Seeing the Positives in Social Media

The modern world

Just as I thought I’d made a decision to try to embrace social media a little better, I saw a photograph that sums up the world we now live in. You’ve probably seen it too – it went viral, which was simultaneously powerful and ironic. In the picture (which you can see at the top of this post), a large crowd of people watches an event. Everyone is capturing the moment on a smart phone. All except one lady that is, who watches on with her actual eyes rather than through a screen. This hasn’t made me rethink my decision exactly, but it has made me think a little more about the good, the bad and the ugly of social media.

Let’s start off with a few statistics. It is estimated that globally, the number of people who are active on Facebook at least once a month is now 1.5 billion. That’s about 20% of the world’s population. Twitter and Instagram both have over 300 million monthly users. I’m stating the blindingly obvious when I say that social media is a huge, influential and growing part of our daily lives.

There’s an obvious irony in the phrase ‘social media’. Whilst the various platforms enable us to communicate, connect and share experiences, most of us have at some point looked up to realise that we are sitting with a group of other people and none of us are doing those things in ‘real life’. What usually happens next? Someone makes a comment along the lines of, “Well we’re sociable today aren’t we?” followed by everyone muttering, “Ha ha, yes, it’s terrible isn’t it,” before gazing back down at the screens in front of them.

Technology does and always has changed the way people live. Whilst it’s true that ‘big news’ – whether that’s a friend’s engagement/pregnancy/graduation, or the latest political, sports or entertainment bombshell – now spreads across the world via digital platforms, once upon a time developments like the printing press, wireless radio and television revolutionised the way in which information was communicated. A quick status update is an easy and efficient way to spread news instantly. I suppose the problem is that depending on the news, the rest of the world (or even your friends and family) might not actually be that bothered… but they’re forced to see it anyway.

This is where my own opinion about what’s interesting and what isn’t starts to get in the way. I know the only way I can avoid this is by steering clear of social media entirely… but there are some things I’m just not interested in. Depressing (or worse still, cryptic and depressing) Facebook statuses, incendiary political tweets, corny selfies or anything to do with the Kardashians sometimes make me want to delete the whole Internet. Equally, I’m aware that articles about sport or philosophy and videos of cute kittens/puppies falling off items of furniture don’t appeal to everyone, but at least they intrigue or amuse me. The challenge, the lesson, the issue – whatever you want to call it – is in filtering the things you do and don’t want to see on social media without wasting your entire life doing it.

I also read an interesting article about the use of Instagram this week. The writer was arguing that people are so obsessed with creating a perfect ‘insta-world’ that we aren’t documenting life as it really looks and feels. As a recent convert to Instagram, I understand the rationale behind this idea, but I think if you flip it around it can probably help us focus on the positives too. I believe that looking for a ‘photo opportunity’ can help you to look at the world in different ways: it can make you see the beautiful in the mundane or the tiny detail in the bigger picture. Creating a photo can actually make an experience more fun or memorable. Maybe on some level it does make me want to have some kind of pseudo insta-life where I’m having fun and amazing experiences all the time. The key thing is though, if that’s what I’m trying to represent, I’m also more likely to try and make that a reality.

Ultimately, social media can both bring us together and tear us apart. I think I’m starting to figure out my own attitude towards it: I don’t want to spend more time looking at a screen than interacting with the world around me and I don’t want to miss out on experiencing something because I’m too busy trying to record a diluted version of it to look at later. In fact maybe it’s a bit like writing this blog. I want to use it in a way that makes me and others smile or think. The fact is, like that lady in the picture, in order to experience, capture and share special moments through authentic words or powerful images, I have to have my eyes open to see them happening in the first place.

