Since my project has been such a large undertaking, I decided the best way to write my reflection was systematically. What follows is an examination of the challenges and lessons I learned in chronological order; focusing on the investigatory, preparatory, and action stages of the project. This is to achieve a reflection that is coherently structured and detailed.
Within the investigatory part of my project my primary aim was to find a person or community in need of service and ask whether I could be of assistance. I became quickly aware of the opportunities to help within my school sporting community.
Over the past five years, Newington College has had a variety of staff working as coaches in the fencing department. This has ranged from qualified national coaches to previous Newington fencing students. There have been improvements in both of Newington’s fencing programs, foil and sabre. However, the sabre program has demonstrated far greater improvement. This seems to be largely a result of the foil program’s inability to retain a head coach. Despite this, the foil program has still had persisting staff. The issue with not retaining a head coach is that the program and style of teaching have changed annually. This has meant the fundamental skills of fencers haven't developed at the rate of other school fencers, therefore inhibiting their ability to perform well.
Being an active member of the senior men’s foil program meant I was exposed to this and frequently witnessed newer coaches being underprepared and students left unengaged. Thankfully, I was able to recognise myself as able to assist. This is because, unlike other students, I train regularly outside of school as a member of the national fencing team. As such, I have the skills and knowledge to construct a program that targets the issues in beginner fencing to help the boys improve. Furthermore, understanding the culture of Newington fencing, I will be able to organize training in a format that is competitive but also engaging. This will allow me to facilitate students’ continual enjoyment as, having trained with them over the last five years as a school fencer, I am aware of how they work best.
It’s important to note why a program was a better alternative to simply volunteering my time over the coming season. These are as follows:
1. The main strength is that it provides the fencing program with a basic level of infrastructure. This ensures if Newington struggles to maintain a persisting head coach students won’t suffer from the same lack of development. This is because other fencing staff will be able to enforce the program and ensure the continued development of students' basic skills. This is the case because the program provides new coaches with the direction needed to establish an optimal training environment based on the fencing capabilities of the students and time constraints of school sport.
2. Another strength is the longevity of the program. The program will be able to be implemented until it’s usefulness has been expended. Subsequently, it can be used across entire seasons for several years. However, were I to help this season I would only be able to do so at times which didn’t conflict with my class. This would mean I would be unable to attend a number of the junior sessions, who need to most attention, as they are scheduled during my classes.
3. If I were to run sessions I would still have to plan what I was going to do to ensure I could target the fencing cohort’s weaknesses. By doing this on a larger scale I achieve the added benefits that the program is more detailed and, in the event I am not present, others are able to draw upon my knowledge to run a session efficiently.
To clarify, when the program was implemented, explained later, I was present. When the strengths, mentioned above, reference my absence they were referencing situations I anticipated for where I couldn’t come due to circumstances like prior commitments or illness. Moreover, it refers to when I may no longer be a student at Newington College in the coming years.
I was confident if the program were implemented over the coming season, and in the following years, Newington would see a dramatic improvement in the quality of fencers, and increased participation as the sport is transformed into a competitive, fun endeavor. Now, having recognized a need and how I could attempt to assist, I contacted the fencing coordinator at my school, asking whether she also felt this was a problem and whether she would like my help in addressing it. Her response is shown below.
I believe the initial investigatory stage prominently demonstrated awareness of learning outcome one. Recognizing myself as an individual capable of contributing and assisting based on my current skill demonstrates the ability to reflect on my disposition to contribute relative to others. This involves not only recognizing myself as a member of the national fencing team, possessing the theoretical knowledge associated with constructing drills and technical work, but also as a senior within the program who has the capacity to lead younger years and act as a role model.
When I originally investigated whether I could help I did so before the 2019 fencing season had started. This was important as it allowed me to construct a draft program that I sent to Miss Lak, shown below, for feedback. After this, I was able to refine it and ensure the school had a working program before the season began. This was important for two reasons. Once the program was done it could be adjusted to fit the session timetabling, shown below, and it ensured the students participating in the 2019 program didn’t have to adjust midseason.
This stage mainly sought out to accomplish the following learning outcomes:
1. In so far as my actions pertained to learning outcome two: I had begun the initial stages of extending myself beyond what I was used to as an athlete in attempting to learn how to coach. Although this change would be realized later in far greater capacity when I attended and helped coordinate sessions, it did require a change in mindset. This was recognizing I had to concern myself with all the athletes at training. Fencing training, due to it being an individual sport, means that despite working with others for training, one generally only focusses on managing themselves. However, constructing the program forced me to consider the collective skill set of each fencer and review the aggregate ability. This was important as drills that were too specialized wouldn’t be able to be of equal benefit to all.
2. In so far as my actions pertained to learning outcome three: The correspondence with Miss Lak, preparing drafts of and finalizing the program, as well as timetabling the program all serve as a demonstration of my intent to plan and carry out a CAS experience.
