The Mindset Journey

Carol Dweck’s Mindsets are an excellent way to understand our own personalities but particularly kids and how to help them in their development. This is a really good synopsis of what’s involved


Yesterday, at the Wellington Festival of Education, I had the pleasure of listening to Carol Dweck speak on her research with regards to Mindsets – Fixed and Growth.

Carol Dweck explained we hold both these mindsets, simultaneously, which creates a psychological battle on 3 main fronts:

1. The two mindsets have two different goals

  • FM – doesn’t like looking dumb and therefore is risk averse
  • GM – likes getting smarter so focus on learning

2. The two mindsets have different views of effort

  • FM – being smart is easy and therefore should come naturally
  • GM – effort is part of the process therefore staying with problems or confusion longer

3. The two mindsets have different views of failure

  • FM – runs away from making mistakes
  • GM sees mistakes as part of the learning process

Whilst I have always loved her simple but beautiful idea of two Mindsets, I have had issues…

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Unlike Man U, Fun Direction made it into Europe this season !

There’s a popular myth (in Ireland at least) that 4-time football World Cup winners Germany traditionally wear green as their “change” kit because Ireland were the first team to play Germany after World War 2. Given Ireland are unlikely to ever win the World Cup, this was one small link us Irish football fans THOUGHT we had with a superpower of world football ! However, there’s no truth in it unfortunately and in fact Ireland were the 5th country to play Germany after WW2. Apparently, the Deutscher Fussball Bund (DFB or German FA), designed a new logo after the war which had a green background and this is probably the most logical explanation for choosing green as the colour of their “change” kit.

Aside from this mythical connection, Germany and particularly the Neckarstadion in Stuttgart will always have a very special place in the heart of Irish football fans as the place where the Ireland team and our “green” fans (in every sense of the word) first announced themselves on the world football stage when Ray Houghton put the ball in the English net ! With a team full of top players we can only dream of now, we somehow beat the old enemy as the whole world watched on with joy ! I was the luckiest 14 year old in the world that day as I was at the game with my Mam, Dad and older sister.

Ray Houghton

Where were you when….?

Ever since that fantastic first visit in 1988, I always welcome the opportunity to travel to Germany and had two wonderful days last week visiting the Kicking Girls football project. The project runs football coaching sessions once a week after school for German girls aged 6-8 in disadvantaged areas of German cities. Up to 3,600 girls in 60 cities participate each week and are coached mainly by female coaches and local female teenage assistants who learn to coach football within the project. Tournaments are then organised 3 or 4 times a year between each school participating in the project in that city. In this way, both the girls and teenage assistant coaches make new friends and learn the value of competition. During school holidays, 2 day camps are offered to girls with football central to all activities. Both participating players and teenage coaches are linked with local clubs so that they can find their rightful place in the German football family. This is particularly significant because over 60% of the girls participating come from a non-German background, typically because their parents or grandparents moved to Germany to work in previous decades.

Kicking Girls

Don’t mess with these ladies !

I have looked across Europe for projects with similar methods and objectives to Project Fun Direction and Kicking Girls was the only one I managed to identify to date. I was keen to learn from people who were successfully offering sporting opportunities to young girls that would otherwise be distanced from sport. In October, I made contact with the national co-ordinator of Kicking Girls, Bastian Kuhlmann, who has  been extremely helpful from the point he received my first e-mail. Bastian and his colleague Hannes Teetz kindly hosted me in the beautiful city of Osnabruck, from where the project is run. We visited 2 schools in Osnabruck and Duisberg to watch the weekly activity and also visited a local club in Duisberg called Rhenania Hamborn. The club had a lovely atmosphere where some players mothers socialised over tea in the club’s prefab cafe and other children completed their homework in an adjoining room, supervised by a student volunteer. The Rhenania club are proud of their members’ Turkish heritage and the opportunities they continue to give young people of all backgrounds to integrate into German society through the means of sport. While my guests described their club facilities as modest by German standards, they easily surpassed the facilities available to the majority of Irish amateur football clubs. Rhenania field 40 teams a week, mostly children’s teams including 10 girls teams. In the last 10 years, the club has been at the forefront of tackling a historic taboo about Muslim girls playing sport, supported by the founders of the Kicking Girls project. A number of their female members have had their first experience of football in the project.

Rhenania Hamborn U16 training, suburb of Duisberg

Why is all this relevant to my work with Fun Direction ?

