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With the season now well and truly over, like many I'm looking forward to a rest. Sharing my thoughts from last year's getaway. Can we ever truly 'Get away From It All'?
It’s not my main income but I’m privileged enough to earn a little spending money coaching football locally. The pot builds and it usually gets put towards 7 Days in the Sun each August, conveniently timed with the off-season. My opportunity to switch off, be someone else and rest the legs that certainly are getting no younger!
However, when you have such a passion and commitment to what we do, can we ever actually ‘get away from it all’? How much of what we see and do triggers thoughts about our own learning and that of those we coach? Did I learn anything from the small library of recommended reading that I took or did I learn even more from watching the surrounding goings on?
Like most holidays, it starts with a rather large aeroplane. I’ve never been a fan of flying, which has been generally understood as a lack of control over a situation, handing CONTROL over to a stranger. The lives of my family in someone else’s hands. This year, it’s bothered me far less and my own Coaching Journey played its part. The last couple of years have opened my eyes to ‘Controlling the Controllables’. They may be strangers up front in the cockpit but I’d readily admit that it’s much better that they land the plane rather than I try and do it? We don’t have to control everything and putting trust in those with more experience and knowledge is OK. Also, if somebody uses some language at a football conference that we don’t really understand, we research it. Reading all about and understanding what turbulence actually is helps me deal with it. The flight is like pre-season and session planning. If you accept the hard work element of something, the rewards are there at the end. Face your fears. We learn outside of our comfort zones. The flight was OK
It pays to be an early riser when you’re a coach at a village football club. If you want decent gear and prime position away from the hedge or ditch, then you need to be in that container sharpish for the easy-up goals and quickly spread some cones to mark your territory. How useful that skill is when you’re by a pool, hunting your day’s equipment nice and early (I noted that it’s the British that like the territory and not our European neighbours). Four sunbeds grabbed before breakfast with a nice parasol set me up nicely for each day. Equipment all laid out, ready to execute the day’s session plan of doing very little. The last years’ courses and conversations that help me understand the world of mentoring, communicating and ‘listening to reply’ came in very useful as a European family disputed who ‘owned’ the parasol for the day. Lots of visual communication and eye contact was involved across a language barrier and eventually we all agreed where it was first. England finally won something in Europe!
Water Polo! Hazza is there like a Bolt (faster and more up to date than a ‘flash’) and I reluctantly follow. Relief at the poolside when we learn that it’s Under 14s only and I sit in the shallow water, ready to watch with some other Dads, who seem genuinely disappointed that they can’t play. (One blamed the EU!). It’s a sport, so kids make friends quickly, sort teams and share headbands and get started. I’m impressed but not surprised how quickly they introduce themselves and sort a formation, making friends instantly. Sport has the power to do this. It looks like it’s TEAM GB versus THE REST OF EUROPE and it’s easy to see which is which after a couple of minutes. British kids replicating some poorly coached mini-soccer by getting the ball and launching it hopefully, into a pack at the far end, hoping that somebody comes up with it after a scrap. A few French lads ping the ball from side to side and pull TEAM GB apart. I sense it’s not going well, quietly looking at how body shape, receiving and spatial awareness are a factor in this game too. The Dads next to me give themselves away as the people we like to avoid. ‘Pass! Shoot! Look Left! GET HIM!’ Some kids get despondent, less motivated and one starts cheating. I think about my ‘Mindset’ book laying unfinished on my towel and how accurate it is. One Dad decides enough is enough and joins in the game. Other ‘grown-ups’ follow, a sure sign that the kids’ fun is over. Hazza looks across at me, shakes his head and grins, knowing exactly what I’m thinking. He sticks it out as I go back to my book.
Our position for another day is near to a small playground where the youngest of kids climb around and spend time in the shade. I’ve recently finished a book discussing how young brains develop and how our children learn through Trial and Error and Feedback. There’s a really young kid, around 2 years old, at the bottom of a small climbing wall which leads to a slide at the top. He’s been lifted to the top a couple of times by his Dad, who is now distracted in conversation. The boy is at the bottom of the wall, assessing the risk of the climb against the reward of the slide. He looks across at Dad, recognises he’s not being watched and goes for it. To be honest, I’m thinking it’s a little high but the floor is regulation safety materials and soft. I watch this 24 month old brain work out which step to take, which hand-hold to grab. It’s a slow process but he’s up, victorious and promptly shoots down the slide. He’s up and whizzes back for another go and smacks his forehead on the underside of the frame. I suck through my teeth sharply, aware that it’s got to hurt and the kid stops in his track and looks across at his still chatting Dad. The boy pulls down his cap, covering his face and hiding, seeming to know that if anybody saw the bump or he cried, he’d be comforted and taken off the slide. I know I’m smiling as he steels and steadies himself, appearing from under his cap, delighted that nobody has noticed. He proves the Trial and Error theory and I know neural pathways have been built as he climbs the wall in a fraction of his previous personal best. He’s at the top in seconds. Dad looks across and asks him how he got up there, a little panic in his voice as he comes over to save him. His son shoots down the slide giggling and runs back round for another go, ducking sufficiently under the frame this time. Kids work these things out for themselves if we let them. Just Let Them Play!
