On the second day we were all still talking shop, wine in hand in front of the open fire at 10pm after an 8am start. The questions came thick and fast, minds were exploring and debating, and importantly, planning how they were going to implement this new learning in their teaching.
The second Coaching Excellence Alliance Workshop was another resounding success. I am deeply invested in this side project, and to see it come off in such a phenomenal way once again fills me with immense joy and satisfaction.
We started mid morning on the 27th June at the lovely Sylvan Glenn Function Centre in the Southern Highlands of NSW. This workshop was organized to be a live in, all-inclusive event, with individual ensuite rooms for all in a cute and very comfortable homestead, and the seminar itself held next door in the function room.
We had 10 coaches travel from WA, QLD, TAS and NSW to attend the event, ranging from eventing specialists, mindset gurus, rider position experts, SJ and Dressage specialists, and holistic horsemanship coaches. The breadth of experience and expertise in the room meant that the attendees had as much to offer each other as the presenters.
The first day was focused on building your best business, looking at the keys to great marketing, creating and shaping your offer and your product for your clients, and a lively discussion on sales. The quality of engagement from the coaches meant lots of questions, and lots of big thinking, so we did run over time as a result, and as a result, I have had to deliver some of my content to them on a later date online.
The second day was presented by guest speaker Lindsay Nylund. He’s an internationally respected fall safety expert, who has created and developed his own training program for jockeys and riders of all capabilities. What a lot of people don’t know is that he also competed in the sport of gymnastics, winning silver at the Commonwealth Games before moving into a high performance coaching career.
Lindsay’s insights into the systems, structures, philosophies and ethics of coaching and the relationship between coach and client (and even parent) are incredibly valuable, and all the coaches found elements they wanted to apply to their work, be they training competitive riders or recreational. Good structure, systems and processes, as well as the understanding of how to break down a skill progression means better communication between coach and rider (and parent, if teaching children), better education and learning outcomes, and improved welfare and safety as whole.
There was a break outside in the afternoon to learn the basics of the fall safety training Lindsay currently travels the country delivering. From the basic brace position, and the biomechanical reasons why this is vital to protect from catastrophic injury no matter what direction or how you fall, to trying to beat the mechanical horse, the demonstration was fun, but also brought home the importance of improved education around safety, to expect the best, but plan for the worst.
One of the lightbulb moments was in discussing just how unique equestrian coaching is compared to other sports. It is extremely rare in other sports- gymnastics, swimming, AFL, cycling, etc- to find an elite athlete also coaching in a meaningful way while still competing. In the equestrian sphere, it’s almost the norm that competitive riders start coaching, and it is largely a financial decision. But the question was asked, is that part of the core problem in our sport? Both for the competitor with high ambitions, and for the riders working under those coaches?
The third and final day started early again, with Nancy Ellison- Murray presenting on Managing the crucial limits – Equine postural influences and effects, looking deeper into the success or failure, fatigue and development of the equine athlete.
Nancy’s session tied in beautifully with Lindsay’s presentation the day previous, particularly when discussing skill progression, expectations and fitness of both the horse and the rider.
A lively discussion ensued, focused on equine fitness and welfare. Hard lessons were leaned, every coach questioned their own actions currently and in the past with previous horses, and more than a few lighbulb moments were had and shared.
And that’s why the CEA workshops are so amazing- every participant shared openly, willingly and without fear of judgement or in judgement. We all admitted our past mistakes, shared the lessons learned, asked for advice and support. Empathy and forgiveness was key- empathy for others and forgiveness for ourselves for the mistakes we have made in our past.
As Nancy shared “Do the best you can with what you have. When you know better, do better”, and every single person in the room was humble enough to know they still, even now, as experts in what they do, have gaps in their knowledge and mistakes still to be made.
Where the future our sport lies is with our coaches.
It doesn’t lie with the organizing bodies, or the panels and boards. The future ethics, the sustainability, the future practice and performance all lie with our coaches. It’s a massive responsibility, and it’s the reason why we must treat our coaching as a professional endeavor.
Any professional will tell you that continual learning and growth is vital- an architect or doctor doesn’t leave university knowing everything they will ever need to know about their work. As a professional it is your responsibility to continue your own independent learning, to find those gaps in your knowledge and seek the answers to those questions.
Education is the foundation to any sustainable endeavor. Education is the foundation to any major changes in welfare, philosophy and morals.
The CEA is all about helping the coaches to be the best damn coach they can be, so that they in turn can educate and teach and guide and protect the riders and the horses under their care.
Educate the educators, and that’s where significant improvements and change will be made.
I love running these events. They involve a massive amount of work and planning and selling but I know this is important. To have a room full of professionals, of incredible minds, of courageous teachers who would rather take responsibility for doing what they can to make a difference than sit behind a computer screen and complain and wait for someone else to do something- the energy in a room like that is something to behold.
Those coaches are the future of our sport.
The ones for whom this work means more than anything else in the world.
Ten incredible coaches walked into that room on a Tuesday, and the future looks very, very bright for equestrian sport in Australia.
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