Firstly, it’s very encouraging for me to see a football activity used in exactly the same way as I try to use football and other sports to engage young girls in sport. Our principles are remarkably similar as is our method of delivering sport. It’s also interesting that Europe’s strongest and biggest economy still needs a successful intervention programme like this to reach young girls in so many cities. That tells me it’s not a question of funding, it’s the mindset to work community by community that is important.

Secondly, it’s equally encouraging this project is run centrally by no more than 2-3 people, yet reaches nationwide to the number of girls and venues it does. The primary reason for the success of this model is using young coaches (many of whom volunteer) and late-teenage assistant coaches, with most of both categories being female. Co-ordinators oversee coaches in clusters of regional cities. The project also only works within schools which makes it easier to administer on a nationwide basis. German primary schools have an interesting and enviable model whereby regular classes finish at 1 o’clock but the children remain on school premises until 3 o’clock participating in activities ranging from sport to music to art and crafts. These activities are all provided by the school, some involving teachers, using internal funds or bringing in funded programmes such as Kicking Girls. Children or parents do not pay for these activities. Clearly the Irish school system works very differently but it is interesting to see good school facilities being used in a structured way for more of the day. Interestingly, one of the schools we visited had a sign above the front door saying “Open and European…. All day long !”

Bastian, his colleagues and I are very interested in linking our projects in a number of ways. They are willing to travel to Ireland with a group of girls and coaches, many of whom may not have travelled outside Germany previously, to experience football and other sports in another culture. Bastian has also kindly offered to travel to Dublin to run his 2-day induction coaching programme to young female coaches here that I can involve in coaching girls within Fun Direction. Coaching children is a fantastic skill for a young person to acquire as they develop their personality and interests towards adult life.

Kicking Girls Discussion

L-R Bastian Kuhlmann, Ciaran Duffy, Hannes Teetz, Juliana Hinkel, Prof Dr Ahmet Derecik

Lastly, the funding model of Kicking Girls is one which I believe can also work in Ireland, on a smaller but significant scale. The Laureus Foundation fund the project’s central infrastructure on a 3 year basis and local cities pay a relatively small sum per local school per year that the project runs in their area. The Laureus Foundation’s mission is “Using the power of sport as a tool for social change”, supported by it’s World Sports Academy, which contains 50 legendary sportsmen and women across various sports who volunteer to promote the foundations 150 projects in 8 countries including Germany. They have an excellent website with more details on their work at

Conducted in the right way, making sport accessible to help child and social development is surprisingly straightforward. It doesn’t demand huge resources if it is rooted in communities where local people can take ownership and take pride in seeing children participate. In Ireland, I believe we do have ample resources already to engage more girls in sport effectively, but often we don’t coordinate these resources well enough across sporting and public bodies at a local level. We also fall behind other countries in having enough qualified coaches at age-appropriate levels, which is a key feature in making the sports experience a good one for children who do get opportunities.

Overall, it was a few days very well spent that have given me lots of impetus as we embark on the research stage of Fun Direction in some new venues shortly. To my mind, Kicking Girls is at the forefront of it’s kind in Europe, delivering sport in a novel way to young girls that have typically missed out on that opportunity. Our understanding of what sport can do also works across borders and language barriers ! Making contact with with Bastian, Hannes and their colleagues and seeing their project has been a fantastic resource for me in developing Fun Direction further.

P.S Where we you when Ray Houghton put the ball in the English net ??

All answers welcome

From Fun to Full Potential

Congrats to Coaching Ireland for a great line-up this weekend in Sligo for the 11th National Coaching Forum titled “From Fun to Full Potential – Coaching the Whole Athlete”. International experts shared some fascinating thoughts and research on child development within sport, participation through the life cycle and coaching philosophy. There was a great attendance from coaches and teachers associated with a huge variety of sports. I found some of the practical workshops particularly enjoyable and will put some of the tips learned into practice this week !

