Firstly, sorry for the lack of posts recently...I got sidelined with another project that took up all of my available writing time. Anyway, I'm back and will be back to posting every friday again!

I wanted to share with you a video of a young rugby player who goes by the name of Tyrese Johnson-Mitchell. The video is from Tyrese playing in the semi final of the U15 Natwest Schools Vase competition and features him scoring 4 tries.

Pretty impressive stuff huh? Clearly the boy can play...

What was interesting was the response on social media..here are a few excerpts below

Most of the responses were pretty positive but there was a theme that I noticed. The responses were either from the 'wow this is great, what a talent, lets really get behind him' side of the fence or were from the 'I have seen loads of lads like this, he is just big for his age and when everyone else catches up he won't be anything special' camp.

Who is right? Probably both of them, but both of them could just as easily destroy this player's talent with the stances they are taking. This is what I call the 'Double edged sword of talent'.

Let me explain...

Those wanting to throw adulation and praise on the player will think that they are building his self esteem and confidence and helping him to avoid being dragged down by the 'negative haters'' that only want to pull people back down to their level when they show promise.

This is a natural response but it could just as easily be 'killing him with kindness' by putting across a message that this player is so good that he is now on a natural trajectory to greatness which may well carry with it a subminal message that he doesn't need to work hard to get better. (It may also have the effect of sending out a more serious message to others in his age group that they aren't as good now and therefore won't be as good in the future).

On the other hand there are those that want to say that he is just a freak of nature who is more physically gifted for his age than his peers and that we shouldn't get too excited about him as he will be caught up in time and will then just be mediocre.

This overly 'deterministic' stance is equally dangerous as it can limit the belief that he has the potential to achieve something. It says that he is only good because he is bigger, stronger and faster than his peers and his abilities are an illusion, he is 'fools gold'.

So it seems that we are damned if we do and damned if we don't right?

Not necessarily...

The problem with these 2 positions is that they are too focussed on the future...one is saying that the 'sky's the limit' while the other is saying 'don;t be fooled, he won't be that good in a few years'.

They should be focussed on the here and now...the message needs to be "you are doing well, you are showing promise, that is good, what have you learned today that will help you to get better".

It is tempting to view talent as a some kind of magical glimpse of the future but, in my view, this is where we run into trouble. By placing too much emphais on the outcome it is all too easy for us to take kid's minds away from the all important process of improving day to day and then letting the outcome be what it will be.

That's why I am so passinate about moving away from the flawed concept of 'Talent Identification' towards which is based on making guesses towards a future outcome towards a model of 'Talent Development' which is much more focussed on process.

I would welcome your thoughts...

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I have been giving some more thought about failure and how struggle and getting things wrong is such an important part of the whole learning process. I have been reflecting on how some of my best learning experiences have been such massive failures.

I failed my A level exams when I was 18.

I remember being crestfallen when I saw the letters D, E and U on the slip of paper that came in the envelope. All of my friends were celebrating and talking about where they were going to university and I was the chump that had to say that I had messed up.

If I was honest with myself, I should have known what was coming...I had been able to get by on my wits for a while, I was cruising and had gotten involved with some people that were not all that good for me.

The writing was on the wall as they say.

I took stock and after a few days I decided that I would retake the whole year. It was tough, all of my friends went off to their respective universities and I was left behind, questioning whether I had made the right decision or not.

It turned out to be the best decision I could have made, I knuckled down and worked hard and got way better grades than the 1st time that got me into my first choice university. My mantra throughout the whole year was 'fail to prepare...prepare to fail'. It was a big learning moment that as stayed with me throughout my career.

My first foray into the world of entrepreneurship wasn’t exactly a raging success…

I tried to start a business with a friend of mine. We both had other jobs at the time and were trying to build it up enough so that it could be our main thing.

It was a new golf tournament format, it was a brilliant idea and it got a lot of media coverage, we were invited to do an event for TV with a number of top professional golfers but ultimately we couldn’t make it work and we had to mothball it.

My first losing season, my first relegation…

From a coaching point of view my biggest failure came ironically after my most successful period as a coach. I had had been working with a club team for a number of years and we had won back to back league championships and had been successful in securing a strong top 5 finish in the national league.

I then decided to step down from that role as my work life was becoming quite challenging and I had a young family at home that I wanted to give more of my time and attention to.

Needless to say, that summer my home club came calling as they were without a coach and they were desperate for me to help out.

They played the emotion card brilliantly and I am a massive sucker when it comes to helping people out that are down so I agreed even though I knew it was going to be a challenge.

