Clyde Street

Learning, Teaching, Performing

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Performance Environments: Status and Immunity

I listened to Sir Michael Marmot on Radio National yesterday.

He was talking about the social determinants of health.

In part of his conversation he discussed social status, well being and disease risk. I was intrigued by his mention of a study of macaques.

Jenny Tung and her colleagues propose that social environment is associated with gene regulatory variation in the rhesus macaque immune system.

They point out that:

  • In humans and other primates, adverse social environments often translate into lasting physiological costs.
  • Dominance rank results in a widespread, yet plastic, imprint on gene regulation, such that peripheral blood mononuclear cell gene expression data alone predict social status with 80% accuracy.
  • These results illuminate the importance of the molecular response to social conditions, particularly in the immune system, and demonstrate a key role for gene regulation in linking the social environment to individual physiology.

In the introduction to their paper they note:

Social status in nonhuman primates is encoded by dominance rank, which defines which individuals yield to other individuals during competitive encounters. In settings in which hierarchies are strongly enforced or subordinates have little social support, low dominance rank can lead to chronic stress, immune compromise, and reproductive dysregulation.

On reading the paper I started to think about the way status is established in sport performance environments. I am now wondering what arrangements should be made to induct athletes into any performance context and to monitor their long term well being, particularly those who move from team to team.

Jenny Tung and her colleagues point out that:

Our results reinforce the idea that sensitivity to the social environment is reflected in changes in gene expression in the immune system, supporting an increasingly widely recognized link between neural, endocrine, and immune function. Moreover, our results demonstrate that these associations also appear to be highly plastic. Not only were gene expression data sufficient to robustly predict relative dominance rank but gene expression profiles also tracked dominance rank shifts closely enough to allow us to predict different rank positions for the same individuals across time. These observations indicate that any causal relationship between dominance rank and gene regulation likely begins with rank, rather than vice versa.

This paper reinforces my thoughts about the support needed for the personal journey of athletes and has refocussed my consideration about the post-athlete career part of their lives.

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A Matt, a Marc, a George and a John: Embodying Creativity

I had a snowball discovery of creativity day last week.

Up early researching Twirlr I noticed a reference to Matt Haughey in the Improv Everywhere blog post on Twirlr.

I followed up on the reference and found Matt’s blog and a Wikipedia page about him.

By happenchance Matt’s work led me to Sport Filter :

SportsFilter is a community weblog founded in 2002 where anyone can contribute a sports-related link and participate in discussions. The range of topics covers anything in the world of sports, from football, baseball, soccer, and the Olympics to sports personalities, culture and the impact of sports on society.

The link between Matt and SportsFilter is … “The seven founders developed the site with the programming and advice of MetaFilter publisher Matt Haughey.”

A couple of hours later I was on my car journey to Canberra and managed to listen to a Radio National By Design interview with Marc Newson. Marc is “the most acclaimed and influential designer of his generation. He has worked across a wide range of disciplines, creating everything from furniture and household objects, to bicycles and cars, private and commercial aircraft, yachts, various architectural commissions, and signature sculptural pieces for clients across the globe.” Marc’s website is here.

With half an hour to go on my journey and reflecting on the energy Mark and Marc must have I discovered George Crum on Radio National’s Music Show and John Luther Adams on the same program. Both of them encouraged me to contemplate musical virtuosity.

In a short period of time I had a rapid burst of exposure to four very creative people and thought I could present them as examples of the flourishing of the imagination.

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Creativity is Not device Dependent


Openness and Curiosity: Oceans Apart

Yesterday my wife Sue received an alert to an Economist blog post about James Heckman.

James had given a talk at the Centre for Economic Performance that was co-hosted by the Young Foundation and the Studio Schools Trust.

The title of James’ talk was Creating a More Equal and Productive Britain.

The summary note of his talk records that Professor Heckman discussed that openness and curiosity have a greater effect on academic outcomes than IQ scores. He argued that:

contrary to long-held assumptions that these skills cannot be measured – the evidence is available and should be incorporated much more actively into spending decisions –  particularly in times of cuts.

I liked the case James made for early investment in these skills, “through character education in schools targeted primarily at less advantaged pupils and proactive family policy”.

These character skills are:

Openness (curiosity, willing to learn)

Consciousness (staying on task)

Extroversion (outgoing, friendly)

Agreeableness (helpful)

Neuroticism (attention to detail, persistence).