And now, the ironic plug… don’t forget to follow me on twitter @inkingfeeling or instagram @herbie17

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Kiwi Adventures 2015: Weeks 3 and 4

Kiwi Adventures Weeks 3-4

“There and Back Again…”
This is the equivalent of that postcard you scribble out on the flight home and pop in the postbox along the road from your own house. I reckon it’s a pretty good sign when you’re having too much fun on your travels to find the time to write about it…

“Not all those who wander are lost…” J.R.R. Tolkien

After an adrenaline-fuelled first couple of weeks swinging off bridges and rafting down rapids, I got behind the wheel once again and did some road-tripping. After playing a game in one of my favourite places in NZ, Taupo – we’ll gloss over the hockey for now – I continued through the North Island up to Tauranga. Having (theoretically) ‘grown up’ in Jersey, I have good reason for being a bit of a beach snob. However, after trekking up the summit path of Mount Maunganui in the sunshine to look down on the white sand of Maunganui beach, I can safely say that this place ticks some serious boxes. It’s pretty mindblowing to look out across the ocean knowing that the next landmass is Chile – about 6000 miles away.

One of the awesome things about this trip has been having the chance to catch up with friends – Brits abroad and Kiwi mates who live further away than I would like them to. The day after Tauranga, I also managed to pop in and visit my fantasy cousins in the Shire. Maybe this just makes me a weird Lord of the Rings nut, but there’s something pretty magical about going in a hobbit hole and drinking a cheeky (hobbit-sized) beer in the Green Dragon Inn. A hike up to Wairere Falls and our brilliant day in Middle Earth was complete.

Time flies when you’re having fun and 2000km of road-tripping later, tournament week in Whangerei, Northland was suddenly around the corner. We stayed in a beautiful location in Tutukaka and relaxation is pretty important when you take on the challenge of seven games in nine days. The standard of hockey was definitely better than last year and the ‘Central Caterpillars’ and I gave it everything. We essentially just missed out on a semi-final place by one goal, leaving us all gutted. Having said that, it was a brilliant week – we played some exciting hockey and I loved being part of such a fun and gutsy team. It’s always great to have the chance to step out alongside top players you’ve admired as an opponent, but it’s also nice to see younger players making their first mark on the game at a high level. I hope I’ll get another chance to wear the Central colours…

After the tournament, I gatecrashed the winners’ party (thanks for having me Auckland!), caught up with more friends and did a final bit of exploring with my trusty tour guide and general legend, Jules. Most of our travels usually seem to revolve around food but as well as filling our boots we fitted in a day trip to Waiheke island for more beach wandering and a stunning winery, a morning at Takapuna Beach on the North Shore, and a very windy view across Auckland from One Tree Hill in Cornwall Park.

After another amazing adventure with some amazing people, it was finally time to set off on the long journey home. The really, really long journey. I’m very happy to be safely back home with the boy and feel ready for the special and exciting few months ahead. But there’s just something about New Zealand that makes me feel like a little part of me belongs there too.

“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” The Lord of the Rings

 

Find me on twitter @inkingfeeling and Instagram @herbie17 for updates…

Kiwi Adventures 2015: Weeks 1 and 2

Kiwi Adventure 1

This entry comes from New Zealand… It’s a pretty spectacular place and as well as being very well-looked after by my brilliant adoptive Kiwi family, I’m doing my best to make the most of being here. Rather than my usual ramblings about sport and whatever else gets my ideas flowing, I thought I’d write a bit of a blog-postcard about my travels.

After a few days of waking up outrageously early, acclimatizing to NZ’s wind and rain, and a bit of training with the Central NHL team, I’ve settled in nicely for this year’s Kiwi adventure. The first game was on Saturday and we started with a great 3-2 victory… although only a few days after a 38-hour 4-flight journey my body did not feel like it was winning. We then had a fund-raising dinner and I was definitely more nervous about taking the stage for a Q&A with an All Black and two of the greatest ever Blacksticks players than I will be for any of the hockey games!

I road-tripped down to Wellington on Monday – the furthest South I’ve ever ventured. The roads here are a little different to the motorways back home. ‘State Highway 1’, which as its name suggests is a reasonably significant route, is over 1000 kilometers long in the North Island alone. It’s mostly single carriageway, with occasional passing lanes to let you overtake the truck you’ve been stuck behind for miles on end. A bit of a contrast to the good old M25…
I spent most of the day in the ‘Te Papa’ Museum of New Zealand. We’re spoilt for choice when it comes to free-to-access museums in London, but this museum was right up there. Exhibitions on the World War I ANZAC campaign in Gallipolli, Maori history/culture and colonial emigration kept me entertained for a good few hours. I finished my day with a trip to a lookout point on Mount Victoria for some 360° views across the city and the Cook Strait, and a toe-dip in the ocean at Oriental Bay – not as cold as I feared.

