Am I a Rugby Referee?

Source: RugbyDump

“the referee’s a teacher!

the referee’s a teacher!

the referee’s a teacher!”

Watching the Six Nations rugby tournament play out this afternoon, I was again impressed by the referees of this aggressive and skilful game. There are characteristics about the variety of voices a ref uses, and parallels can be made between the behaviours of individuals and groups that are encountered on the pitch, and those brought to mind by my role in the classroom. The most used is a calm, measured voice, proffering guidance, explanation and reason; spattered around the focal point of (often frenetic) activity amidst thirty players. When activity is high-tempo and noise fogs the air, you hear the ref bark an order, raised voice used deliberately to communicate effectively. You never hear that voice used to address an individual, even when the behaviour is shameful and breaks all rules of engagement. The phrases used are varied in length, considered, appropriate; sometimes stock words, sometimes ad hoc. The ref is always talking to the players. In groups, in pairs, one-to-one. The communication is multi-directional: the ref must listen to the players and his eyes at the sides, process the information and deliver a course of action that confirms the rules of play and is fair to all involved. Disputes must be negotiated with firm boundaries drawn and a clear absence of bias. Justice is not always done, but all parties must have faith in the deference of the ref to the agreed rules of the game and the people involved. The ref works hard, right in the mix of the play, not hiding thought or rationale.

When I teach, when I am at my best, it feels like this. Of course, the aggression of a rugby game isn’t in my classroom, but the learning is varied like the phases of play. It exists on spectrums between words such as: messy and tidy, fast and slow, turgid and buoyant, hazy and clear. When I am at my best, there are no cheap laughs, the tone is serious and cheerful. The players are the learners. The game is theirs, not mine. I exist to bring the game structure and let it breathe and grow to the conclusion determined by those who came to play, not by me. This is what I aspire to as a teacher. In observing the roles and responsibilities in society, it is the rugby referee that repeatedly chimes as being most like mine. It’s not sexy and exciting, but hopefully – if I can meet my aspirations, judge situations well and deliver my interventions with calm purpose – the players are at their best: agile and confident, shrugging off mistakes. The players feel the pleasure and purpose of their work, consuming the fruits of their labour.

Of course this analogy is flawed. Pupils do not appear at my classroom door prepared for the game of their lives. There is no audience, although let’s not forget how the social web can help here. I must be a coach and foster meaningful training that aligns with their sense of progress.

And, more importantly, I do not always arrive at my classroom door ready to ‘ref’ the game. As often as not, lessons do not unfold as I have implied above. And I could should have done more to make sure it was better. But, hopefully, I will be able to make the necessary calls with calm purpose and honesty to bring about something meaningful.

But sometimes, it just goes wrong…

Incidentally, I do think about football referees in a similar manner, but in the vast number of games I have watched of my preferred sport, the analogy does not hold as well. There are examples of when it does, but mostly when Pierluigi Collina was at the top of his profession.

Why Barefoot?

My feet after five miles barefoot running

My feet after five miles barefoot running

Switching to minimalist footwear or running barefoot in November 2012 was amazing and I haven’t looked back. I wonder if I will wear a heeled shoe of any sort ever again.

Why barefoot:

  • It feels good.
  • It feels *right*.
  • My arches were non-existent. The doctor said orthotics, but they do not fix your arches. The internet suggested barefoot running uphill. I owned a pair of Vibram FiveFingers so thought I’d give it a go and I was shocked by the absence of pain in my shins and my knees particularly. I could run happy.
  • Barefoot is good for my mind; connecting with the earth.
  • Mid-life crisis, or at least some mild concern, has led me to invest time in my skeleton so it better supports me until mortal departure.
  • I grew up climbing trees, swinging from ropes, building hay-bale dens, falling in streams, running around the place – outside, often barefoot.
  • Barefoot running is addictive. The stimulation it brings through the soles of your feet is compelling.

About half my runs are bare-naked-footed. Often, the term barefoot running is used to include running in minimalist footwear. I run on all types of surfaces including rough paths with loose stones; “ouch!” My feet can get sore from abrasions after long runs and need to recover. I have bled only once: when walking to a shop, I trotted to avoid some traffic and a piece of debris (glass maybe) outside a pub broke my skin but I ran on it later that day. The odd splinter has caused pain but a pedicure can sort this out as well as remove toughened dead skin. I wear no shoes whenever practical because even minimalist 3mm soles can conceal the impact of heel striking whilst walking. I’m not bothered if I have to wear shoes somewhere in particular; I don’t mind the social pressure to conform.  I’ve learned a bit about feet, for example, ‘the human foot and ankle is a strong and complex mechanical structure containing 26 bones, 33 joints (20 of which are actively articulated), and more than a hundred musclestendons, and ligaments.’ Wikipedia – your feet contain one quarter of the 206 bones in your body. Interestingly your hands also account for a quarter. Thinking about your feet in a similar way to how you think about your hands is part of going barefoot, differing according to function obviously.

