Practice vs. Play; Freedom vs. Discipline

…it should be the aim of an ideally constructed education that the discipline be the voluntary issue of free choice, and that the freedom should gain an enrichment of possibility as the issue of discipline.

Alfred North Whitehead, The Rhythmic Claims of Freedom and Discipline, 1922

Substitute “education” in this quotation with “coaching programme”.

A coaching philosophy to aspire to?

I was introduced to the writings of Alfred North Whitehead by a comment in response to my post on Deliberate practice vs. Deliberate play

Practice or play? As is so often the case in coaching, “it depends”; context in king — what does the player need now? What will the player respond to today?

Time on my hands, and, through the good offices of AbeBooks, I picked up a second-hand copy of Whitehead’s “The Aims of Education and Other Essays“, a collection of his addresses first published 1929, but with the earliest pieces dating back to 1917.

Romance | Precision | Generalisation

Whitehead characterises his rhythm of freedom and discipline in education as ranging from Romance (Freedom), by way of Precision (Discipline), to Generalisation (Freedom, again)…and on again.

The stage of Romance

Activity (learning, play) for no reason other than to be active, because the activity is intrinsically engaging, because it is fun. But igniting the spark that will light up future studies.

“Education must essentially be a setting in order of a ferment already stirring in the mind: you cannot educate mind in vacuo.”

Alfred North Whitehead, The Rhythm of Education, 1922

The stage of Precision

The stage of traditional education and “learning” — Whitehead calls this “…the stage of grammar, the grammar of language and the grammar of science.”

As sports coaches, we might add “the grammar of sporting technique.”

If the stage of Romance sparks the ferment, so the stage of Precision aims to set the mind in order.

“…the stage of precision is barren without a previous stage of romance.”

Alfred North Whitehead, The Rhythm of Education, 1922

The stage of Generalisation

Applying the skills in a new realm of Freedom — taking the knowledge acquired through the stage of Precision, and measuring it against the real world. When and where does it apply? And where does the new knowledge fall down?

“…a return to romanticism with added advantage of classified ideas and relevant technique.”

Alfred North Whitehead, The Rhythm of Education, 1922

In a sporting context, playing, again, but testing the solutions against a wider range of challenges; quite probably generating new challenges, demanding new responses, new precisions.

In practice

This theory could almost be the foundation of a whole-part-whole session plan.

  • whole: start with a game to enthuse, and to pose challenges;
  • part: then focus on a particular technique or tactic that might meet the challenge;
  • whole: finally, go back to a game, and see how the new skills work in context.

Or the philosophy underpinning a curriculum at a junior Academy, or a Cricket Club: enthuse—instruct—play.

What, then, is coaching?

“We are concerned alike with the ferment, with the acquirement of precision, and with the subsequent fruition.”

Alfred North Whitehead, The Rhythm of Education, 1922

Joining the dots, perhaps — from first spark, through comprehension, to application, and on and on.

Published by Andrew Beaven

Cricket coach, fascinated by the possibilities offered by the game. More formally - ECB level 2 cricket coach; ECB National Programmes (All Stars & Dynamos Cricket) Activator Tutor; Chance to Shine & Team Up (cricket) deliverer; ECB ACO umpire.

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  1. from Rob Reed: Can you get to Generalisation (Freedom) with as much enthusiasm as at the start (Romance)? How much is lost during Precision depends on the quality of the learning environment?

    Whitehead again: “Get your knowledge quickly, and then use it.”
    The stage of Precision needs to be no longer than necessary to get the principles. So the original Romance isn’t lost.
    So much of what Whitehead writes seems directly relevant to education (and coaching) today.

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