“Do one thing that scares you every day…”

A couple of days later, I went to the Mokai Gravity Canyon with two of my Central team mates. After spotting a website promotion, we decided to forsake our dignity to get the experience for half price by wearing onesies – luckily Georgia’s outfit made Pip and I look almost normal. A technical glitch meant we couldn’t stick to our original plan to go on the ‘Flying Fox’, a 160kph zipline. Instead, we faced the stomach-dropping option of NZ’s highest bridge swing, which involves a free fall of around 50m. My inner adrenaline junkie tends to make me laugh – ok, giggle – in the face of danger and I’m pleased to say the other two embraced the idea of doing something that scares you every day.

One day of excitement in the great outdoors wasn’t enough for me, so I set off at 6.30am yesterday for half a day of white water rafting. The amount of rainfall meant that the river level was right on the safety limit for rafting. This led to a bit of standing around until the guides decided we were safe to navigate the Grade 5 rapids. Our guide told us the Rangitikei is a technical river, “which basically means there’s lots of rocks.” He also mentioned about five different spots where people had drowned whilst rafting, including an instructor. Good to know.
Most of my fellow rafters seemed to be “proper travelers”, bus-touring and backpacking around NZ. Thankfully, a Mancunian-Aussie, a Kiwi PE teacher and a Belgian Catholic priest let me join their gang for the morning. I don’t tick many boxes when it comes to organized religion, but if we had hit a big rock/capsized/become Rangitikei River horror story no.6 for our instructor to tell his next crew, I figured at least pity might be taken on our whole raft. Having said that, I later saw Father Louis drinking a pint in the lodge wearing full on cassock and collar so…

I’m already looking forward to game two this weekend in Taupo (the location of my skydive last year). After that, more travels and catching up with friends.
Until the next adventure!

 

Follow me on twitter @inkingfeeling for updates

Talking a Good Game (Part II): The Coach-Athlete Relationship

Coaches

It’s taken me five years, but last month I finally managed to complete my Level 2 coaching qualification. While I haven’t yet coached to anywhere near the level I’ve played, I always try to use my playing experience to improve my coaching skills. Just as every player is different, every coach is different – and that’s a good thing. However, I believe that to be a great coach you must be a great communicator.

I spend much of July and August working on summer hockey camps. This means I have to figure out very quickly how to communicate effectively with loads of different kids, often several days or weeks in a row. Sessions need to be safe, fun and understandable. The way I communicate can have a major impact on my ability to build rapport, and of course this isn’t just about what I say, but how I say it: my words, body language and demonstrations must all be chosen and adapted as appropriate to the group of players on any given day.

Broadly speaking, the same threads run through communication when coaching adults. Your tone may change and you might convey more sophisticated messages, but generally, the objectives for a coach are similar: create a learning environment, provide feedback, and make things safe and fun. Winning can be important too, but often that’s a by-product of those objectives: get the processes right and the outcome takes care of itself. One of my biggest priorities when I’m coaching is to be consistent and energetic at every session. As a player, I respond best to coaches who have these qualities –it’s easier to understand their expectations, trust their feedback and be open and honest in both directions.

On the field, I believe that an enjoyable environment tends to generate a steeper curve of improvement. That doesn’t mean every session will be fun, and it certainly doesn’t mean that training will be easy. However, as I’ve mentioned previously in this blog, I think often having fun = playing better. Players motivated to push themselves – whether through hard work, concentration or repetitions – are likely to make more effective, robust progress. In terms of communication, that means rewarding improvement, giving constructive criticism and sometimes allowing the players to work out the answers for themselves… and knowing when each of these things may be required.

