Edition number 21; dateline 1 September 2009

Turning left for the right idea

About two weeks ago I was very tired, I had been very busy (and happy to be so, in this time of strife) and I decided it was time for my annual holiday. As the date for my departure approached people kept asking me, “Where are you going, anywhere nice?” I kept choking back the retort, “Thought we would try somewhere really awful this year, you know, just for a change.” Instead I just kept saying that when the time came for departure we would simply turn left or right as the mood took us. Mostly this was greeted with a look of horror or the comment, “Oooh, I couldn’t do that, leave it to the last minute”, although some just stared at me with a look that said “she’s just a little bit mad” and some clearly could not comprehend how I could set off on a holiday like that. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m all for planning and understand the need for strategies to guide us; but what if sometimes we throw caution to the wind and just turn left or right? Or, even worse, we just have a go at something or sometimes say, “Why don’t we stop here and look at the view?”

You will be pleased to learn that the other day we turned left (south) out of the drive and I am now writing this to you from Canterbury (my normal residence being Derbyshire). So far I, Mr Tub and Jack Tub, the ever-present canine companion, have resided in Wells next the Sea (in Norfolk), Ipswich, Fenn Street (near to the Medway towns), Bekesbourne and Canterbury. We have in addition visited Orford, Aldeburgh (for the culture!) Felixstowe, Ickworth, Chatham (for the ropes – don’t ask!), Margate, Broadstairs, Ramsgate, Walmer (where we had an amazing breakfast while I spoke with the esteemed managing editor) and Dover. I know you will be getting bored with my itinerary but I share it with you to illustrate that if I had planned this holiday journey it would not have followed this route and yet I have had a lovely holiday which has resulted in me now feeling relaxed. I have basked in sunshine and been further educated by visiting many establishments that have, I think, succeeded in widening my knowledge. I am ready to start again when I return to the fray in a few days time, which is surely the point of a holiday.

Let’s have a bit of dream shall we? What if every now and again we let things just run along, go where the mood takes the project and the people in it, toss a coin as whether to ‘turn left or right’; what would that look like? “A disaster!” I hear you cry. But what does a disaster look like in our world of leisure? Most of the time it is the failure of a project; some disappointment, no one killed. And what does that tell us? Well, it would tell me not to do that again, lesson learned. And surely the point of development is to try things. If they work pass them on to the ‘management’ (development officers of whatever persuasion should never be left managing a project long-term; they like ‘developing’ too much). And if they don’t work take the good bits and scrap the rest. Simple.

I know, I know. You are about to start screaming at me, “What about my job?” I have always been taught as a coach that I should be trying to work myself out of a job and I have always followed this advice but in over twenty years in this industry, as coach and as many other things, I have not yet been short of something to do.

This ‘shall I turn left or right’ business sounds a little like my life when I started in sports development. It was exciting. Where would the journey take us? At that time few higher up the greasy pole cared. There were only a few of us after all so what damage could we inflict? But you know what happened? We were successful and instead of five sports development officers across the East Midlands suddenly there were five in my own district alone. How did that happen? Someone turned left out of their drive.

I will admit that without some direction the sports development industry certainly would go down the chute. Too many people already just see SDOs as “those sporty types just running around having fun” and don’t sit back on your laurels, you arty lot; only today someone had a good old whinge to me about all the money wasted on arts. “That money should be spent on heritage not opera,” claimed the ranter. “People want that don’t they, not that high falutin posh stuff?”

My current trip did have certain things that were a given. It had a vision: at the end of the holiday all participating would have had a nice time and feel relaxed. It also had some aims: to find as much sunshine as possible; to visit a number of places in Minty the motor home (more akin to a Transit than a Winnebago); to visit places we didn’t normally get chance/ time to visit; to do a bit of walking and bike riding; and to relax. But the key thing is that the detail beyond these vague aims was not in place. In fact, apart from the odd thing, we had left the detail for the beginning of each day and in some cases just done something on the spur of the moment; “Shall we stop here” or “Let’s go in here.”

On reflection, perhaps we can do this because of the training and experience both of us have. We can use our skills to think on our feet and plan a successful activity very quickly. We also have the relevant paperwork – camp site reference books and some tourist information – to be able to quickly plan our activity and ensure our days are successful. However, although I urge and implore all of you to occasionally ‘just turn left’ (or right if it suits) as this is when we are at our most creative, if you can’t or won’t please give some thought to supporting those who do take that brave decision. All too often I hear development staff worrying that they will be “in trouble if this doesn’t work” as the boss/the members/the board will be mightily upset. I also hear managers sending out their battalions  of ‘developers’ with the cry “Go and be innovative” and then shouting at them when it goes wrong. Don’t be that manager! And finally remember that sometimes in order for us to be innovative we need to be well trained and experienced so that we can manage the situations that arise to best advantage and not just end up practising disaster management. And this really is something for us all to ponder as a huge army of inexperienced staff flood into the industry.

As I disappear down the next country lane can I encourage you all to throw caution to the wind now and again and sometimes turn left when everyone expects you to turn right!


Kay Adkins is an executive board member of a county sport partnership, chair of a CSN and a member of the interim board of the National Skills Academy for Sport and Active Leisure. Kay is also managing director of KAM Ltd, which offers a range of support services in the sport and leisure industry working in volunteer/workforce development and facility development.

To find Tales from a Tub in previous issues please visit the Comment page.


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Turning left: right turns are also available

“ All too often I hear development staff worrying that they will be “in trouble if this doesn’t work” as the boss/the members/the board will be mightily upset. I also hear managers sending out their battalions  of ‘developers’ with the cry “Go and be innovative” and then shouting at them when it goes wrong”

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