Monday, August 24, 2015

Are we really in the last days?

An email arrived this morning with an offer for "End Times" commentaries and locally there's a conference with a title that makes heavy references to ours being the final generation before the end. Not a very encouraging start to the week! Fortunately I've had my breakfast and fortified myself for the day ahead. Mind you the weather doesn't look promising. I think I'd prefer a warmer, sunnier day for the collapse of history.

I'd rather hoped that the evangelical church had grown up a bit since the 70's when we were urged to pray about the EU. Not because some of its policies were concerning but rather because it comprised 11 nations and had a supercomputer somewhere in Brussels with the code "666" that clearly indicated the end was fast approaching. For supercomputer read a large cumbersome, room-filling computer with the processing power of digital thermometer available in all good pharmacies today, and the rest of the fulfilment line fell apart somewhat with the expansion of the EU, to include Greece of all nations, as far as I remember . Apparently we haven't done that much maturing over the 40 years since then.

A preoccupation with the end seems to me to be gross distraction from the present. It isn't that I'm unaware of the prophetic narrative about the unfolding story of humanity, I'm just a little more preoccupied about what to do today without the added burden of thinking it might all end tomorrow. There just seems to be far too much to do.

When I read Brian McLaren's book Everything Must Change I was challenged by the idea that if the gospel is good news then it must have something to say about everything. I guess if I wanted to push this further then I'd say that the gospel is not just about our future salvation but also about our present redemption. I don't think that's particularly revolutionary. I think we'd all agree that the response the gospel demands from us is not simply one of agreeing with a series of theological propositions in order to secure our eternal destiny. The gospel is good news for the poor, the marginalised, the refugees, the migrants, the disconnected, the sufferers the wealthy, the healthy and anyone not covered by the preceding list! As such it has something to say about our economics our foreign policy our use of military force, our response to disaster. In fact it has something to say about every aspect of our lives in the present.

It's tough enough working out the implications of living a gospel oriented life in the present without the added burden of trying to figure when and how the world around us will come to an end. If we are the final generation, then so be it. If the end comes in my lifetime, fine. I'm as ready as I will ever be. What preoccupies me is honouring God day by day, not because the end is getting nearer but because it's the thing a disciple does. My question is more about how I can bless those around me, how I can help them take a step towards the kingdom, not whether this event or that movement signals the arrival of the apocalypse.

So if you're going to the conference or if you're investing in the books, please do so in the context of the present and let the future unfold as it will. Once we've figured out how to live in the present, maybe then we can think about all that future stuff.

Monday, August 17, 2015

The art of taking encouragement when it comes

I'm not the easiest person to encourage. I'll admit it. Sometimes it probably has a lot to do with setting the bar rather too high for myself. I've always felt a bit of an underachiever to be honest, someone who's never quite fulfilled their potential. There have been the odd glimpses of what might be, but never a prolonged period of recognisable success. At least not form where I stand.

So I have to work quite hard at taking encouragement. I have to hold back the desire the say, "Yes, but..." all the time, qualifying the encouragement with a list of things that could have been better or things that didn't really work. And of course the downside to struggling with receiving positive comments is that you tend to take criticism hard too.

Anyway, psychology apart, it's been a pretty good weekend for encouragement. For those theologically minded, and who share a faith based perspective, I need to tell you that on Friday I wrote a simple prayer in my journal that closed with a simple request: Lord, send a little encouragement my way. To be honest I promptly forgot all about it until I sat down to write in my journal this morning after a hectic weekend of training and a little bit of coaching. It was as I sat, journal open in front of me, that I read and remembered the prayer. So how was the weekend?

Well, rather good, as I said. It started well on Friday with a really positive tennis lesson with my coach, and then went well through Saturday and Sunday on my coaching course, culminating in a very positive assessment of my coaching lesson on the Sunday afternoon. A quick check of the 'phone and I've picked up a bit of coaching, covering for someone for a couple of weeks while they are away and the day ended with an hour or so of coaching a mother and son. And I get paid to do it!

Now lots of faith oriented friends will respond to this from a faith perspective and that's okay. I do too. But there's also a lesson about the simplicity of taking hold of encouragement and not seeing the negatives all the time. I really do struggle to do that. Ask Anne, she'll tell how hard it to encourage me! But I'm trying.

This weekend has been great because as a Christian I can see a direct answer to a simple prayer. But faith is far from simplistic, and I'm not about to reduce my faith to some slot-machine game of pray, believe, receive as if you're trying to get three cherries in a row.

Even if you don't consider yourself a person of faith, you can reflect on how you deal with the good and the bad that comes your way. Do you let the negative weigh you down all the time, or do you look for the positives?

I'll have bad days, bad weeks even. After all I'm in a tournament again soon! But today, I'm just going to remember the encouragement and feed on that for a while.