Another early start brings us another prime position, looking over the glass balcony at the coastline, showing how the sea has formed the coastline, creating inlets and bays by its sheer persistence over time. My daughter is waiting for ‘A’ Level results and a University place. I talk to her about the inlet and how the rocks are stubborn and a strong barrier but the relentless nature and hard work of the waves break them down and create a seemingly impossible pathway over time. I’m sure she gets the imagery but she’s worked hard enough lately and as the rocks are neither wearing shorts or made of cake, she’s not really that interested today.
The balcony is well down the hill and it’s a climb back to the pool. The multiple steps have the 13yo Hazza and I discussing muscle groups, stretching and lactic acid, which he finds much more interesting than me philosophising over water and rocks. We reach the pool and throw the ball around as ‘Aqua Aerobics’ is marketed by the entertainment staff. There doesn’t seem to be many takers until an array of floats and exercise aids are offered, along with cranking up the music volume. We don’t take part but chat about the merits of intrinsic and extrinsic motivators, relating it to how proud he was to complete his first coaching course, along with actually sitting in the hall waiting for the post so he had a certificate in hand. Great metaphors all around and we laugh as we agree that his main intrinsic motivation is to become a better coach than his Dad. It’s a goal we both have. If he keeps chipping at the rocks, he will be.
We’re getting to the end of the week and I feel that whilst thoughts are always with coaching, I’ve managed to avoid the subject of football pretty well. Newspapers are on offer but I don’t feel too engaged with the Premier League so not too bothered about seeing who my TV subscriptions have helped buy. It’s been nice to be away from the game and the grass to re-charge and spend chunks of time with the family. It had to happen though and the entertainment team let us know that it’s kids football at 5pm. Hazza is keen to play and doesn’t necessarily need me but the pitch is at the sister hotel next door so I feel I need to go with him (I later made a mental note, reminding myself of the boy on the climbing wall. Hazza would have found his own way back!). I’m delighted I went! The hotels were fantastic but parts were still under construction. Like all good teams, they are striving to improve. As we walk and chat with our host, Jacob, we learn that there are no football pitches yet so they’ve been using the tennis courts up to now. Sounds good to me but as we emerge into the sun, the courts are full of people playing tennis! There we are, at the baseline. 12 kids and a few dads wondering what to do. The site is right next to the courts and after apologising for the mix-up, I love what Jacob decides will happen. The building work is done for the day, so we go out of the side deck and onto an area of concrete. We’ve got a 20 x 30 pitch. It’s got a site gate at one end and a car-park entrance at the other and 12 kids with a ball. I can’t see what else we need? Jacob is busy apologising, especially as we are sitting on a walled flower bed, three feet high, jutting out into what will become the half-way line. Jacob asks the dads if we’re happy for them to play on here. I tell him to ask the kids, aged between 9 and 14 and all by now staring at the ball that’s still in his hands. They don’t care. They don’t need smart 3G, goalposts on wheels and barriers everywhere to play football. This is the street. This is perfect. A long unnecessary discussion takes place over who will be ‘captain’ and who needs to go in goal (kids are still salivating whilst staring at the ball in arms, it happened faster when left alone to sort Water-Polo teams.) and eventually we get going and I watch as they solve the problems of the slope, the flower beds and the overhanging trees. Different personalities come through as the score takes shape. Some are relentless in their effort, some throw blame around. Some cheat and some give up which all re-enforces the opinions and research in the excellent book on Mindsets which I’ve now finished. The match is brilliantly interrupted as a JCB is moved and parked by some bemused (and a little angry) Spanish builders but this results in the gate being shut at the ‘Car-Park End’ so less running down the hill to retrieve. The game is a good one. Friendships are visibly forming once again. Teamwork and camaraderie building through the power of our beautiful game. Hazza will go on to spending most of the evening with his new mates. God bless the Social Corner!
So, seven days away in a nice facility in the sun. Just a flight home and a new season to look forward to. Did I ‘Get Away From It All’ or like most passionate and enthusiastic coaches I know, did it just give me a great opportunity to focus on my favourite subject?
As I said, my main income comes from elsewhere. Roof Trusses provide me with a nice living. I didn’t think about them once!
Thanks for reading
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