume 6 on Hope and Inclusion. This is the CARVER Essay and CARVER Insight hybrid edition😊.

In this book various contributors were tasked to write on the subject of Hope and Inclusion from their own perspective or practice domain. Here is what I wrote…

CARVER Essay & Insight…All In One…

Sport is not just for the Talented, the Champions and the Early Developers: Creating a Climate of Hope and Inclusion in Sport

We are living through a time where the constructs of hope and inclusion are being deeply challenged. The global Covid 19 pandemic has seen many of us lose hope. The ongoing war in the Ukraine is the antithesis of inclusion. The world, and its inhabitants, is experiencing great challenge. Somewhat ironically, attacks on hope and inclusion highlight and magnify their value; without them…there is suffering.

Hope and inclusion are integral in a healthy sporting environment. Hope is what motivates athletes to practice, and what draws them to the competitive environment. Inclusion…that sense of belonging…is what drives courageous effort and performance, and is at the very core of all high performing teams (of any age.) Healthy sporting environments are places of hope and inclusion.

Covid 19 may have taught (or re-taught) many of us the true value of sport both for ‘the viewer’ and ‘the doer’. In the early days of the pandemic in Ireland, Level 5 restrictions allowed elite-level sport to continue. My understanding is that some of the logic behind this was to give ‘the viewer’ something to look forward to watching at the weekend, as well as something to talk about, and think about, during the week; to give people hope and allow them feel part of something. In many ways the elite sportsperson increasingly became the modern day gladiator; there to entertain the people and add colour and hope to their ‘new normal’.

Level 5 restrictions also allowed for non-contact underage sports training to continue. In the midst of a global pandemic, our government appreciated and acknowledged the value of sport for both ‘the viewer’ and ‘the doer’. Sport could build hope and drive a feeling of inclusion; essential for the health and wellbeing of the people.

In this piece I will write about sport for ‘the doer’. Sport ‘of the people, for the people and by the people.’ I will talk to the sport I am primarily involved in… ‘ordinary sport’…as with everything- the ordinary can be extraordinary. I write this piece for the ‘ordinary coach’. I too am an ‘ordinary coach’.

As ‘ordinary coaches’ we hold the future of sport in our hands. In this piece I will speak to the potential of ‘ordinary sport’ to foster hope and cultivate inclusion; to nurture the mental health of people and society. I will examine the integral role the ‘ordinary coach’ must assume if sports potential for good is to be realised into the future. I will challenge you… I will call you to service. Sport, and by extension the world, needs the best version of you.

So what is the value of ‘ordinary sport’ and what is the power of the ‘ordinary coach’? How can sport foster hope and cultivate inclusion? How can it help the mental health of our (young) people? What does sport and coaching offer society and are we maximising their potential for good?

It is said that the coach needs the athlete, but the athlete doesn’t necessarily need the coach. This, of course, is technically true, but I feel increasingly in today’s society, and indeed into the future, the ‘ordinary coach’ holds the key to unlocking the extraordinary potential of ‘ordinary sport’. After all, the coach is the one who curates and cultivates the conditions which allows the good stuff to happen: hope, inclusion and so on. I want to raise your awareness of the power, potential and scope for the ‘ordinary coach’ to do extraordinary good. I want to challenge you to help others.

Sport, at its most morally praiseworthy, is a place of human endeavour. It is a place where learning and development comes about through challenge. Sport is a place to explore the limits of human potential and to maximise what we have been given. At its most moving and noble, sport doesn’t have to involve cups, medals and money. It can, and must, provide the opportunity to both exhibit and develop great moral courage, to find: enjoyment, hope, connection and meaning. Those with influence in sport hold significant societal sway. The coach is a custodian. This is a tall challenge! Traditional wisdom tells us that being involved in sport is of merit to our youth, but how can we truly harness and maximise its scope for positive?

In order to realise its potential for good I feel sport must offer a place for everyone: from the elite to the recreational, from the gifted to the not so gifted. It must be a place of inclusion; it must offer hope and a sense of belonging to everyone. Sport is not just for the talented, the champions and the early developers. ‘Ordinary sport’ must be for everyone and from this environment the individual will emerge to find their level if coached appropriately.

If a coach, club or team is not affording its young members adequate game-time it is fundamentally failing in its primary purpose of being a place for members of its community to play the sport in question and to encourage hope for players and participants. Yes, I appreciate the challenges involved in this, but ‘the way’ becomes much clearer if we understand our ‘why’.

Sport is for everyone, especially so ‘ordinary sport’ provided the ‘ordinary coach’ is strong enough to lead the way, and unlock its potential. Sport can be the antidote for many of society’s ills: obesity, mental health issues and addiction. Sport provides endless opportunity, and opportunity is the mother of all learning and development. For me, the primary role of sport is to teach young people lessons for life:

‘Try your best, learn as you go, improvement comes through challenge and application, stick together, serve your team and teammates, learn how to win and lose with dignity… hope for better days and appreciate there will be setbacks along the way.’

Sport should be a vehicle to help people ‘get better’ at life, develop themselves and strengthen their constitution for this world.

When the learner is guided properly, sport affords them the opportunity to develop: mental and physical resilience, character, communication and teamwork skills, as well as leadership qualities. It provides them with a place where they feel like they belong; inclusion. This all sounds idyllic; however, the reality can often be the opposite when the leadership is weak or incompetent and the example that is set is poor.

Sport can, all too often, be about the negatives of: elitism, favouritism, aggressive and disrespectful behaviour, abusive coaches and supporters and so on. I know this because at one time or another, I was either part of that, or at least a relatively willing bystander. Perhaps occasionally, I still am; passion can lead us astray.

As coaches and leaders it is our responsibility and challenge to lead with nobility and help illicit the true value of sport. This is a big order! Yes, we need to be experts in our game (clearly the technical and the tactical elements of coaching are extremely important if we expect to retain the young sportsperson) but we also need to be experts in leading by example, showing the way and educating those in our care. Sport needs us!

As coaches we must help our athletes establish: why they play, how they want to prepare, how they wish represent themselves, their team and their club, what sport can offer them and what sport means to them? Their motives will anchor their strength and drive their passion. We must provide an environment that protects the weak, challenges the strong and ensures our athletes are treated with respect, afforded opportunity and challenged appropriately. We must create a climate where the athlete is allowed to express themselves, to extend themselves and to evolve their own style and personality. To quote ‘The Coaches’ Coach’ Dr. Liam Moggan,

“If future generations are to be liberated and to thank us, we need to feed their passion and enthusiasm, and integrate fun and enjoyment into the wonderful world of sport. We need to encourage people to do something they enjoy, rather than be better at doing something than someone else”.

‘Sport for the viewer’ must never become more important than ‘sport for the doer’ and our challenge as ‘ordinary coaches’ is to maximise sport’s potential for good by recruiting and retaining as many ‘doers’ as possible. Healthy sporting environments are places of hope and inclusion; they are places the support the positive development of people and their mental health. Healthy sporting environments depend on strong leadership. We, ‘the ordinary coach’ hold great sway. We can give so much and indeed we can get so much…one of life’s great symmetries… ‘for it is in giving that we receive.’

And I think to myself…. What a wonderful world.

Paul Kilgannon

You will find Mental Health for Millennials- Volume 6 on Hope and Inclusion here

Copyright Paul Kilgannon 2021
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