Saturday, August 08, 2015

Migrants or refugees

Watching the news as it follows the unfolding story of the migrant camp in Calais and reading the various bits and pieces that are popping up on the internet, I can't help but wonder at the way language is used the describe the people at the centre of the current worldwide crisis. Calais is just one expression of what is a truly worldwide issue. When the likes of Nigel Farage talks about adopting an Australian style immigration policy, he is both fuelling the fire of outraged middle-classes beloved of a Daily Mail headline, and more importantly missing the point completely. Even those who share the data about doctors and nurses and other overseas workers in the UK, in an attempt to point out the flaws in the UKIP style arguments, are arguing on similar ground. It's an important foil for the negative talk about migrants but we need to remember that people drowning in the Mediterranean is another symptom of the crisis as are the thousands of people displaced across the Middle East in camps in Lebanon.

But what if we change the language? Instead of assuming the only reason the occupants of the camp in Calais want to cross the channel is because they want access to our benefits system, what if we asked the question, "From what are they trying to escape?" What if we called them refugees rather than migrants, would that change anything? Would we be more sympathetic to their situation?

I don't know how or if it would change anything. It does seem to me that the main focus of the commentary we get on the issue is an economic one mixed with the usual fear factor. Talk of sending people back is typical of the economic/fear factor argument. It fails to acknowledge that money or a so-called easy life is not the driving force for many of these people and it's time we spent more time talking about that.

Perhaps the reason we're not prepared to have that discussion is because we would have to acknowledge that we share some degree of responsibility for the conditions that have generated the crisis. We don't need to beat ourselves up about that, just get off the fence rather than building it and do something positive about it.

Tuesday, August 04, 2015

They found me!

I'm not sure what to think, but a letter arrived yesterday about my pension! I don't really think about retiring, in fact I rather think I'll keep doing something for quite a long time yet. Given that most of what I do is part-time anyway, I can probably keep doing funerals and a bit of coaching for many years yet. Not so sure about the pitch-side stuff. Doing it is not the problem, it's getting up off my knees after attending an injury that takes the time! I think I might make it a rule that all injuries this year must be on my side of the pitch and not too far away, preferably with the player still on their feet to save bending down.

Anyway, the other thing about this letter is that it relates to my pension from my first employer. It won't be much, I was only there 7 years before going off to college for the second time. The thing is we've moved a lot since then and I can't remember when I sat told them where I was living. What's more the company was privatised and split up, so how did they find me? I was thinking it was about time I tried to track down the scheme, even if only to let them know I still had plans for what to do with the money!

I reckon the last time I sent them a change of address must be four to five moves ago. I guess they must have found me through my NI No. and tax stuff. It just goes to show that you can't hide forever! It does make you think though. What if someone out there is trying to send me a large cheque. I wouldn't want them not to be able to do that now would I.

Olympic Legacies and Participation in Sport

It's in the news again, the Olympic legacy. Questions about falling participation in sport and what to do about it are once again on the table and no one seems to have an answer. Well it might be simplistic but maybe the expectation that simply having a major sporting event in the capital city would somehow inspire the generations to get up and have a go was somewhat presumptuous. Given that we have a lot of televised sport available and that hasn't inspired a generation, then two weeks of varied athletics was unlucky to reshape our participation overnight, or even over a few years.

I think there are some fundamental things wrong both in the way we engage people in sport and the access to sport that is available. Take tennis. Tennis clubs are not alone in being fairly inaccessible places. Not because they are geographically difficult to find, but because you have to cross the threshold of the unknown. And let's face it, they can be snobby too. Golf clubs are the same.

Second, most sports are technically demanding. Kicking, throwing or hitting a ball isn't difficult, but doing it consistently is hard. When you do a tennis coaching course, one of the things they get you to do is to try hitting with your non-dominant hand. Give it a try. Whether it's a racket sport or a bat and ball sport, you will suddenly discover what it's like to be a complete beginner. If you're blessed with good hand eye coordination you might just manage to get some sort of contact, but it's hard. It's not exactly the same as it would be as a true beginner, but it gives you a good indication.

So sport is hard, physically, mentally and emotionally. I was watching an under 10's tennis tournament the other day. Lots of tears and tantrums on show. These kids are still in the very early days of learning to play, but somehow the one thing they seem to have learned really well is how to put themselves under enormous pressure to win and be the best all the time. So they have a bad day or they lose a match. Someone needs to help them understand it's not the end of the world and that winning isn't the only measure of success. It is tough. I've got a match today and I know how hard I will be on myself and I'm an adult!

