Beware the barrenness of a busy life

I stumbled across this quote in, of all places, the bathroom of a greek restaurant in London (in fact, I highly recommend it if you happen to be in London, Unsurprisingly, the Greeks are still very proud of their historic philosophers! Socrates lived nearly 2500 years ago, but man, did he have some wisdom. He is responsible for ideas like the socratic method of questioning, which you probably know of and use without even knowing it. He is credited for inventing the practice of teaching as we know it(!) Imagine inventing something as fundamental as teaching. And he was the mentor to other famous minds like Aristotle and Plato. Anyway, the quote above from Socrates was going around in my head as I went back to my meal, and it has stayed there ever since as I feel there is a lot of relevance to coaching, and in particular my current season coaching my Rugby team.

I have started coaching again after a year off getting my feet under the table after moving to Ireland. The details of the team I’m coaching are:

Mixed ability
Mixed experience in Rugby
2 training slots from 4.10–5.15pm each week

So I have the guts of an hour twice a week with them. I have really enjoyed getting stuck in and getting back to the coalface of coaching. I started the year with grand plans on what I would teach them over the season. However, as many military experts know and articulate, no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. It has taken me a few weeks, but a lot of what I had planned has been re-hashed and adapted based on the group in front of me.

One of the things I definitely didn’t factor in to my plans though, was the time I have with the kids and the impact that has had on the content I want to get through. The last team I coached back in New Zealand were experienced adults, and we had a minimum of 90 minutes with them each session. I severely underestimated two things related to this;

  1. How conditioned I was to coaching for 90 minute blocks
  2. The difference in 90 minutes to 65 minutes.

Consequently for the first month or so I tried to cram 90 minutes of content into 65 minutes, and each training I came away feeling like I hadn’t hit the mark. I came away feeling frustrated and a bit empty. Then I came across the Socrates quote and things started to connect in my mind. In trying to make up for the fact the sessions are shorter (compared to what I was conditioned to) I am trying to cover everything. In trying to cover everything, I am covering nothing very well. My sessions are feeling barren because of how busy they are. I probably haven’t been sticking to my season objectives, because every time I see something that needs to be fixed, I am jumping in and trying to fix it. It reminds me of a saying my fiancé has introduced me to which I think encapsulates this feeling;

“Busy bees but no honey”

I am spending so much time being busy I’m forgetting to actually get down to the business of making that sweet, delicious honey.

I learnt about threshold concepts from reading David Didau’s great book ‘What if everything you knew about teaching was wrong?’ Threshold concepts:

“can be considered as akin to a portal, opening up new and previously inaccessible ways of thinking about something. It represents a transformed way of understanding, or interpreting something without which the learner cannot progress”.

I feel like this is one of the threshold concepts every coach must go through on their journey to better themselves. There is an art to knowing what to ignore when you coach. To be able to prioritise and say “for today I’m not going to worry about that because I have identified this other ‘thing’ as having a higher importance”. I have been guilty of ignoring this key lesson beginning this season as I have adapted to having less time with my team, but thanks to a chance encounter with Socrates, I feel I am back on the way to creating a richer, deeper learning environment with my team.