Sport Systems – fragments of thought #2

Mark Upton
Apr 24, 2017

fragments of thought #1

Intentions…initially I was thinking of making a straightforward case for addressing the good, or otherwise, intentions of key influencers in a sport system. My logic being that those with good intentions, defined by seeing their role as to serve/help the participants of a sport, but operating from some limiting assumptions and beliefs (“paradigm”, “worldview”) are who we should target for support and critical thinking regarding those assumptions and beliefs. On the other hand, we are wasting our time in the case of those with “bad” intentions, ie people who see sport participants (particularly children and youth) as a vehicle for personal financial profit and power.

But Zimbardo’s reminder of the dynamic interplay between person, situation and system (including legal, political, economic, cultural forces) makes this not a straightforward slicing between good and bad intentions (and judgements as to the quality of person holding those intentions).

I’ve been thinking about a situation described to me by a coach of an individual sport. I won’t re-tell it exactly. Roughly we have a coach who understands that certain types of practice will be more beneficial for an athlete than others. However these require the coach to be less instructional and directive and the athlete, who is paying an hourly fee to the coach, expects the coach to be constantly “coaching” them. What does the coach decide to do? They choose to use the more instructional and directive approach so that the athlete continues to retain the coaches services.

Ultimately this coach’s intention is not to do what they think is best for the athlete but to preserve the income generated from engaging with this athlete. Surely this makes for bad intentions…one of those greedy types rotting sport systems from the inside. I can tell you this coach is nothing of the sort.

As I’m sure you have already considered from the situation described, there are multiple factors at play from which “intention” has emerged from. These could include wider systemic factors such as politics and the economy. Maybe housing and cost of living has risen so much in recent times that the coach is struggling to support their family…it is literally a survival issue. Where as in the past they may have been able to volunteer their time to this athlete, who might then not be so wedded to receiving their moneys-worth through explicit coaching. We’ve also seen how the athletes assumptions and beliefs regarding what they expect of the coach plays a role and creates a tension. This leads into cultural territory…

To come back to where this fragment of thought began, I’ve come to realise the dichotomous stand I was taking in regard to rational good and bad intentions…and slipping into a linear paradigm by believing I could come at this in serial, discrete stages – starting with intention → assumptions and beliefs.

Indeed, when one tugs at a single thing in nature…

fragment #2 complete