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Who decides what ‘at risk’ means?

A student misses two coaching sessions in a season, would you question their commitment to the team? If these sessions were two important cup matches, would you be frustrated? Often, and whether right or wrong, a natural reaction is to be disappointed. But, how we present this disappointment to the student needs to be managed. Some coaches don’t, and punish students by asking them to run laps or tidy the equipment store. Others, talk to the student and work together to support their engagement and development. So, what type of coach are you? Or, how would you help another coach to work with his/her players to support their engagement with the team?  This blog helps us to understand how we might help the coach who punishes, and the player who misses two games.

 

Volume 2.9 (Blog 104):

Cassidy, T., Jackson, A-M., Miyahara, M., & Shemmell, J. (2014). Greta: Weaving strands to allow Greta to florish as Greta. In K.M. Armour (ed.) Pedagogical cases in physical education and youth sport (pp. 117-129). London: Routledge.

 

Greta

Arriving at high school and playing rugby in an all girls’ team was supposed to be a ‘biggie’ for thirteen-year old Greta. She had played rugby in her primary school and loved it and thought she would really enjoy high school but some of the things that have happened, her own development, her culture and understanding of herself as a Maori rangatahi (which is the Maori word for youth) and the way people have reacted to her choices and decisions have made things difficult.

Playing rugby at primary school had meant playing with the boys. However, Greta was used to this from playing ‘touch’ at home with the whanau. She had even got quite a lot of game time – because she’s fit and fast – for the whanau team in the local senior competition. Because of such fitness and pace, the coach of the girls’ 1st XV at school identified her as having huge potential. However, there was only one girls’ team in the school and Greta had to play with some big senior girls.

Things were going OK until her coach (a traditionalist with ra “my way or the highway” attitude) had questioned her commitment to the team, had identified her of being ‘at risk’ and had asked the school’s sports coordinator to reprimand Greta – something the coordinator was not predisposed to do. Taking steps to find Greta’s side of the story the coordinator found a number of conflicting (and in some ways indefensible) events that had prompted Greta’s wavering commitment.

In short, due to a long planned ski trip and then, later in the year, the tragic loss of her grandfather Greta had missed a school match and a provincial trial. Her coach told her she wasted a chance to make her grandfather proud by missing the trial and had made her hold the tackle bags for two sessions for going skiing. What’s more, her maturing and developing body wasn’t helping her to perform familiar skills. Her breasts were affecting her passing and her growing limbs were making previously simple movement more difficult. Added to this, her growing circle of friends and her growing love of other things like making music and playing social basketball and rugby was becoming less central to her life – especially as wasn’t as much fun as going home and kicking a ball around with her brother.

 

The Pedagogical Case

Central to this case is the obvious fact that Greta is a very talented individual who needs the support of others to help her develop. Cassidy and colleagues argue that this development should be  “first as a person and secondly, as a sportswoman”.

It is important from a Maori perspective to identify and bring to light what make Greta unique. This needs to be done in the light of the broader context in New Zealand. Why was Greta identified as ‘at risk’? Was it because she was Maori – with their reputation for poor educational achievement, health issues and low socio-economic status – and/or because she was an adolescent girl – with their reputation for disengagement – and/or because she didn’t fit into her coach’s ideas about commitment? Consequently whose standard is she being measured against? Those of former colonising governments who had oppressed the Maori and the fabric of their social society or against her position as a Maori rangatahi?

Either way Greta will be able to thrive as Maori rangatahi if those who assist her understand “her anchor points in the world”. Maori are not homogenous and each individual and family group has particular ways of viewing the world. To help Greta be “Greta” she mustn’t be reprimanded or judged because of her cultural practices and her Maori values should not be falsely replaced by another set of values. “For Greta to learn effectively as Maori she must be enabled to flourish as Maori”.

Beyond her cultural identify Greta is also experiencing significant changes in her body and these are effecting how she plays rugby. The rapid changes she is experiencing are impacting her movement control centre (i.e. her brain) and, at the same time, she is finding interest in other activities but is being asked to ignore them for the sake of rugby. Not only does she feel that she is getting worse at rugby she also feels she being asked to play at the expense of other things she enjoys.

Instead of her punishing her the coach needs to help her to “update” her internal models of how she moves – models developed throughout her life. She is currently thinking of her body as small when it is actually large which means she is producing inaccurate and uncharacteristically uncoordinated movements. Far from being engaged to play only rugby Greta should be encourage to try lots of unfamiliar movements so she can better understand how her body is moving and reconfigure her internal model of herself. 

While her coach might feel that she should only play rugby, this is neither effective nor “educationally sound”. Moreover, punishment through physical activity is not likely to support her wellbeing or development. Holding a tackle bag (or running laps or doing push ups) does not help people see activities as being of personal interest. The coach needs to “learn about the benefits of adopting a positive approach to coaching, communicating, understanding and relating with young players”.

Pedagogically the sports coordinator has it right. He wants to support Greta to develop as young (sports) woman and not just a good rugby player. It is not about regulating her behaviours and her beliefs but helping her to see sport and physical activity in a positive way. She is seen to be ‘at risk’ because as a female Maori rangatahi she gets liken to negative cultural and gender stereotypes. She is also at risk of not fulfilling her potential as a rugby player.

Cassidy and colleagues argue that discussions around Greta need to move away from risk and towards resilience and resourcefulness. The way in which Greta interacts with the environment and is helped to cope with the challenges and set backs she encounters will help her to excel as a young (sports)woman. To do this she should be encouraged to sample and engage in deliberate play rather than specialise and deliberately practice. Her coach needs to adapt a positive approach to coaching and recognise that as Maori rangatahi and as a young woman her development is “multi-faceted, complex and dynamic”. Only by becoming resourceful and being able to help Greta weave the various strands and elements of her life together will the coach be able to say that he helped her to flourish as a Maori rangatahi and, just maybe, as a rugby player.

What’s next? As part of this blogs I propose the following as a way of considering the implications of this research on your teaching- Think, Act, Change (or TAC for short).

Think about findings of the paper – do they resonate with you? Use the comment box below to ask a question, seek clarification, may be challenge the findings.

Act on what you’ve read. What do you believe? Is it your responsibility to make changes or is this just something else that I’ve put on your plate? Is there action to take? If so, what might it be?

Change what you do in response to your thoughts and actions? Is this a personal undertaking? If you want to do something or are looking for help then please let the community know about it.

I wouldn’t expect every paper to get beyond the T or even the A of TAC but if one paper resonates enough to get to C then hopefully all this is worthwhile. Good luck.

 

Acknowledgements: I would like to thank Vicky Goodyear for her work behind the scene as copy editor. Her help certainly forms a vital part of the production of this blog, and in getting out on time and in a semblance of coherence. However it is important to note that any mistakes that remain are mine.

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