By Dave Rossetter – Head of Paddlesport Coaching at Glenmore Lodge
Continuing our look at what we can do to improve ourselves as paddlers and coaches this article is all about your community and specifically the establishment of a Community of Practice.
Introduction Continuing our look at what we can do to improve ourselves as paddlers and coaches this article is all about your community and specifically the establishment of a Community of Practice. Previous articles have looked the time it takes to become an expert and the concept of ‘seeing a little further’ by ‘standing on the shoulders of giants’. The meaning behind this seeing further by being taller isn’t about being superior but by using the work of those that went before aids us by adding their knowledge to ours, this in turn moves on our development.
Communities of Practice (CoPs) have been around for some considerable time, Wenger and Snyder (2000). From spreading innovations and dealing with apprentices they were a critical way of ensuring the success of crafts and business.
Abraham, Collins and Martindale (2006) give an insight into the success of using other coaches and how the gaining of knowledge from them is invaluable as a way to develop. This work with other coaches or as Cushion, Armour and Jones (2003) suggested the talking with significant others and peers have been crucial for me.
Mallett (2010) suggested that for a CoP to exist, which would include a ‘joint enterprise, mutual engagement and a shared repertoire.’
Coaching can be a lonely affair as can learning any skill. There have been a few recent threads on some forums about plateaus that paddlers find themselves on, frustrations with learning something and lack of opportunity to get out paddling.
- What is different now is that there are these forums. In my early developments as a coach and paddler there wasn’t all the social media that we now have. Our opportunity to share our experiences, ask the questions from those that have been before us is truly inspiring.
- Building tribes of like-minded friends is crucial. These networks of friends allow a sharing of information between you. It allows the floating of an idea and see if it carries any momentum. No matter how silly or not worked up the idea is you feel confident that it can be aired. This where the magic can happen!
However, not all of these would be recognised as a community of practice. There needs to three components in place:
A CoP would need to have an identity defined by a shared domain. This is more that just a network of like-minded friends. It needs to have a commitment to the membership of the domain.
A community needs work at to maintain. Just because we are all paddlers or coaches doesn’t mean that we have a CoP. We would need to meet (on and offline), interact and share/learn off each other.
Just because we meet again doesn’t mean that we have a CoP. Members would need to be practioneers, where we share our experiences over an extended period of time.
These communities will identify gaps in knowledge and/or practice and look to share information on how to fill them. This includes seeking out new information to problem solve the missing bits.
Paddling is a social activity. Paddlers love to share their experiences be it from the latest move, river paddled or coaching solution discovered.
This sharing knowledge and looking for creative and often innovative ways to solve problems or new ways to look at things is critical for working in ever demanding dynamic environments (Wenger and Snyder, 2000).
Working with other coaches that are passionate about their discipline, share common issues and problems and seek to enhance their knowledge through shared interactions is something that Culver and Trudel (2006) give us. For being part of a community there needs to be a shared goal or concern (Cushion and Wenger, 2011). The individual needs to feel part of the community and have their own identity recognised.
By interacting with many communities we can influence our practice heavily. The meeting with coaches as well as experienced paddlers shapes our technical knowledge but also our use and understanding of ‘how’ to coach.
In learning to coach these CoPs have been something that we need to work at and develop. It isn’t easy and many times there will be power or control issues. This is backed by Potrac and Jones (2009) where they looked at this issue within the micro politics of coaching where there can be an imbalance and conflict due to power and control issues.
“How often do we find out something new only to be shot down by others?”
- When you hear of some new trick/coaching technique/move (delete or add as required) – what’s your reaction?
- Do we see it as a challenge or threat to our norm? Does it go against our beliefs? Does it give concern because you now need to change?
- Do we see it as an opportunity to grow our skill/knowledge? Is it an opportunity to build on beliefs and aid us moving on our skill/knowledge.
Culver and Trudel (2006) highlight the complexity of coaching and also taking the work of Cushion et al (2003) where there can be a failure of formal coach education courses means that there needs to be other ways to aid our development.
Wegner and Snyder (2000) use an analogy of gardening here. If we want the garden to produce for us then we need to attend to this. However, there is a paradox here as CoPs are fundamentally informal and without attending or cultivating them then the results can be poor.
For best results Wegner and Snyder (2000) highlighted the need for identification and provision for CoPs. The creation of the community and the creation of time for engagement between all involved creates a variety of modes of belonging for all Culver and Trudel (2010). This creates space and want for imagination and alignment to happen. This keeps the coaches / paddlers motivated to continue, gives a sense of identity and brings passion for the outcomes Wegner and Snyder (2000).
Within coaching a CoP is one that takes the knowledge from the formal setting and puts into the informal learning centre. This social learning (Jones, Armour and Potrac, 2004 / Culver and Trudel, 2006) is one that we need to fully agree and engage with. The understanding of common issues, shared experiences and passing on of experiences (Culver and Trudel, 2006) that is supported and cultivated is crucial for the development of coaches, coaching and learning.
- Can you identify any communities that you belong to?
- Can you establish one?
- Do you have a community that you belong to?
- Do you have a group of like minded paddlers around?
Dave is Head of Paddlesports at Glenmore Lodge – Scotland’s National Outdoor Training Centre. He has been involved in the development of the new awards and provides expert advice throughout the industry on all things to do with coaching, safety, leadership and personal paddling. He is passionate about all things paddling and specialises in white water kayak and open canoe where he will most often be found.