Reflections on ‘Redefining Masculinity…’ – An Overview

Photo by Tim Mossholder on
An audio reading of this post can be listened to here (via Spotify)

Now that the football season is in full swing – I am taking the mighty 4s this year who are unbeaten so far – it has given me ample time to reflect on some of the initiatives that I tried out last term with the rugby team I coached. I set out with the aim of touching on three areas:

  • Mental Health
  • Emotional Well-Being
  • Gender Dynamics in Sport

My first article – here – gave some of the rationale as to why I started with this project. It may be worthwhile for me to clarify some of these reasons further. One over-arching aspect was for me to try and bring some of the issues that face young men into a real-life setting. In my day-to-day roles, as teacher and a coach, I have the choice of the classroom or the rugby pitch in which to help guide young people. I decided that devoting time to the challenges young men face in a rugby setting would be a fruitful way for us to try break some of the stigma around them. I also hoped they would enjoy discussing and exploring these ideas and that they would see this as a worthwhile endeavour.

By allowing the group an opportunity to explore each of these areas, I felt I was helping to prepare them develop as young men and not just as rugby players.

Perhaps it was somewhat conceited of me (this would not be the first time this charge has been put to me) to suggest that we could achieve this or indeed that sport has the power to do so. That being said, I think I have to believe it. This is the very reason I get so much from teaching and coaching because I hope it will make a difference. I abide by the principle that we coach and teach so that we can connect with people and forge lasting bonds that outlast a set of results or scorelines.

Challenges on the Pitch:

One thing I failed to mention in each article was just how challenging it all was for us on the pitch. These were setbacks that were almost entirely out of our control. Losing players through injury or those who had decided to pursue other sports which left our playing numbers dwindling, was hard to accept at times: for both coaches and players. We found ourselves over-matched in almost all of our games and it was difficult to keep the momentum and focus on the learning that had occurred when the scoreline was so heavily stacked against us. It forced us to try and measure success in different ways and I feel this challenge made us better coaches and players in the process.

I suppose by running this project concurrently, it was useful to feel that we were contributing towards something bigger than a scoreline or a result; we were trying to instill certain values within young people for them to question who they are and how they might contribute and influence the environments around them.

“Yes, but what exactly are you doing?”

When I discussed this project with friends, family, other coaches or people who reached out via social media – and thank you to all who have endured my ramblings about it – they often asked what outcomes did I want: “What are you hoping to achieve with all of this?” I had to resist the desire to have something specific to point to in these instances. It was not because I had not thought about this, it was more so due to the fact that all I was doing was presenting this group with an opportunity: to explore themselves and some of the issues that face young men. I was eager to see how can we look to become better or more aware as people through playing rugby. I had no real agenda that I was hoping to push – apart from my own biases, which I tried to suppress- but I felt that having these conversations was important.

Group Debate & Private Reflections

Just to provide some context, on top of around seven 15-30 minute sessions throughout the term, we used an online platform to post some of the resources and the material that we would present. As a school, we use Google Classroom which is where students can post work, teachers can set assignments or notes all online. Students tend to access it via their laptops but they can download an app for their phones too should they wish.

As our team were more than adept at using this platform, it seemed a perfect place in which to try and take the conversations from a communal space into an individual one where each person could access and digest the content to reflect on it in their own time. If we were to have any success with this initiative, we needed to ensure that there were various ways in which to engage with the content. Google classroom was our attempt at doing so. It would be great to hear from people who have used other platforms as alternatives to communicate with their various teams, be it in business or sport.

Format of these reflections:

As you may be aware already, I am an (Irish) English teacher but I have dabbled in History teaching and have always loved it as a subject – it was one of my joint majors, alongside English Literature, at university. I taught it for a year in my first placement but got moved to cover more English classes (or was it because I taught inner city London kids about what Cromwell was really like?)

At any rate, I have read plenty of History and it can stay with you. For example, when describing Benjamin Disraeli, the prominent Historian FSL Lyons stated he was :

“A man intoxicated by the exuberance of his own verbosity.”

When I had gotten almost two thirds of the way through these reflections, I could not help but think of Lyons’ line when I noticed just how high the word count had gotten to…

To make these reflections more digestible – if anyone is still out there reading them – I will split them into two sections covering the areas of the project:

Each will cover some of the areas I felt worked well and some I would look to improve upon. I will stagger these out and share them via the usual formats: Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn. Please do feel free to share with those who might take something from them.

I hope that by breaking up this behemoth, it makes it easier for me to express what I feel I have learnt. As ever, please do get in touch to challenge any of the ideas or ask me more about them.

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