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The Best Coffee Break You’ll Ever Have

Driving to Nottingham on a cold December morning, I was very uncertain about what to expect. I was attending a ‘Modern Learning Event’. There was no real agenda other than to come with an open mind. This was going to be a new way of learning for all involved.

The following is a timeline of my experience as a part of the group, along with some of my reflections throughout the day.

We began with the principles of ‘open space learning’ where the agenda is set by the group. What did we want to talk about and what is important to us in coaching? There were a number of themes which formed the nine discussion areas for the day.

Ultimately, the day was sold to us as ‘the best coffee break you’ll ever have’. Reflecting on the fact that the coffee breaks are often the times at conferences where you get to have the conversations you really came for. So the day was set out as a loosely structured form of coffee break, where the conversation was led by individuals within the group and not from the person stood at the front of the room.

The ground rules were relatively simple but new to everyone in the room. One of the key points was:

We need to learn to ‘listen well’ and be in the conversation.

WE were in charge of our own learning and experience for the day. We were encouraged to identify when we getting nothing from the learning experience and simply walk away. Because the rules of the day were so clear, walking away from a conversation was not seen as ‘rude’ but as an indication the individual might have got what they needed from the discussion, or simply wished to change the subject for something more relevant to them.

From the floor came one of the great words of the day, ‘edutainment’. The challenge to think about how can we make chalk and talk, fun and entertaining?

We set the scene for how we felt about the day which led to the question, if learners feel anxious about a task and have no get out then how can we ensure they stay engaged?

Some comments from the floor:

“It’s about doing the simple thing not just well but excellently.”

“We want new ideas and different things. Where can you fit in excellence?”

“People need to identify how they prefer to engage in learning and seek out these opportunities. If they are not available, we need to make them available.”

We need to move away from educators thinking ‘I’m the one with all the information and I’m here to tell you what you need to know; need to move away from it to the learners leading the learning.

Sometimes you lose track of whether what you’re doing is making a difference, so it is a great opportunity to step back and think about if you’re going in the right direction.

We discussed how we could become comfortable with failing. At the same time we needed to ask “are we getting the right blend of things?”

The whole group was very open and honest about how they felt about the day ahead. Some said “they may be distracted”, while others said “they often preferred to sit and listen,” but this should not be seen as disengaging. The level of honesty in the room during the scene setting exercise, was an indication of just how open people were being in trying a new way of learning.

Rachel Hooper | Coach Education Advisor - Blog










Again, we had some excellent points that came from the group:

“I work best when I bounce ideas off people, so it’s great to be in a room of people I can learn from.”

“Being inquisitive isn’t always about openly asking questions out loud but in your own head.”

“When people want to learn it’s easy. It’s getting them to that point that’s the challenge.”

The conversations then moved into three groups. These were based on the subject areas that had been identified during initial discussions. While each ‘track’ had a theme, coach education was the prominent thread throughout all conversations.

Rachel Hooper | Coach Education Advisor - Blog










As is often the case, the conversations posed more questions than finding concrete answers. However, the more exploratory the conversations became, it was evident that there were some excellent solutions in the rooms that could be shared as well.  

Track 1

A.    “Is moving to digital an issue as it makes people remote and they cannot have the dialogue. Possible solution includes online ‘hangouts’.

B.    “How do we ensure learning is practically linked to delivery.”

C.    “How can we change the culture of learning so coaches become reflective practitioners before they become a skills based coach?”

In spite of the three sessions for Track 1, all three conversations led to the same discussion area which was that we need to develop reflective practitioners, who want to learn more than just develop people who can tell others how to do skills and drills.  

Track 2

A.    In spite of targeting a diverse coaching workforce, it is the same usual group of people who have turned up at courses and learning opportunities.

B.    What is ‘modern learning?’ It seems to be something that is different to the ‘chalk and talk’ and more CPD opportunities and use of social media discussions.

C.    How do we create the Michelin star coach developer, educator?

The word ‘learning’ doesn’t sell. How can we market learning in a way that attracts the people who have a negative association with learning?

Rachel Hooper | Coach Education Advisor - Blog










Track 3

A.    Can we focus on the formative and developmental approach to coach education rather than the summative assessment?

B.    How do we build a system that provides feedback about the difference we make in learning?

C.    How do we connect the coaches across sports communities?

Some reflections from those in attendance:

“There needs to be a flexibility in qualifications and the framework to make it fit for purpose.”

“There’s not enough time to put everything onto a qualification. Should it all be CPD?”

The ‘check in’ at the beginning of the day set the tone of the day, which was one of real honesty. The group did answer some questions, but created lots of new ones.

When concluding discussions, the group agreed that lots of things can be incorporated into modern learning but we need to be savvy about the cost attached to new delivery ideas. The scale has to be managed. We posed the question: ‘How can we make the ideas for flexible and modern learning, scaled to be fit for purpose for sport?’

  • Are our perceptions of shifting to a different culture the same? If we want to shift the culture, do we all know what that looks like?
  • Is ‘learning’ the problem in the first place? How can we market learning to people without the connotation of school?
  • Can we personalise the learning journey for the individual in a financially sustainable way?

As a starting point for a new way of learning, the day itself was met with very positive feedback from those who attended. Moving away from an outcome driven, chalk and talk day, the group really dug into some of the key hot topics in modern day coaching. While they left with a lot of questions, they also left knowing what to expect for the next event in January.

Rachel Hooper, Coach Education Advisor, Sports Coach UK

Follow: @hooperwoman


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