3. In so far as my actions pertained to learning outcome seven: When structuring my program, as alluded to, I had to make decisions as to how it would run and what skills it would attempt to develop. This proved a difficult task due to the variety of students participating in the program. The variety concerned not only their skills but also their physicality and talent. Subsequently, a delicate balance was needed to be struck between developing a program broad enough to be beneficial to all members of the program but specific enough to target student weaknesses and help individuals succeed. The specifics of this are modeled within the program through the introduction of drills and warm-up techniques and can be accessed by clicking on the attached pdf above. Nevertheless, I believed I had to make one of three choices. These appeared to be, address the needs of the weakest students, address the needs of the bulk of the cohort, or address the needs of the best fencers. I immediately ruled out option three as I thought any favoring of the better-skilled students would have negative ramifications. These being, it would create an elitist system that would discourage the majority of student participation and only produce one competitive team. The remaining choices were more difficult as both had the potential to improve the program. If the program focused on addressing the needs of the students who were most in need it would improve the lowest level of skill and result in an increasingly stronger base. This also agreed with one of the principles outlined by political philosopher John Rawls in A Theory of Justice who believes in a given system it’s just to aid the most disadvantaged group within that system. Conversely, within this context, it possessed the possibility to discourage student participation for those who excelled as they may have felt unrecognized. Since one of the aims was to make the program enjoyable for all, this was worrisome. The alternative could be understood under a rule utilitarian framework, whereby the morally permissible action was to maximize utility, otherwise known as pleasure, which would be a consequence of helping the majority. Ultimately, I chose option two. I believed this was the right choice for two reasons. Firstly, it was my job to best facilitate the development of all students. Therefore, whilst the minority of students may have been disadvantaged or inconvenienced, I was ensuring the program and the majority of students were given the best chance to succeed. Secondly, I was informed that there would be morning classes where students seeking accelerated work could attend to help catch up. I believe the application of ethical thought and evaluating my decisions in such a way accomplishes outcome seven.
The final and largest stage of my project was implementing it over the winter season. This consisted of my attending at least one junior session a week over a three month period, although for the majority of weeks I was able to attend both junior sessions. In addition to this, I also helped coaches at senior training sessions. However, this wasn’t directly related to my project as after deliberation I and Miss Lak decided to only use it for junior sessions as a sort of trial run that could be implemented in future years if successful or revised if necessary.
Initially, I watched from the sides, observing and noting the effect of the program as well as the coaches’ ability to implement it. After the first two weeks, or four sessions, I decided to speak to the coaches on what I had observed. The program had worked as expected and this way the case throughout the entirety of the season. This was mainly because the program has within instructions for how it should be altered as students progress if students start to stagnate in development. However, some improvements in the mechanics of drills and warm-ups were able to be made as well as restructuring the training hall in order to better optimize it for use.
Unfortunately, there were two major setbacks. The first of these was a classical problem associated with large scale group work, the communication between coaches about the specifics was unclear. This was likely a result of the coaches individually reviewing the program and drawing their own interpretations of the ideas and strategies proposed within it. Subsequently, when coaches applied and used the infrastructure within the program they occasionally did so in contradictory manners that confused students. This isn't to say, which I am sure of after having spoken to each coach, that the program was unclear or poorly structured. Rather, the ability to apply the tools in the program differently leed to different conclusions by each coach. I was grateful this happened though, as it signified a person’s ability to use the tools I had given them to implement a program, as I had designed it for. This issue simply revealed that for this program to be successful it also requires open channels of communication. My immediate thought was to have a brain-storming session with the three coaches about the misconceptions or difficulties of the program. However, due to the busy schedules of each coach, there wasn’t a time within or outside school time to organize this as it would require at least two hours to resolve all issues. For reference, I noted that going forward coaches may find it useful to meet before the season starts after reading the program once to discuss ideas and plans going forward to avoid this. However, over the following weeks, we developed a strategy that allowed us to overcome this issue. We recognized that the program, due to its structure, could be divided into sections. These were: warm-up, drills, competitive bouting, and cooldown. We allocated each coach a section, with one coach doing warm-up and cool down, which we believed would overcome the problem. As each coach understood each section differently, they would carry out their section in a way the others most likely wouldn’t have done. However, as there was only one coach on each section there were no longer contradicting instructions and the sessions ran far smoother.
The second problem was with the program’s ability to target individual needs. I noticed that when I was there I was able to address a far greater number of student needs than had I not been there and the program simply ran as-is. This was troublesome as the program is supposed to serve as a means to improve all students in an equally capable manner, and yet the issues some students had developed would have gone unaddressed if the program was run in isolation of external supervision. However, I realized that many of these problems stemmed from underlying technical issues and could be identified easily as they shared a common set of properties or manifested themselves in similar ways. As such, I was able to construct a list that informed coaches what specific issues were likely a consequence of and what likely would aid in resolving the issue. For example, all students who had issues with parrying, a defensive action, was a result of how they held the blade in guard position. Inserting tips like this was another modification that strengthened the program.
This final section of the project most significantly demonstrated learning outcomes four and five. My continual involvement in helping coordinate sessions, deliberate with coaches, or improve the program by observing sessions is evident in my continual involvement and demonstrates that I have achieved outcome four. Furthermore, my ability to solve the first aforementioned was a result of group deliberation and demonstrates that group work, although possessing its own set of intricacies, also allows an aggregate of individuals to pull their collective efforts and skills to tackle problems in unique ways to improve efficiency and overcome challenges. This is further demonstrated as the problem despite being necessitated by group work was also only solved through the collective effort of all involved to discuss, compromise, and contribute until the issue was resolved. I believe this approach demonstrates an awareness of learning outcome five.