It turned out to be the biggest challenge ever! The team were in transition and getting them bought in to really push themselves to achieve something was a real struggle but in reality I was distracted with other things and wasn’t totally focussed on them which transferred onto the performances.

Sure enough within 2 seasons that team had been relegated! There are a whole host of reasons why that happened which I will detail in some future posts but those two years taught me some really valuable lessons about commitment and motivating players.

All of these failures were really hard to take and they really knocked my confidence for a while.

But I definitely came back stronger for the experience and I am certain that they have helped to shape me to the point where I am way better than I would have been otherwise.

So what are the takeaways from this:

1. Preparation is everything – don’t set yourself up to fail by being unprepared.

2. Flying by the seat of your pants will only last for so long.

3. Only take on a project if you are going to be fully committed.

4. Pick your projects carefully. Make sure the players are aligned to your vision and are prepared to be open minded.

5. Don’t allow emotion to guide your decisions.

6. Sometimes you have to teach yourself a lesson by taking the hard solution and restarting from scratch.

7. Failing can be transformational as long as you reflect hard, learn the lessons and apply the learning.

I guess I must be doing something right, my team won their league last week with a game to go…champagne all round tomorrow!

Happy Coaching

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All over the world children are starving. You only need to switch on the news to see images of children in underdeveloped countries suffering with a lack of nutrition while the adults who should know better are too busy fighting or scoring political points off each other to make sure that they are properly nourished. Well I am afraid to say that the very same thing is happening in the developed world. In the developed world it is not that food isn't abundant, it has never been more plentiful! It's that the food we provide is the wrong kind of food. Children in developed nations are eating more highly processed food that is full of sugar and lacking the essintial micro nutrients to support their development than ever before and guess what...there is an obesity epidemic!

Now I could write a lengthy piece about nutrition but there are lots of people out there who can provide you with that kind of information (see Chris Cresser for really in depth stuff or this article for a maintream position or this article for a less maintream view)

But this piece isn't about children being malnourished in terms of what they eat. This article is about children being undernourished in terms of what they do. I believe that children in western societies are starving when it comes to a lack of play.

In her brilliant book 'It's OK not to share', Heather Schumaker argues that play is as essential to the healthy development of children's brain and personality as food is to their physiogical growth and wellbeing. She argues, "What is precious in these early years is play. Free, unstructured, child directed playtime. It's an old fashioned idea with modern Neuroscience backing it up".

"Play is not a luxury. Play is a necessity"

- Kay Redfield-Jamison

Looking at the way children's sport is now being provided I have to question whether our generation has begun to be too involved in children's play and started to take it over. There are a whole host of commercial providers who offer 'sport' activity sessions for kids as young as 3. In previous generations these same children would be inventing worlds with wooden blocks, building dens or climbing trees.

I think that there is a tendency to get children 'doing sport' too early and this sports experience can be too focussed on the development of techniques when the children are not ready to take these techniques on board. Schumaker makes reference to this being the 'rule of 7 plus or minus 1' where she refers to how scandinavian eductionalists (children don't start school until the age of seven in Sweden and Finland) consider 7 to be a magic age where children become able to grasp concepts and ideas much more readily.

She proposes that trying to teach things to children before they are ready is actually counter productive and will actually harm a child's development for that aid it.

"Miseducation teaches us the wrong thing at the wrong time"

- David Elkind

In the book she proposes that children should be entitled to develop at their own speed and pace and should not have the aspirations of adults thrust upon them too soon. This is enshrined within a document that is referred to as 'Children's Renegade Rights' which is published in the pre school that she founded.

Children's Renegade Rights

A child has...

A right to unstructured free play

A right to choose her own playmates

A right to use props and chose their own play themes

A right to uninterrupted play during playtime

A right to feel safe

A right not to have objects taken from them (forced sharing)

A right to move and use their body vigorously

A right to be outside

A right to experience and express a full range of their emotions

A right to ask questions and know things

A right to stand up for their own rights by setting limits on others behaviour

A right to be listened to, be respected and have their rights constantly supported by adults

Coming back to the starting point of this post I feel that we are trying to feed our kids the wrong kind of physical diet. Instead of providing a balanced diet of physical activity that is appropriate to their developmental capacities we are force feeding them on a specialised diet of highly structured, adult directed, technique driven sport specific activity that they aren't ready to eat and will ultimately harm their development long term.

I remember watching an awful film during sport relief about a mother in Africa being forced to give her baby solid food because she was too under nourished to produce any milk and there wasnt anything else to eat.

We have a different choice...

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