Do you remember the D'Unbelievables from the 1990's? Anyone over the age of 40 almost certainly will. Jon Kenny and Pat Shortt were the biggest thing in comedy in Ireland for pretty much the whole decade. One of my favourite sketches of that time was The Legendary Timmy Ryan GAA pep talk. I've put the link below so you can have a look for yourself. Again, anyone who played the game at that time will relate to it. That's why it's so funny. Half of it (maybe all of it in fact) is just as people encountered. It might seem a little old-fashioned in some ways now but I think it still applies more today than we might realise. Here's the link.
Everyone will remember a coach just like that I'm sure.
Fast forward now to 2019 and the modern world of player welfare, children's rights and the stated aims of respect, inclusion, safety, etc that all the major sporting organisations espouse. How are our children looked after on the playing fields these days? For the most part I suggest very well, and rightly so. But things can and do go wrong and any parent of a child involved in sport would do well to pay attention to today's blog and the following cases.
Case 1: Just over two years ago a series of events began to unfold in Galway when a number of parents expressed concern at the language of an U-12 GAA coach. It ended with 5 players leaving the club and the entire underage program being suspended pending implementation of a series of recommendations from Croke Park. Sounds unbelievable? The details are all here. https://www.independent.ie/sport/gaelic-games/paul-kimmage-low-lie-the-fields-of-athenry-the-gaa-story-every-parent-will-want-to-read-36879150.html
Case 2: Four years ago in a soccer club in Clare, a similar series of events began to unfold when parents expressed concern at the language and behaviour of an underage coach. It ended with the entire family of the affected child (i.e. the victims) being thrown out of the club. Sounds unbelievable again? The details of this case are here. https://www.independent.ie/sport/soccer/paul-kimmage-my-name-is-ailbhe-i-have-been-kicked-out-of-tulla-united-for-two-years-now--37990157.html
Case 3/4/5...: There are probably many more cases out there. I know of 1 or 2 myself (thankfully on a smaller scale than the above ones) but the potential is there for these to be resolved quickly and informally, or, to get bigger and bigger.
So what does all this mean? Firstly, it's probably safe to say that there is a time lag between attitudes and cultures and the ideals of policies and procedures (someone once said it takes three generations to change a belief). In other words Timmy Ryan is alive and well in 2019. Secondly, and of more importance I think, we have a lot to learn about conflict resolution. The first thing I think we need to learn is that conflict is inevitable but combat is optional. In the above cases conflict arose, as it does when you have more than one person and more than one set of needs, and it sadly progressed to combat. I can see both sides of the story in both cases. I am a coach myself and I can empathise with the struggle at times to impart knowledge and attitudes to players. I have also been a player, though, and still remember my own U14 coach hammering us in the dressing after we'd lost a local final (I felt bad enough already and can safely say did not need anyone to tell me that we'd under-performed). I am also a parent of three children involved in a total of 8 different coaching/training scenarios.
The most apparent thing here is, if we think of such situations as 'coach vs player' or 'coach vs parent' we are in trouble from the start. In all the cases above this appears to have been the biggest problem. Sides were taken. The parents, out of concern, wrote to the relevant club officials and, almost from the start, it became parents vs coaches (interestingly all the clubs then aligned themselves with the coaches, which further hindered progress). Once the conflict is set like this, the possibility of a peaceful, win-win outcome is almost impossible. The first thing that people thus need is an attitude of 'win-win', i.e. a firm belief that the concern can be addressed and the respect and integrity of players, parents and coaches maintained. Coaches, in particular in such situations, are likely to see criticism as a personal assault on their character and position. I'm not saying I agree with this attitude but I do understand it and parents might need an understanding of this too. Again, I can heard the howls that "coaches should be respectful and should have young people's welfare at heart". I agree. I just also happen to think we need to put ourselves in the other person's shoes, if only for tactical reasons and the wish to foster a better outcome.
I could go on a lot longer but may I also remind you of one other factor in all this, one that is at play for the young people affected in the first instance, their parents, the various coaches and the club officials brought into the fold - SHAME. Again this something I've touched on before (OK, OK, I hardly ever stop talking about it) but it explains an awful lot. Remember the compass of shame, the four ways we react when we feel this feeling.
In the above cases the affected young people withdraw (quit) and attack self (beat themselves up). The officials and coaches avoid (ignore and frustrate) the parents hoping the issue will go away until such time as it doesn't work and then they attack others (organise public meetings and banish "trouble makers" from clubs). All understandable (I'm still not excusing it) and tragically avoidable if we use our RP and non-violent communication. If you find yourself in this type of situation tread softly and seek an ally. You may need one. If you are a coach do your best to make sure such a scenario never arises. Prevention is better than cure. I wrote about it last year in creative coaching. Might be worth looking into again.
That's Restorative Practice
My name is Joe Power and I am the RP development officer for Limerick. I thought I would write about my experiences in developing my own understanding of RP, as well as in trying to spread it across Limerick. The reason for this is that I find that both my own and other people's experiences are remarkably similar and there could well be some opportunity for other's to benefit from these thoughts (or ramblings!!). Anyway I hope you gain something from it.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.