The Talent Equation Podcast

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An Ecological Approach to Club Development?

Stuart Armstrong

An ecological approach to clubs? A Talent Equation conversation with Stuart Armstrong – Head of Coaching @ Sport England



In this conversation, Greg and I explore how canoe coaching sets so comfortably with the ecological approach and how it has influenced the ways in which he works to develop a club environment that is about “people learning from people”.

Stuart Armstrong, The Talent Equation Podcast

Greg Spencer

What would it mean to focus on clubs as communities rather than as sites of orchestrated activity?



The conversation was ranges over ground covered in my Living With Uncertainty presentation – but Stuart also gets us diving into:

  • Why young people make the best coaches
  • Why an age grade team might be the least psychologically safe space for kids
  • Developing clubs as ‘nested social learning spaces’
  • The coach as a facilitator of learning – as a ‘guide by the side’

If you’ve arrived looking for more on the themes from the Podcast, please check out Living With Uncertainty. See also the various presentations (videos, podcasts, Adobe Spark presentations) included in our Enriching Lives project.


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Living With Uncertainty

Living With Uncertainty

It’s been a long time in development but we are now starting a soft-launch of Living With Uncertainty – on sensemaking for paddlesport clubs.


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NAVIGATING EVERYDAY COMPLEXITY & INFORMALITY

Day in, day out, we allow trite arguments to pass unchallenged. We might roll our eyes, or bite our tongue… but we don’t do more as life is quite genuinely too short to challenge each and every instance. Does it matter? We’d hopefully say “yes” over Black Lives Matter – but what about when the issue is the landscape of opportunity for would-be outdoor-enthusiasts?

EVERYBODY WANTS EVERYTHING DONE FOR THEM THESE DAYS – NO-ONE CAN DO ANYTHING ANYMORE – WE WOULDN’T BE INSURED – WE ALREADY ARE INCLUSIVE, WE WELCOME EVERYONE

Does everyone really just want everything done for them these days? Do people really just want to dip into things & move on? Does liability really mean everything has to be done by the book? Do we really meet members & volunteers where they are in our clubs?

If we let these trite arguments go unchallenged… we might end up in a place where they are actually true – but what happens if we just shape the way we talk about things so that our ordinary, everyday ways of working reflect what we DO value?


I am a guest in someone else’s practice…

Greg Spencer & Stuart Armstrong discuss what an ecological approach might mean in a club setting. Should we focus on community rather than on orchestrated activity?

The Talent Equation Podcast

For background to Living with Uncertainty, see my discussion with Stuart Armstrong on The Talent Equation Podcast!



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Enriching Lives

Enriching Lives

“Enriching Lives” explores how a National Governing Body’s orientation might help us shape motivational environments within which passionate enthusiasts wish to continue pouring energy into realising their “fields of dreams.”

Greg Spencer – Enriching Lives – March 2020

In this presentation, I’m asking about the forms of innovation and emerging trends might we be looking out for (and be keen to nurture) as we inspire others. Throughout, I ask where our priorities might need to lie if we are going to energise a culture of grassroots commitment to realising dreams.


It takes a certain magic…

This introduction starts from the notion that it takes a certain magic to turn youngsters into outdoorsy types who stay active in the outdoors for life… and asks:

  • Why do those who get active in the outdoors at a young age tend to stay active in the outdoors for life?
  • What happens to our youngsters to get them into that world? What’s the magic?


Who makes the magic happen?

I’m highlighting the role of the people who make the magic happen – the people who shape the landscape of opportunity in ways which work for our youngsters.

In passing, I note that in most cases, children’s transformative engagement with the outdoors tends to come alongside members of the same household.

This leads to questions of how we inspire the people who sustain the magic.


Enriching Lives

“Enriching Lives” actually begins with this January 2020 Adobe Spark presentation: Working Together to Enrich Lives – a vision for British Canoeing in Yorkshire & Humberside.



Meeting people where they are…

I envision an National Governing Body with a commitment to magic running right through the middle of it. That’s with a commitment to magic based on being curious, on caring and on meeting people where they are.

Greg Spencer – Enriching Lives

That’s with a commitment to community and to accompanying anyone who has the passion as they create their own “field of dreams.”

The National Governing Body I’m envisioning would be at ease with its enthusiasts, valuing their creativity, passion & pioneering spirit. 


Five Commitments

I finish with talk of the commitments which this orientation might entail:

  • To Respecting Experience – so that expertise is recognised, and we can remove the handcuffs that lock us into our pasts
  • To Inspiring Curiosity – so we can get on with broading our own – and each other’s – horizons
  • To Connecting Enthusiasts – so we get stronger networks and increased opportunities
  • To Nurturing Innovation – so we get new opportunities for a new generation
  • To Noticing, Caring and Guiding from the Side – in ways which show we know that relationships matter most

I suggest that with these commitments in place, anything is possible – but that making those commitments means committing to a new vision of and for my National Governing Body.

This introduction leads into a series of other pieces – including a blog on Connected Coaches about Social Artists in Coach Development… and into Part II:



For more, see the following Spark Presentations / Podcasts:


Do We Need Social Artists?

Social Learning Space

How do we nurture social learning spaces for people keen to make an impact in the informal spaces where individuals find meaning in movement?

Greg Spencer – Do We Need Social Artists – March 2020

Etienne Wenger-Trayner’s “social artists” are those who have a big influence on the social dynamics of informal spaces where individuals find new ways of engaging with the world. They are the people who shape the landscapes we interact within – including in our clubs!

My Social Artists in Coach Development piece latches onto what Etienne has to say about social learning spaces. I focus on the commitments we make to one another in these spaces… and on the accountability which can develop within them.


Sharp Edge

I liken horizontal accountability to what might develop if a group of us go hill walking together.



we may go as friends, but a degree of deference may be required where one person’s prior experience and wealth of expertise confers an inescapably greater Duty of Care. Meeting as peers (as fellow participants, irrespective of role title) still leaves ample room for respect and deference, it’s just that the mechanisms are more complex.  

Greg Spencer – Connected Coaches Blog – March 2020

Managing Pragmatic Activists: Herding Cats?

My work on Enriching Lives – On and Around the Water ties in with Etienne Wenger-Trayner’s work through the focus on the Pragmatic Activist. That’s a focus on the individuals who foster the development of clubs and paddling networks as both new and existing social learning spaces.


As I move forward with my work, I expect to build on the idea around horizontal accountability – especially once the authors release their (hugely impressive) Learning to Make a Difference: Value Creation in Social Learning Spaces.


Update – July 2020: my take on the Social Artist concept is now embedded within my Living with Uncertainty presentation – which also expands on horizontal accountability.