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Curiosity Didn’t Kill the Coach

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“Curiosity is a s**t starter. But that’s okay”.

Just part-way into the newest book from TED-talk-sensation and professional storyteller Brene Brown, I stumbled across this sentence.  So powerful, I read it over and over again along with the words around it.  “The brain’s chemistry changes when we become curious, helping us better learn and retain information”, it continued, “Curiosity is unruly. It doesn't like rules, or, at least, it assumes all rules are provisional subject to the laceration of a smart question nobody has thought to ask. It disdains the approved pathways, preferring diversions, unplanned excursions, impulsive left turns”. I carried on, “In short, curiosity is a deviant.  That’s why it’s so vital to the process”.

“Curiosity is a s**t starter. But that’s okay”. A sentence with which I now begin most lectures, workshops and one to one interactions with coaches. The more I use this, the more I realise that coaches aren’t used to being told curiosity is okay, let alone be in environments which positively promote it. Whether they feel bound by traditional coaching dogma and doctrine, I don’t know. It’s almost like somebody told them curiosity killed the coach.

How can we possibly understand others and the impact we’re having on them, if we don’t really understand ourselves and where our actions originate from? Coaching is complex, contextual and there might be multiple realities; understanding our own is at least a good place to begin.

After leaning more in to these ideas, and getting curious myself, I revisited the work of Gary Klein and watched his TED Talk on generating insights; this, after reading a really great blog by Krissi Patterson along a similar theme.  Klein says curiosity is crucial to generating new insights; doing things such as paying attention to things which are unexpected or unusual. How often do we really do this as coaches? Or do we just let these things slide?  How often do we get curious about the assumptions we are making? How often do we change these based on new information (from unexpected or unusual things that happen in our practice)?  After lengthy and inspiring conversations with ConnectedCoaches member Andrew Gillott in the last week, he brought my attention to just how much you can begin to see what someone’s beliefs and values are just by watching them coach.  However, how often do we recognise this ourselves? And how do we ever expect to improve if all this just stays below the surface, untapped?  We’re really excited to have Andrew come in and work with our students more on this getting-curious-about-the-self stuff, as a visiting lecturer at St Mary’s University.

Something I encourage over 380 undergraduate coaches and future teachers to engage in on the Physical and Sport Education degree at St Mary’s University is to raise all of these tacit assumptions to the fore and begin to muddle through them.  This can be uncomfortable, terrifying and be met with a tonne of resistance; however the value of doing this far outweighs all of that.  Not exclusive to undergraduate coaches at the start of their careers, either, but with coaches of all ages and stages. I had the pleasure of working with a large National Governing Body in the past few weeks, where I spent three hours with coaches making sense of some implicit actions in their coaching.  We had an iPad, a whiteboard and a group culture where vulnerability was cool; nothing more. It was met with universal agreement that a good place to begin any coaching course or workshop, is to begin to understand ourselves.  

How many coaching courses have you been on which do this? For it’s our beliefs, values and assumptions which shape our coaching practice, interactions and all which that entails. I’m certainly not saying the process is about changing those; some of those we can’t change easily and why would we want to?  However, I believe just by understanding these and being curious about ourselves we can become better and more self-aware coaches. 

Instead of passing off the next unexpected outcome as being mere coincidence, dig a little deeper and see what’s going on underneath there.  It certainly won’t be comfortable, but as Brene Brown began with, it’s vital to the process.

What did you think of this blog? I would love to hear your thoughts. Please feel free to add a comment below

Liam McCarthy (Lecturer, St Mary’s University)

liam.mccarthy@stmarys.ac.uk

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Comments (5)

   
Quiet1
Thanks for sharing this, Liam. A really good read, which I relate to. During the Sports Coaching MSc at Leeds Beckett the notion of challenging assumptions and the 'taken for granted' things kind of got me hooked on trying to make sense of things - but being comfortable with not always being able to get to the end point of making sense! I generally over think pretty much everything, but am more often now taking action when I get curious about something - read, talk about it, write, draw, try things out. And being very comfortable with the knowledge that the more I learn, the more I realise there is so much more to learn :)
26/02/16
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liammccarthy16
Thank you Krissi. I would agree - the MSc at Leeds Beckett was the starting place for all of these thoughts. Thanks for the inspiration with your blog. Keep them coming!
29/02/16
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CatherineBaker
Great blog Liam, thank you. Raises the important issue of understanding yourself as a key first step (we have it as the cornerstone of most of our programmes, following the belief that "before you can be someone you need to know who you are.") I also love the discussion around curiosity and creative thinking. When I run workshops in this area I use the well-researched construct of the operational world and the innovation or developmental world. The former revolves around rules, decision-making, procedures, routines etc, whilst the latter is where curiosity, speculation, connection making, and experimenting reign supreme. Most of us spend far too much time in the operational world, and not nearly enough time in the innovation world. The trick is to know and understand when and how to move between the two, something we love working with clients on. Great example yesterday, working through some strategy planning yesterday with an organisation within the world of sport. Brains had stopped whirring round, ideas were grinding to a halt. So first of all I suggested that everyone go for a walk/have a chat to clear their heads, and then did the 'pick up an item and write down three things about it' game. This gave us the breakthrough we needed (in this case the phrase was high quality, describing a kitchen implement!) to move on with the strategy planning....
04/03/16
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TimminsLaura

This is a great read Liam, and has reminded me of the importance of understanding the values that underpin my practice. It is too easy to fall into the trap of being comfortable when teaching and coaching, when this is what can prevent you from developing. This is why I really value teachers and coaches who are in the early stages of their career as often, it is a clear that great thought has gone into a session; when on the other hand, an experienced coach may repeat previous practises with little reflection on the context. Of course this a very general statement, and am not suggesting that all experienced coaches do this.

If teaching and coaching settings are more open to original thought rather than following the manual, hopefully individuals can be more curious and therefore comfortable in being uncomfortable. I think this is a true indicator of the values and attitudes of that coach, as it shows a desire to progress. As part of coach education courses, coaches should be encouraged to make those mistakes (to a certain extent!) as this is part of the process of understanding their values.

I hope that over the next few weeks we can challenge first year students to start thinking about these idea's, and encourage them to understand themselves as teachers and coaches.

25/01/17
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MayburD

Hi Liam, thanks. A great read. Fits in very well with the Game-Centred Approach & Self-Reflective practices you are aware we continue to promote with coaches in Leinster Rugby

25/01/17
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CMurray97

This is a great read Liam, I myself don't coach any sports but what you have said in this blog has opened up my eyes and shows how can you understand others if you can not understand yourself and how deep into your own coaching system you can reach. When I do have a chance to teach or coach which is mostly in my degree I use sessions from more experienced coaches but I like to put my own twist on the session that way the students can see what I am like as a teacher and then I can get general feedback from them on the session.

30/01/17
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