“If we were supposed to talk more than we listen we would have two mouths and one ear”
Mark Twain

Game day brings further challenges. Depending on the situation, a coach has to judge when to motivate or pacify, praise or criticise, stay calm or get riled up. Often, coaches are dealing with similar expectations, frustrations and anxieties as players, so communicating during competition needs real perceptiveness and an ability to detach oneself from the often emotionally-charged environment.

Of course, the role of a coach extends far beyond the field. The biggest communication challenges may relate to selection, disciplinary problems and dealing with poor performances or results. The approach taken in these scenarios can make or break player-coach relationships, the dynamics of a squad and even the psychological or emotional well-being of a player in the longer term. It’s important to recognise that these situations (and the weight of responsibility they create) can be emotionally draining for a coach too, but I honestly can’t emphasise enough how important – and how impactful – sensitive, intelligent communication can be at these times. I won’t pretend I’ve had to make any huge decisions as a coach, but even in dealing with less significant issues – an under-confident player, a disruptive child or an out-of-form team mate – my good and bad experiences as a player have definitely shaped my awareness of how the style, method and content of coaching communications can have a positive or damaging effect.

As I’ve talked about previously, I believe that while technology, statistics and equipment can be important, the ‘human’ parts of sport tend to elicit the greatest mental and emotional responses from us as players and supporters. Coaching, too, is about people: reading people, understanding people and figuring out what makes people tick. The best coaches may be tactically astute and experts in technique, but often ‘people skills’ are the essential key that can unlock the more sport-specific capabilities of a coach. I’ll finish where I started: to be a great coach, you have to be a great communicator.

 

Click here if you missed ‘Talking a Good Game (Part I): How Players Communicate’

Follow me on Twitter @inkingfeeling for updates and please share if you enjoy reading. Thanks!

Talking a Good Game (Part I): How Players Communicate

Talking a Good Game

As the “Pomicide” unfolded in the fourth Ashes test yesterday, cricket journalists must have been hastily searching their thesauruses for synonyms for ‘unbelievable’. There’s always a lot to discuss in cricket – maybe it’s the amount of statistics or the brilliant banter between the pundits, or maybe it’s just because it gives us Brits an excuse to discuss the weather. Stuart Broad’s bowling was the obvious talking point yesterday, but I also read an article about how the lack of sledging in this Ashes series may be contributing to the quality and entertainment of the cricket itself. This got me thinking about how the things that are said on, off and around the sports field can affect sports performance.

In this blog, I’m going to look specifically at communication between players. There’s no doubt that communication within and between teams has the potential to significantly influence training, mindset, confidence and ultimately, performance. Sledging – where, players seek to gain an advantage by insulting or verbally intimidating the opposing player” (thanks, Wikipedia) – is probably as old as cricket itself. Sometimes it’s good-natured, sometimes it’s simply verbal abuse which has led to inevitable discussions about its place in the game. However, in general, sledging illustrates how language can be used as an attempt to directly influence or unsettle a player’s performance. It’s safe to say this happens in most team sports – who hasn’t heard (or made!) a sly remark between players in football or hockey? Sometimes one comment can be enough to sidetrack an experienced professional completely – remember Zinedine Zidane’s headbutt after an alleged insult from Marco Materazzi in the 2006 World Cup final?

In individual sports, a war of words often precedes the physical battle. One of the best examples of this is ‘trash talk’ in boxing – weeks are spent trading insults before a single punch is thrown. Of course, often these exchanges are encouraged by the media in their attempts to build excitement about the event. Even in sprinting and tennis, where there isn’t direct contact between athletes during the competition, interviewers often try to stir up rivalries or antagonisms. In F1, there is the added dynamic of competition within teams. Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rosberg aren’t just driving against Ferrari’s Sebastian Vettel and Williams’ Valerie Bottas – they seem to be engaged in a constant battle with one another both behind the wheel and on the team radio. They may be teammates, but at the moment they are also one another’s greatest rivals.