Melissa Parker has a background in learning and education that has led her into the teaching of sport and physical education. She spoke about “Getting it Right in the Early Years”, an area where it’s clear, we need to do things better in Ireland. Melissa wants physically literate children, youth and adults. She defines that as “a child or person that has the skills, knowledges and dispositions to support continual lifelong engagement in meaningful physical activity”. What we have done hasn’t worked, as she detailed sharp drop-out rates in Ireland from the start of secondary school and at every transition thereafter. A large part of the reason for this is what we do poorly with younger children, either in the way we engage them or not engaging them at all. There is no rocket science in Melissa’s slide titled ” 5 Pieces Where Coaches can make a Difference” (with my words in brackets):

  • Lots of Active Participation  ( get more kids into the net of organised sport )
  • Modified gamelike activities ( make it fun )
  • Focus on fundamental transferable skills (equip kids to fulfill their potential in any sport)
  • Positive supportive environment ( coach the child not the sport )
  • High rates of success  (  help kids achieve goals that are obtainable and reward effort )

While there is no rocket science here, policymakers inside and outside sport have been very poor in facilitating these conditions. I believe our education system in Ireland generally reaches a very high standard but our schools aren’t fit for purpose when it comes to producing physically literate children, leaving the voluntary sector to pick up the slack. This happens in a haphazard way at best, and often not at all. This is my main motivation in trying a different approach with Project Fun Direction. Melissa’s closing thoughts are pictured below:


Dr Richard Bailey is an expert in the relationship between physical, sport and human development. His workshop titled “Talent, Genetics, Practice and Luck ” highlighted how sporting success is not only a mixture of nature and nurture, but to a large extent comes down to luck. Was an athlete born in the 3 months after the date cut-off for children’s age groups in that particular sport ? Were they born where they had access to quality facilities and coaches ? These are important considerations for coaches because the notion of spotting talent at a young age is actually ridiculous, like gazing into a crystal ball. What we spot at younger ages is actually advanced development, not better talent. We should never limit our view of a child’s potential by what they can do now. We need to understand more about them to make more informed judgements and expose them to the best coaching we can for as long as possible. Richard expressed a view that the best coaches should be teaching children in less advantaged areas whereas in reality, they tend to coach older athletes or children in areas that can afford to pay them to do it.

Almost every professional researcher I have come across in children’s sport advocates Carol Dweck’s book “Mindset”, which I am currently reading. It came up in two presentations this weekend and I would highly recommend it for any parents raising children regardless of whether you are looking at a sporting context or not. Essentially, Dweck believes people have either a Fixed mindset where they believe their qualities are carved in stone or a Growth mindset where they believe their basic qualities are things that can be cultivated through effort. In this way, a Growth mindset doesn’t pre-ordain or limit a child’s potential in their own head and recognises we cannot know this in advance. As parents and coaches, we can help foster a Growth mindset by prioritising effort over results and thereby encourage children to strive to reach their full potential, accepting we don’t know in advance what that is. One of Richard Bailey’s slides copied here sums up the differences up very well and may strike a chord with many of us adults, never mind thinking about our children !


Sergio Lara Bercial from the University of Leeds specialises in children’s coaching techniques and gave a great practical demonstration of non-sport specific games that build skills, strength and coordination. His exercises were simple but inspiring and as adults we had great fun trying them out while understanding the objectives behind them. They required simple pieces of everyday equipment and they transfer across a multitude of sports.

In summary, I met lots of interesting coaches and educators , picked up lots of great practical tips and also gained a better understanding of the psychology of what makes good coaching and how that can be applied to younger children in a way that works for them. Hopefully Coaching Ireland will make this an annual event !

Making Kids Welcome in Sport


In the TV business, the old saying goes “Never work with children or animals” but when it comes to sports coaching and children, experience has taught me the key is to be well prepared. While you have to be constantly on your toes, some little tricks can make life a lot easier and the beauty is every time I go out I learn something new.

Most kids of this age are cautious when thrown into a new environment, especially young girls in sport. Those jitters can be infectious so it’s obviously important to put them at ease as quickly as possible. On day one, I find addressing the arriving child rather than their parent helps connect with them from the start. I try to introduce myself and ask them their name. In each of our camps, the 40 registered girls were split into 3 groups, pretty evenly spread between 5 year olds, 6 year olds and 7/8 year olds. We had a name badge for them on arrival, coloured pink for the 5 year olds, orange for the 6 year olds and blue for the oldest group. With this age range, I feel an important but easy way to connect with them and put them at ease is to use their name frequently while coaching.The name badges allowed me to do that from day one. It also makes life easier for the less frequent coaches over the course of the three weeks. We can move the groups en masse from one session to another by directing them as the pink, orange or blue group.

