Maximising experiences
I am a lucky boy. Lucky, lucky lucky (apologies if after only 8 words you are now singing Kylie Minogue’s hit or reciting sections of Monty Python’s Holy Grail).
When I first started to work in high-performance I was fortunate to begin to work alongside a lady called Ailsa Niven (nee Anderson). My role was to help athletes and coaches with the physical side and Ailsa was to help the mental side. Our job was to support regional level athletes. While I was busy making numerous mistakes, learning how to test, analyse, present pretty information, I was reading, discussing and thinking less and less about the fundamental technical stuff and more and more about the behavioural, inter-personal, communication, management, teamship and so on. I was working full-time but Ailsa was delivering her work part-time while studying for her PhD in psychology.
Ailsa was studying ‘Reflective Practice for Sports Science Professionals’. As a consequence Ailsa ‘recruited’ me to help her trial, refine and research my reflective practice. Up until this point the only reflective practice I had taken is a little bit of hair gelling, the occasional spot squeeze and daily flossing.
Ailsa began by asking me to undertake a full reflective practice methodology after an athlete consultation. I have to admit I found it a bit tedious, but could see the relative merits in the questions. After a few reflective accounts Ailsa asked me begin to keep a reflective log on a regular basis. At first I thought this was only to be completed when I had done something noteworthy, such as delivered a lecture, taken a group training session or pitch for some budgets. Ailsa was keen on a bit more frequency, so I found myself reflecting on what I’d consider, at the time, to be some of the mundane aspects of the job, e.g. kit validation testing, team meetings, report design, even the latest book I was reading.
At first, it was a bit of a bind, however slowly but surely I started to recognise a trend, steadily realising – this could be good stuff!
First, the process. Proposed by Gibbs in 1998
So here it is;
Maximising experiences
I noticed that when I was encountering new situations (very high frequency in my early career and in every transition or escalation point since), I was recalling ideas, conclusions and hopes, not from previous experiences but from the reflection from experiences. Very specifically those thoughts had been drawn out by the reflective practice process.
Reflective practice was solidifying my learning from each experience. Previously, I had ‘sort of’ reflected, but mainly leaving my thoughts just hanging there – not maximised (I often hear people say, “Oh yes, I already do reflective practice, I think about things in the car on the way home”. Not bad, but not great – for reasons outlined below). Reflection was drawing the lessons out of me like Professor Dumbledore does with his memories and plops them into his Pensieve (though my robes were a different colour, and my reflective practice log was a notebook from WH Smiths).
The second wonderful thing it gave me was closure over ‘tricky’ situations. You know, when you make a mistake and then you spend the next 48 hours ruminating, rocking and re-living it. Well, reflection sped up the ‘beating myself up’ stage, through to the ‘so what?’ stage. And that felt good!
Maximising experiences
The third key strength of the RP process for me*, is the direction it gives you. It stretches you to look forward into the future, asking you to imagine encountering situations when you might need similar skills. I felt I was actively equipping myself for upcoming events and what might come at me.
I am certain reflective practice accelerated my learning, skill development and craft knowledge and action planning. I continue to reflect today. Not daily, sorry Ailsa. If I encounter something that foxed me, I found tricky or if I made a mistake, I will do the full Gibbs reflection. But more frequently I will use my own adapted, somewhat abbreviated version;
– What happened?
– What went well?
– Focus for tomorrow?
I’d encourage anyone, I’d ever meet to practice reflective practice. It’s a life skill that will enrich and propel you. When you’re old and grey, when you look back on your lives, if you’ve actively reflected, I expect the reflection will be even more satisfying!
“We do not learn from experience… we learn from reflecting on experience.”
― John Dewey
Tell us about your experiences or send us your questions about maximising experiences.
*Other recognised benefits include;
Benefits to reflective practice include:
  • Increased learning from an experience or situation
  • Promotion of deep learning
  • Identification of personal and professional strengths and areas for improvement
  • Identification of educational needs
  • Acquisition of new knowledge and skills
  • Further understanding of own beliefs, attitudes and values
  • Encouragement of self-motivation and self-directed learning
  • Could act as a source of feedback
  • Possible improvements of personal and clinical confidence

About steveingham

Dr Steve Ingham is one of the UK’s leading figures in sport and one of the world’s leading performance scientists. He is steeped in high performance and has been integral to the development of Britain into an Olympic superpower. He has provided support to over 1000 athletes, of which over 200 have achieved World or Olympic medal success, including some of the world’s greatest athletes such as Jessica Ennis-Hill, Sir Steve Redgrave and Sir Matthew Pinsent. Steve has coached Kelly Sotherton's running for heptathlon and to 4x400m Olympic medal winning success. Steve has worked at the English Sports Council British Olympic Association, English Institute of Sport, where Steve was the Director of Science and Technical Development, leading a team of 200 scientists in support of Team GB and Paralympics GB. Ingham holds a BSc, PhD and is a Fellow of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences. Steve is author of the best selling ‘How to Support a Champion: The art of applying science to the elite athlete’, discussing and inspiring the importance of learning and adapting to reach our maximum potential. Steve established Supporting Champions with the ambition of helping ambitious people to find a better way of creating high-performance. Steve hosts the Supporting Champions Podcast on sharing his pursuit of understanding and exploration in performance.

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