Communications within a team can have a huge impact on building a successful dynamic. In my experience of both international and club hockey, this has been a regularly revisited aspect of our attempts to create an effective performance environment. It’s always going to be difficult to find ways of communicating that suit everyone in a squad of 11, 16 or perhaps even 30-odd players. One person may prefer direct criticism, while another prefers it to be sugar-coated. One player might yell, while another prefers to discuss something quietly after the game. When you add in pressure, fatigue and the ‘heat of the moment’, it becomes almost impossible to get this right for everyone 100% of the time. My own attitude towards communication is that some things are negotiable, but others aren’t. If I’m not working hard enough, I fully expect to be yelled at (hopefully this doesn’t happen too often!). If I miss an open goal, most of the time I probably don’t need a teammate to give me aggressive verbal feedback about it.

Something that’s often forgotten is that it isn’t just about how players talk, it’s also about how they listen. Most people have a default way of saying something in a given situation: a player makes a mistake – teammate A shouts criticism at them, teammate B has a quiet word at the next break in play. We also tend to have a default way of hearing that feedback. Some people will perceive yelling as a personal insult and go into their shells, others will find it motivating and use it to spur them on. Ultimately, we can’t expect people to change the way they talk to us on the field unless we are also prepared to try and be flexible with how we listen.

Sometimes it’s also about what isn’t said. Teddy Sheringham and Andy Cole forged a successful striking partnership for Manchester United when they didn’t actually talk to one another. Perhaps this Ashes series is better with the players focusing on cricket rather than on sledging. Alyson Annan, one of the greatest ever hockey players, used to practise taking penalty strokes, “with teammates throwing water at her and yelling in her ear, so she could perform the skill regardless of any distraction” (p128, ‘Beyond the Limits’). In the 1996 Olympic final, she stepped up to take a stroke in total silence – the one scenario she hadn’t anticipated. She scored and Australia won. I suppose in the end, the best players write their stories in their own words.

 
Next time… I’ll be exploring communication between coaches and players.
Follow me on Twitter @inkingfeeling for updates

“There’s No ‘I’ in Team”… Or is there?

Laura Bassett

Poor Laura Bassett. In a cruel twist of fate, last night England’s football Lionesses were knocked out of the World Cup semi-finals by the unluckiest of misdirected touches by one of their best performers in the tournament. Unlike for penalty-misser Gareth Southgate in Euro ’96 and red-carded David Beckham in France ’98, the public response has so far been one of support and sympathy rather than vilification and blame. This might be of some vague consolation to her, but Bassett will probably always feel – however inaccurately – that losing this match was “all her fault”. Football may be a team sport, but our memories and perceptions of games are so often related to individual players.

 

Successful teams can be defined by many factors: camaraderie, work ethic, each individual knowing and performing their role, good communication, tactical awareness, ability to cope with pressure… and many other ‘one percenters’ that combine towards that perfect performance. But even within a team that wins or performs well consistently, a whole matrix of other factors may need to be acknowledged and managed in order to maintain equilibrium and to provide support for individuals who aren’t having such an easy time.

 

These issues may include things like injury and a lack of form or self-confidence. However, my own most difficult sporting experiences have been related to non-selection. Just missing out on two Olympics (wrongly, I believe – but I would say that!) has given me a lot of experience in dealing with inner conflict in this area. Maybe one day I’ll build the confidence to try and write about what this really feels like and how I’ve dealt with it. Some aspects of my experiences make me extremely proud, some make me feel a bit ashamed – but I always tried my best to put the team first, because I wanted to be able to look back with no regrets. I went through pretty much every emotion before, during and after Beijing 2008 and London 2012. I cried when the girls lost, I cried when the girls won. I’ve been simultaneously delighted for the team and devastated for myself. I’ve been absolutely gutted about a result whilst thinking ‘I told you so’ inside. I’ve done the most horrific, seemingly pointless running sessions, whilst being glad to finally have something else (needing oxygen) at the forefront of my mind than how unhappy I felt. I’ve been proud to be a tiny part of the team that won an Olympic medal, whilst also feeling like I wasn’t any part of it at all. Mixed feelings doesn’t really cover it, does it?!