Madeleine Bunting observes that:

These are the skills that enable children to learn; without them even the best teachers can do little. These are the skills that are predictive of outcomes such as educational achievement, obesity, offender rates, employment and smoking. The single biggest predictor of longevity and school achievement is conscientiousness – which is effectively a form of self-control.

James’ audio of the talk, the slides he used for his presentation and a 2011 paper on Personality Psychology and Economics are available on the Young Foundation’s website. I noted in the paper James and his co-authors observe that:

There is a small but growing body of intervention studies that establish that personality traits can be altered over long periods of time in response to interventions. Some of the major effects of early childhood intervention programs appear to operate through their lasting effects on personality. Family investment decisions also change personality.

By chance the Economist post took me to Katharine Birbalsingh‘s book. This link to Katherine’s writing came a few days after listening to Allan Brahminy.

Katherine’s website home page starts with these two paragraphs:

Katharine Birbalsingh has been teaching in the state school system in London for over a decade. Her dream is for all schools to become interesting and exciting places of learning, where children feel safe, happy and free to aim to be the best that they can be.

Children should be challenged to achieve all that they can and should be rewarded when they do. She wants the children in her care to have a sense of responsibility, to have a sense of ownership of their school, their lives, and their futures.

Allan runs a centre based in the Northern Territory, designed to rehabilitate profoundly troubled young people. “For many of these young hardened criminals and drug addicts, the Brahminy program is their last resort. They’ve been through the system and spat out the other side.” ABC Television is broadcasting a three-part series, Outback Kids, about Allan’s work.

The Brahminy Foundation’s Social Justice Statement is:

Brahminy recognizes that not all people and young people share equally in the benefits of society, and it is imperative that options exist for those most disadvantaged.

Therefore, all people and young people involved with Brahminy:

  • Will be supported without discrimination.
  • Should be treated with respect so that their dignity as individuals is preserved.
  • Should be recognized as people capable of making decisions and choices for their own lives.

I understand that James, Katherine and Allan have different approaches to “meaningful difference” and that there are contentious issues around Katherine and Allan’s work.

However all three have helped me reflect on James’s points that:

  • Adversity gets under the skin and determines the biology of the child
  • Society must supplement the parenting resources of troubled families
  • Prevention not remediation

James’ concluding slide indicates just how early the work must start:

I am keen to ensure that children’s learning is playful too. Recent research reports suggest that inactivity is having an enormous impact on wellbeing.

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Family picnicking under a tree

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Giants’ Academy Morning at the University of Canberra

Greater Western Sydney AFL launched their Academy Program at the University of Canberra today. The Academy Program is for young AFL players from across the GWS region (Greater Western Sydney, Canberra, the South Coast and Southern NSW) who are interested in playing at an elite level and have been identified as players of the future.

The first Academy session was held on the University of Canberra‘s campus. More than 100 young players were tested for agility, sprint speed, vertical jump height, kicking accuracy and handball skills. The testing was undertaken by UCNISS staff.

The day was another step in the partnership between the University and Greater Western Sydney AFL. This follows the signing of a memorandum of understanding in September 2010.

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Aural Triggers for a Language of Performance?

In the last two years I have become interested in the insights music can offer to the development of a language about performance in sport. In the last week I found three examples of music and sound offering insights.

On 20 November Graham Abbott presented a ‘Keys to Music’ program about Motzart’s C major Symphony, K551 (“Jupiter”). I was fascinated to learn that Graham regards this piece as “one of the most sensational achievements of all Western music”.

In his blog post about the program, Graham observes that:

The “Jupiter” is a staggering masterpiece, and in the last movement in particular we see Mozart out-Baching Bach, out-Haydning Haydn, and even out-Mozarting himself. Why did he push the symphony in such a direction, simultaneously cerebral, sparkling, intense, entertaining and academic? What audience could he have possibly hoped would appreciate such a thing?

This is a link to the podcast of the program. The podcast is a detailed examination of the symphony. The skill and knowledge Graham has is a great example for anyone wishing to observe and analyse performance in sport.

A second program this week offered insights into sound and listening. Margaret Throsby interviewed sound recordist Chris Watson. This is a link to the podcast of the program.


Chris explained in detail the work of a sound recordist. The podcast has some great insights into the art of listening and a discussion about how to capture the essence of a sound. Chris’s website is an excellent example of how sound can be used to engage a viewer. I liked his discussion of the use of birdsong as a calming influence (more information here).

Towards the end of the week ABC Television interviewed Sir Simon Rattle at the conclusion of the Berlin Philharmonic’s first tour of Australia. The transcript of his interview is available. I liked the first two points Sir Simon made about the Orchestra:

They simply love to play. Every concert they play like it’s their last concert on Earth.