I think we need to find a way of helping people fall in love with sport before we get them participating and maybe even competing. Once we get people loving the idea of taking of part then we can get them moving. I don't run much at all these days, not the long distance stuff. Actually it was never very long, 5 or 6 miles at the absolute maximum. My knees tend to complain after a couple of miles now and the last time I did a 5k (I've gone metric in the last few years) was about 6 months ago just before I got a calf injury. But I still love running. If I could run without the knee pain, then I probably would. How fast would I run? Who cares. How far would I run? It doesn't matter. It would just be for the love of running. I try to carry that into my tennis, but I'm still a bit of a competitor and it's hard not to be overly critical of one's performance in a sport that is rather more technically demanding than plonking one foot in front of the other for 30 minutes or so. Sorry to anyone who is offended by that definition of running, I do know about things like cadence, gait cycles, knee lift etc.

So it seems to me that there are two basic priorities that we need to find a way of addressing if we're going to increase active participation in sport. Firstly we need to generate a love of taking part, of doing something active. Not sure how you do that, but without it I don't think you will get long term involvement. Second we have to improve access. How can people participate if there are no facilities open to them? But along with facilities there needs to be better access to coaching. We're not talking high performance, just people who can help you get started. They need to be trained because coaching is actually a skill. Just because you can play it doesn't mean you can coach.

What might happen if local councils and local sports clubs got together to look at how they could deliver sport in the community. Councils have the land and the space, clubs have the players and volunteers that might be able to make it happen. Perhaps we need to encourage those who are already active to learn some of the coaching skills that can then be put to use outside the clubs and in the public spaces.

Monday, August 03, 2015

The Journey to Level 2

It is almost exactly two years since I did my Level 1 tennis coaching course. If I decide to do my Level 3 in two more years, I'll be nearly 60 when I do it!! Anyway, let's get level 2 out the way first before even thinking about putting myself through yet another series of weekends and paperwork.

I must say, the level 2 course is more interesting than the level 1 course was, at least for me. Although I love the work I do with the small group of kids on a sunday morning, the level 1 course was heavily focussed on mini-tennis and games and not too much coaching. Understandable given the remit of a level 1 assistant.

The level 2 course dives almost straight in to technical stuff about stance (open, semi-open, closed), grip (Eastern, semi-Western, Western) and whole lot of other stuff. The brain gets a good work out just trying to remember them let alone actually being able to spot which grip a player is actually using. Then there's all the stuff about progressions and type of shot (apparently there are six), footwork , bodywork and racket work. A lot to think about.

Having said that, there were several things that I can't wait to try with my little group. One of the really helpful things was talking through the process of stripping back a shot to the basics. You forget as a player how difficult it is as a beginner to get in the right position to hit the shot correctly. Actually hitting the shot correctly is hard enough, let alone having to run after the thing!

We also had an interesting discussion about what you would change and what you would leave alone. Obviously if someone comes to you as a complete beginner then you would start them off in a conventional pattern for their strokes. But even when you do that people change as they develop. You might correct bad habits that are going to prevent them from improving, but you might not coach something out of them just to make their game prettier. Take for example someone who finds hitting forehands with both left and right hands and not hitting a backhand at all. You would say to them that they must develop a backhand because that's what "proper" tennis players do. I had one kid the other day who hit right-handed until he served when he turned round and served left-handed. He felt more comfortable tossing the ball with his right hand. Because it was only the second time he'd been on the court I did get his to try right-handed, but if he continued to struggle and if he could actually serve okay left-handed, they why would I coach his not to do that. After all, he might just decide to give up tennis instead of pressing on and getting better.

Anyway, I've now got a whole pile of paperwork to do before our next weekend on the course and then more after that before our final assessment. Not my favourite part, but it has to be done.

Saturday, August 01, 2015

Another training course!

So today I started my Level 2 tennis coaching course. I sometimes wonder about my sanity! Every time I embark on a new course I wonder why I do it. I hear myself saying I'm too old, it's too stressful, I don't like having to role play or pretend I'm a personality type that I'm not. I find being assessed incredibly stressful. Put me on a court with a group of beginners and no-one looking over my shoulder and I'm okay. Even Anne was impressed with the way I get the moving and hitting balls. But put me on a court with an assessor looking over my shoulder and I melt!

And yet I still do it. I've done more courses with practical assessments in the last three years than I ever done in my life! First Aid, coaching, Personal Training, and of course the Sports and Remedial Massage qualification.

Each time I have to gear myself up to get through it all. The paperwork looks daunting and the assignments seem to be the best way to empty my mind of anything useful in double quick time.

Hopefully, in a month's time, I will have finished this course and got my level 2. But then you start thinking about the next level or the next skill. I'm not sure I will go beyond level 2, but I may need to in order to do what I want to do in building community tennis programmes. At least I have the argument that I've not reached a higher enough rating to qualify for level 3, but there's a way round that called the play test, so I may have no excuse!

So I better knuckle down and do my paperwork, sort out the appropriate answers and just get on with it. I've already learnt some useful things today, I just hope my brain is able to store and retrieve them over them next few weeks when I need them.