 

Of course, ‘the I in team’ isn’t always a bad thing. Individuals often make headlines in team sports for positive reasons too. The goal scoring hero, the inspirational captain, the big name player, the kid who has a tough upbringing and makes it to the top… whilst as sports fans we usually hold teamwork in extremely high regard, we also love to pick out individuals. That’s one of the reasons why we score footballers out of ten individually, we have a bottomless pit of stats on every cricketer and we give out Player of the Season awards.

 

I always find team performances within typically ‘individual sports’ intriguing to watch. The sprint relays in athletics and the magic of the Ryder Cup put an interesting new slant on the ability of sportspeople to compete when their performance affects the success of others too. Rowing and kayaking crews’ success aren’t just determined by who can sit on a machine and crank out a few hundred metres the fastest – it’s also about how well those two, four or eight individuals can climb into a boat and transform themselves into a team. Bradley Wiggins may be a Tour De France champion, but he would never have won it on his own. Even the sportspeople out there who do generally compete alone in battles against another player or the clock – tennis players, triathletes, boxers – are often the first to acknowledge the ‘team’ behind them when they achieve success.

 

On a personal level, I have always preferred playing team sports because I take the greatest joy from sharing my experiences with others. That doesn’t mean I feel any less brilliant if I score the winning goal, or any less terrible if I make the crucial mistake that leads to a defeat. It also means that I have always had the help or hindrance of subjective judgment from coaches as well as more objective statistics when it comes to selection. If I’ve learnt one thing from my own experiences, it’s to acknowledge their impact, but to try not to allow one particular success or failure to define me as a hockey player – and just as importantly, as a person. I hope that in time, Laura Bassett manages to look at things in this way too.

 

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[Photo credit: The Telegraph]

The Not-So-Easy Life of a Hockey WAG (Part II)

the no.1 fan

A year on from my World Cup adventures in The Hague, I’m getting ready for another fortnight of nerves and excitement in my capacity as a hockey WAG. This time around, I’m not able to travel over to watch in the stadium and to be quite honest, I’m not actually sure if this is better or worse. A few quiet days at home since the boys went to Belgium has given me some time to consider the pros and cons of cheering the boys on from here instead.

Let’s get the bad stuff out of the way first…
It just doesn’t feel like I’m supporting properly if I’m not actually there. Having said that, I’ll be honest – I’m not really much of a cheerleader. I’ll probably make more noise watching in my own living room than I would in the stadium, so I don’t expect my vocal support will be overly missed.

I’ll miss the camaraderie of supporting alongside the parents and families of the lads… I’m sure I’ll be able to coerce a few friends and fellow WAGs into watching the games together on TV, but I’ll miss being part of the regular supporters gang and of course hanging around to see the boys after each game like a starstruck teenager at a pop concert. Don’t worry, the hero worship stops pretty abruptly when they start filtering out in dodgy-looking lycra recovery leggings (or worse, un-showered).

On the plus side…
I’ll save myself a bit of money. To be a fully paid up member of the travelling WAG club, you have to budget for planes, trains, beers and waffles (unavoidable refreshment choices when in Belgium – it’d be rude not to). Sitting on the sofa drinking multiple cups of tea – or something stronger if required to celebrate or commiserate – is cheaper and doesn’t require a pre-planned half time queuing strategy.

I won’t have to worry about wearing a raincoat and sensible shoes. I am at extremely low risk of sunburn or being soaked by a water cannon. If I want to, I can watch the boys play at 3pm on Sunday in my PJs and no one will judge me. I mean, I’ll obviously be wearing my GB shirt and waving a Union Jack throughout, I’m just saying I could…

 
In the end, I suppose it doesn’t really matter where I watch: if the boys do well, I’ll be just as delighted whichever side of the English Channel I’m sitting on. I’ve watched shootouts in the stadium and on TV and I can honestly say I was just as nervous (or spun in a more positive way, just as confident) both times. My role for the next couple of weeks is to be there in the background, supporting the team and letting the boy concentrate on his hockey safe in the knowledge that I’m watering the garden and keeping the cat alive. Behind every great hockey player is a… great WAG?

 

Good luck to the GB Hockey Boys!
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