I’m biased; they’re my family. They’re the most extraordinary orchestra I know of. It’s a kind of energy you could power a small nuclear plant with.

The interview discussed the mentor program the Orchestra offered to Australian school children through the work of Cathy Milliken (Brisbane born director of the Orchestra’s education program). I was fascinated by quality of the Berlin Philharmonic’s work and thought that what they do is an exemplar for any sporting organisation seeking to inspire and support performance.

What a great week for thinking about performance and exploring the aural triggers for learning.

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Trees and Dancers: Finding Our Ways

I have the opportunity to meet colleagues who are members of the JIVE Group at the University of Canberra on 9 November. JIVE is a Women’s Group Mentoring Program. The JIVE stands for Journey, Inspiration, Vision and Encouragement.

The title of my talk is inspired by the lyrics of Oh Laura’s Release Me and the The Killers’ Human.

I was due to meet the group on 26 October but I had to postpone my talk. Early last month I drafted my presentation and posted it on SlideShare. My misspelling of Danser in the title was a link to the discussions about the lyrics of Human.

The SlideShare contains links to some of the ideas I have aggregated for the JIVE talk. I hope to use my experiences of sport to emphasise the centrality of self-esteem in personal flourishing.

In my talk I am keen to share some video images to stimulate discussion and reflection. I am excited too by my discovery of the Fluency Manifesto. (See this post for more information about creating language communities.) Whilst working out the significance of WAYK I found Dan Pink’s AMP too.

This week I received a remarkable video from a group of athletes I worked with in 1997. I hope to conclude my JIVE talk with the story of this group.

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I’ll Still Say That You Shone Brighter Than Anyone



I am keen to explore diverse contexts to develop my understanding of teaching, learning and coaching. Many of my posts over the last two years have looked at the relationships between performing arts and sport.

In this post I draw upon a different context for my exploration of expertise. I do so from the wonderful world of cheese via the ABC’s Cheese Slices program from the Massive Central And The Auverge. In that program I learned about Herve Mons and the role of the affineur.

Jennifer Meier points out that:

Many French cheesemakers make cheese, then pass it along to Affineurs like Herve Mons who handle the ageing process. Affineurs guide cheese along as it matures in caves or ageing rooms, ripening the cheese to its peak flavor and texture.

Alison Brien worked with Herve Mons for a month. In her post about her experience in France, she notes that:

An affineur is a person who ripens and matures cheese; who has an intimate understanding of the production and life cycle of different cheeses and nurtures each cheese to perfection in carefully controlled environments. It is a specialised field requiring knowledge of cheese-making techniques and AOC regulations, animal health, grazing pastures, the seasons, microbiology, “cave dynamics” such as air flow and humidity, the sensory attributes of cheese and changing consumer trends.

Herve Mons, Alison reports:

has just completed work on a new maturation facility that can accommodate around 90 tonnes of cheese – and yes, it will all be turned by hand! The site is an old railway tunnel which has been transformed into a massive cheese cellar. Because the tunnel passes through a hill, it is a perfectly insulated environment for maturing cheeses. I was lucky enough to work in the tunnel for one day, turning my way through almost one tonne of cheese over 12 hours.

Alison spent a lot of her time in the other Mons facility known as “the caves”:

a series of underground rooms specially designed for maturing different cheeses. Each cave has natural earth and stone floors which are important elements in controlling the temperature and humidity. The affinage team consisted of six people, managed by Eric Meredith – an American with as much energy and passion for cheese as Herve.

She recalls that:

We would spend our days receiving young cheeses and sorting them according to their level of ripeness, then the cheeses would go into different caves depending on their needs. We would also tend to the cheeses already maturing in the caves, turning them, brushing them, patting down the mould or washing them with special solutions to encourage favourable mould growth on the surface. Each cheese receives quite a bit of personalised attention – it’s a bit like a cheese nursery.

What I found fascinating about these descriptions of the science and art of cheese maturation and finishing is how closely the skills of the affineur reflect the characteristics of coaches of young and maturing athletes.

As we move with more confidence to personal training approaches the more likely we are to see the ability to modulate training environments as a companion to affinage. Perhaps the two worlds would collide if any team decided to use the services of Alison Brien’s Cheeseboardroom … or explored the insights Liz Thorpe shares about Herve.

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Persille de Malzieu

The cheesemonger did not say cheese

Getting Coaching