December 13, 2017

School Yard to World Stage: A Review of the evening

Written by:
Kenneth Rae

A Review of the Evening

The purpose of the School Yard to World Stage evening was to bring coaches together and give them a learning opportunity exploring the importance of creating the right environment in school, club and pro sport.

There were three guest speakers in Mark Robertson, Ben Cairns and James Pillinger who each shared their experiences of how understanding individual responsibility, shaping the values and cultures of an organisation and athlete accountability can lead to great results on, and off, the sporting field.

Mark Robertson

Mark Robertson Olympic Silver Medalist

Mark Robertson was a key member of the Scotland 7’s side that won their first World Series title at Twickenham in 2016. A title that was subsequently retained in 2017, which also saw the first Scottish rugby team to beat New Zealand in 120 years.

A seemingly natural progression for a team making Quarter Finals; it was far from it. Just two years earlier this, largely, same group was just 1 defeat away from losing their jobs.

Mark described the 50 tournaments he’s been part of and the life of a Sevens rugby player a massive emotional rollercoaster.

Mark vividly recounted being in the changing rooms in Hong Kong 2014 after day one of the tournament feeling pretty sorry for themselves. They had underperformed and knew they had.

An ultimatum connected to the following days performance, which would have consequences beyond the field of play was clearly laid out.

Whilst not a smooth path, the shift from also rans to first, and second, time World Series tournament winners was pretty seismic.

So what changed?

2 new coaches, brutal honesty and a togetherness not previously experienced in the squad played a big part in the change in fortunes.

Whilst there was initial challenges to this approach, and some squad members fell away as a result, the squad mentality changed, and having such an open forum for all team issues created buy in and player accountability. The squad were now actively highlighting weaknesses to work on and get support from each other.

It created a team of players who were striving to improve as much as possible.

Mark described it as the most challenging environment that he’d be part of. At times it wasn’t nice. But the enjoyment came from the improvements they saw.

Two years later, five podium finishes, three finals, two tournament wins, and beating the All Blacks for the first time in 112 years, it was clearly worthwhile.

James Pillinger

James Pillinger Fettes College

An experienced coach and PE Teacher, James recognises the power that sport has to play in facilitating active learning and long term individual growth.

He is passionate about fostering leadership skills and promoting the right mindsets in pupils, which should be seen as an investment in their future.

James told stories of the power of video on an individual basis to reinforce positive behaviour, and how, if set up correctly, the player can self-discover, which will have a far greater and longer lasting impact than being told.

The next step was getting this video out to all players and not just those who filmed individual practise.

This lead to James starting a video channel at Fettes College. His philosophy was to accelerate learning by engaging all pupils and staff across all sports through the power of video and feedback.

Goal Setting was made a priority and the outcomes were made as transparent as possible, and by including video, there was an additional motivational upside.

If the sporting coaches at the school could skilfully engage with the pupils, learning would accelerate quickly. The School made it a priority to seek out players who proved to be the best decision makers in their respective sports.

Good problem solvers were linked closely to making good decisions on the pitch. It was therefore up to the sporting staff at Fettes to provide an environment where pupils could use video for reflective practise thereby allowing the player to influence his or her own learning path.

Ben Cairns

Ben Cairns Currie Chieftains

As a former international and professional player with Scotland and Edinburgh, whose career was cut short by injury, Ben highlighted how the new vision and re-branding of the Currie Chieftains club from Currie RFC translated to an improved culture, satisfaction as a coach and on-field performance.

Ben began to explaining in his ten years at Edinburgh, he had more than ten coaches!  Whilst this may be seen as damaging to the teams success, looking back Ben was able to see lots of different coaches in action in a short period of time, an subsequently take the bits he liked to shape his own coaching approach.

Currie RFC was this year re-branded as the Currie Chieftains with Ben as Head Coach and part of the steering committee. The change was an opportunity to drive a new brand and create positive change and new energy throughout the club.

All members, both playing and non-playing were consulted, and the very first thing did was ask what traits a Chieftain, whether player or member, should have. By engaging the whole membership, they ensured the traditions of the club were maintained, whilst clearing the path for a new and collective vision.

There were a number of definitions of success, that connected the social and playing side of the club such as having 30 players to all training sessions AND club events.

However, Ben is always conscious that the club re-branding could be deemed a failure if success on the pitch wasn’t achieved.

Positive improvement would only be achieved with the correct mindset of the players. His side sat second in the Premiership at the time of the presentation so they'd made a good start performance wise.

It was particularly refreshing to hear Ben, who has very strong beliefs and determination, admit that he doesn't hold all the answers.  He put this to the test in a live environment, by showing how he had gathered feedback and thoughts from the playing squad, then handed over to the audience to ask how they would have done it differently, or if they agreed.

The beauty in that engagement, is that while a number of experienced coaches in the room gave their views, there was no unanimous decision on how it could have been, or should be in the future, handled.

The discussion ultimately came down to the subtle difference between a good decision and bad execution and a bad decision with good execution. Either way, the point in question was a great learning and reflective opportunity for all players and those in the room.

We'd like to say thank you to everyone who attended the event.

It’s been mentioned there aren’t enough positive professional development opportunities for teachers and coaches so we’re trying to rectify that! Here's a bit more information on our first event first run in 2016.

We are looking forward to hosting the next one and are, as always, open to feedback.

Watch the Highlights video below:

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