Updated: Jun 9
I tend to do things that I am not sure will work and regularly pause to make sense of what patterns and flows are emerging. Lockdown gave me a big pause point. An opportunity to stop and make sense of how my 56 years led me to a different way to coach sports. This blog is a summary of that sense-making.
I struggled until I came across Iain McGilchrist‘s work on the divided brain. Iain has a great website with lots of in-depth research, talks, and writing. I very much recommend Iain, his books, videos and website. I have known about the left and right brain theory before and I didn’t like its rigidity. I knew my brain was more fluid than that. Iain has improved the theory by showing that both sides of the brain are involved in everything we do. None of us should be left-brain only or right brain only. We are all both. This is how I imagined my brain working. Fluidly flowing between the left and the right all the time for everything I see and do.
Using Iain's work to make sense of my life
If I put my brain in neutral, I naturally drift to the right side of my brain where I relax in a feeling of connection. My right brain always looks for connection, meaning I am always motivated to connect to my left brain to make sense of what I feel. I see the big picture and seek the details. This is why even though I find it hard to use my left brain, hard to stay in my left brain for long periods of time ... I keep doing it. The right brain means I use both sides of my brain.
Part 1: My formal education
My education was a struggle between being seen as clever at understanding the big picture and poor at repeating the technical details often required to pass exams. My degree is an average grade based on a high mark for my dissertation and low marks for my exams. I am a good right brain thinker and have to work really hard at being a left brain thinker.
Part 2: My sporting career
During my 5 years playing sports at Leeds Beckett University (Carnegie campus), I was measured to have many international level attributes and one crucial one at national level. This meant that to succeed at international level I was going to have to be lucky. Great coaches, great training and no injuries. The one attribute not tested was my ability to read the patterns of play, which was very useful when I played basketball, rugby, and football. This is my right brain. Thinking that my ability to read the game was my best asset I prioritised team games. I often bumped into a coach who only wanted players to be good at executing technical skills. They only wanted to coach the left brain. I was often technically good enough to get in the team. I would read the game using my right brain and do something that often won the game. But because I failed to execute what the coach wanted I would be dropped. I moved to athletics where the competition was a simple question of being the fastest. I did ok, but I was not using my biggest gift. My ability to read a game.
Part 3: My working life
In my working life employers valued my ability to find patterns and flows in the bigger picture. My right brain was valued. I developed a career turning around struggling technology projects where communications had broken down between a network of teams full of people with different disciplines, different cultures, different reward systems, different employers. Some of the technical engineers were often some of the best in the world. The projects were often failing because everyone was using their left brain to make sure others got the blame when it went wrong. They all knew it would go wrong. I would use my right brain to make it easier for everyone to use both their left and their right brain. The engineers stopped trying to make sure others got the blame and instead started to see how they could flex what they do to better work with others. I helped them to make micro-decisions on their technical work so that it all fitted together. Many projects facing certain failure delivered in time.
Part 4: My home education
When my children entered the education system, it was easy for me to see a mechanistic and standardised system designed to get all children as many qualifications as possible. It was a massive engine of left brain thinking. When my children suffered, especially the eldest, who like me lives mainly in his right brain and then my youngest suffered from the consequences of being locked in his left brain, we took them out of school to home educate. We adopted a passion led learning approach where our children each choose what they learned and how. It quickly became clear that they were so used to following instructions they didn't know how to make their own micro-decisions. I gave up work and started to coach them in how to see the world clearly so that they could make good micro-decisions. We connected to the wider world. We explored. Discovered. We created. As they grew up they naturally added technical skills and more ways to help others to their rapidly improving ability to make their own micro-decisions. This expanded into running a youth club and many tall ship sailing adventures with 20 odd teenagers. Our children received an education that used both sides of their brain.
Part 5: My sports coaching
I have coached and been coached in many different sports including athletics, basketball, rugby, netball, and swimming. It has always been obvious to me that winning at the highest level is as much about the right brain of emotion, connection, imagination as it is the left brain to execute the technical detail ... but it is clearly not obvious to many of the technically trained coaches and players. When I found out about how the left brain can inhibit access to the right brain this blind spot made sense to me. I eventually found a technical coach who could see the value of coaching the right brain. We tried a format where they would coach the left brain and I would coach the right brain. It didn't work because I could not coach the right brain without also coaching the left brain. I can't be a left brain technical basketball nor can I be a technical netball coach. Nor can I be a psychologist who only coaches the right side of the brain. I can coach the left and right sides of the brain at the same time and in a connected way. I am a connected-brain coach. I now feel confident I can train other coaches to be connected-brain coaches.
What's next for me?
I believe that being able to use both sides of the brain is one of the most important life skills of the 21st century. Which is why I am the founder of LifeSkills21.Club