I make the rules. If I want to wear shoes for whatever reason, I will. Often, if I start out running wearing shoes, I’ll take them off half way to free my feet, which never fails to be a positive experience.
Should you be interested in trying barefoot running, you should transition slowly from the footwear your feet have been caged in become accustomed to over the years. A simple YouTube search for “barefoot running transition” will provide a few advice videos to get you started. If you are more interested in the science behind it, this link from Harvard might be useful:

Right Brain/ Left Brain Quiz

Right Brain/ Left Brain Quiz
The higher of these two numbers below indicates which side of your brain has dominance in your life. Realising your right brain/left brain tendancy will help you interact with and to understand others.
Left Brain Dominance: 9(9)
Right Brain Dominance: 8(8)
Right Brain/ Left Brain Quiz

One of my pupils (Y8) showed me a link to a quiz today. It was from another pupil’s blog (Y9). His post is here:

Once the quiz is complete it gives you the embed code for your results. It seems I’m a marginal lefty. Takes two minutes if you’re curious about your own hemispherical balance.

Eleven miles barefoot

On Friday I received a pair of huarache running sandals for my birthday.

my new running sandals

my new running sandals

So, on Saturday I punched a toe hole in them, tied them up marathon style and went for a test run up to school and back to collect my livescribe pen. Only one and a half miles. My feet were cold for the first mile but otherwise it was all good. The sandals are really comfortable. It felt a little vulnerable and exposed – and odd seeing my naked feet on the pavement. I’m not convinced I tied the sandals very well and I’ll be experimenting with them until I get it just right; the thong lace was a bit tight I think.

I got home and put the pen on charge and switched to my fivefingers for a longer run up onto the grand union canal which I’d never visited before. I deliberately kept going until I was five miles from home and then turned around. My longest barefoot run at ten miles. The first five felt good other than some hip joint discomfort which I put up with. After resting, and turning homeward, I started to get a sharp pain in my right achilles tendon. I thought it would bring me to a halt but I adjusted my footfall and slowly the pain eased and on I plodded. After eight miles my legs started to become very sore up and down. I persevered to the end but my pace slowed. Each time I caught myself slowing I lifted my head and regulated my stride and relaxed. It worked. As I write this a few hours later, my legs are sore but not as bad as I expected. Maybe it’ll be worse in the morning (update: it is – sharp vertical pain on inside right ankle below ankle bone).

the canal is an odd place but lovely to escape the roads

the canal is a lovely place to escape the roads

Oddly, as I was walking home from the park, a gentleman approached me in his fivefingers. He has been barefoot for two years and donated all his ordinary shoes to charity. He does bikram yoga three times a week and told me how he could dance for a long time without tiring. Oh, and he seemed to be Italian – but I could be wrong. It was nice to meet someone else barefoot enthused.

My reward for running, and then doing my share of the household cleaning, was a piece of the wonderful coffee and walnut birthday cake my daughter had baked for me. Awesome. And nearly a half marathon barefoot.

happy birthday to me!

happy birthday to me!

Barefoot: Born to Run

Yesterday – bedecked in fivefingers and comedy running leggings I bought years ago and my NUFC top – I ran further barefoot than ever before. 8.1 miles round my local park. As with last week, I ran the first two miles at an aspirational pace of about 8mph – 8 minute miles. Not a great speed by many people’s standards but good for me. After the two miles I let my body decide on pace. The feeling of tirelessness – being born to run – came again despite having been full of cold all week.

As the time rolled on I slowed, partly due to going off track and the ground being muddy and wet causing me to slip and slide with less traction. However, when my run keeper app lets me know I’m slowing down, I notice my technique is off as well. I raise my head and quicken my legs and the result is surprising. Without any added effort other than concentration, my pace increases, my body relaxes and I listen to my feet.



During the run, I had little discomfort or pain – some good pain that made me correct my technique. It’s interesting that whilst running barefoot you are able to change what you’re doing to ease any rising aches and pains. I never managed this when shod in trainers; I just thought my body wasn’t up to it.

The mid foot strike discussed last week was certainly in use again and no calf muscle pain during or after. I’m now more relaxed about how my foot makes contact with the ground, but I still don’t think I’m anywhere near a good technique yet. It’s hard to tell sometimes if I strike my heel, particularly off-track in the mud. So, after further research,  here’s a link about the Chi and Pose styles of barefoot running. The comments on that post expose the differences of opinion on this. I’m aiming for more of the Chi method which spreads the weight across more of the foot. I imagine as my pace quickens, I will use the Pose method more.

This morning, other than some expected stiffness, I have a sharp pain on the inside of my right foot about an inch below where the ankle bone protrudes.

This week is half term so I’m on holiday, but I am running a touch-typing club specialising in dyslexia. I might use the school treadmills to do fast short runs during my lunch hour.