Another useful trick I find is to leave our fun equipment and footballs available as kids will naturally gravitate towards them on arrival and begin to play themselves. One of the interesting things I observed over the last few weeks, was how the girls enjoy “free time”. They played their own games and enjoyed that freedom. I had seven or eight random play items such as a set of boules, hula hoops, a skipping rope, a parachute, a tennis racquet and trainer ball on string, which at some points I left out for them to pick from. I helped explain how to use them but didn’t instruct them as such. I ask my own daughter Emma (aged 6) at the end of each day what was her favourite and least favourite bit (good to have feedback from an insider!). The free play was her favourite part of that day. It brought it home to me that kids nowadays have few opportunities or venues to self-play together in groups where they decide what they want to do. On another day, during a short break the girls themselves initiated an impromptu game of Bulldog, which I hadn’t heard of in 30 years ! Anyone else remember the days when you were allowed run and fall over in the schoolyard ?!

One last trick that I find works well is an ink liquid timer. I picked this idea up from, a blog written by a primary school teacher with some great tips for managing children. I find girls sometimes wander over to you during sport and say something along the lines of ” my tummy’s sore” or ” I don’t want to play anymore” or they might be upset after getting a knock from a ball or playing partner. I encourage them to sit down, turn the timer upside down and watch the ink bubbles fall. It’s very therapeutic and distracts attention away from any little upsets. When the 3 minutes are up, the child invariably is happy to return to the action. It’s like a friendly time-out and helps to keep girls fully involved while at sport. Every home should have one !

3 days left in O’Connells so hopefully the weather holds for us ! Speak soon


It’s not all about Sport !

“It’s More than Sport” is our tagline. Hopefully this conveys the idea that participating in sports can do so much for developing a child’s confidence, learning discipline, meeting new friends and learning how to win and lose with dignity. More on these topics another day but additional activities that we were keen to incorporate directly in the project were healthy eating and music. Dr Lorraine Brennan and her team from UCD Institute of Food and Health were back with us today in O’Connells and again delivered a brilliant fun workshop where the girls loved tasting many healthy foods and learnt about the food pyramid.


From the early stages of planning the project, I saw the potential to marry a healthy eating message with the sports activity agenda. I made contact with Lorraine through a friend of a friend in early May. Despite not knowing me, she quickly understood what I was trying to achieve. She has been very generous in supporting the project with her colleagues who have a great approach with the girls. Last week and this week, it was the only time where we had all 40 and 35 girls in the one room together and I was amazed how the girls remained captivated for the 45 minutes. They all tasted numerous foods for the first time and learned the different functions of the various foods. They also received two lovely story books on healthy eating and how food grows.

20140807_105735-1   20140807_113250

The guitar sessions have also been a big hit with the girls. A few months ago, I approached a family friend, Andy Coogan, to do something musical with the girls. He is a guitarist who also teaches in a number of schools and has a great approach with kids. Andy correctly viewed the youngest group to be a bit young to manage chords on the guitar but had prepared by learning some Frozen and One Direction songs which the girls really enjoyed singing along to ! The guitar proved to be very popular with all but a few of the girls and is one of the parts of the project that has pleased me most because it has facilitated the sports activities. I would have struggled to hold the girls attention for the day without it and the day could have dragged in for them. Andy was also a good artist in his school days and has also been doing some Arts & Crafts with the girls this week in O’Connells.


The different non-sport activitites have given the girls some fun downtime between sports and provides some variety to their week. We want them to make a positive connection with sport and these other activities help this process. Our key goal is that the girls will have a positive experience around sport and be keen to come back to us for a once-weekly sports activity once the camp ends.

We’ll keep you posted over the next week and a bit !


St Mary’s Youth Club, East Wall July 2014

Project Fun Direction was born last Monday July 28th when we began our first ever multi-sport activity in St Mary’s Youth Club, East Wall, to provide 40 local girls aged 5-8 with a gateway into organised sport. After months of preparations pulling together all the resources required to bring this community project to fruition, it was a relief to get to the part we felt most confident about – coaching the girls and seeing them experience new sports. At his core, this project is about providing opportunities that aren’t there currently. Less than 10 of our girls last week had played any organised sport outside of school before last week.


Fun Direction has two elements, providing fun and giving direction. We must provide a fun environment. It’s not rocket science but that is the crucial factor when coaching this age group. If not, they won’t come back tomorrow or next week and nor should we expect them to. We can facilitate them having fun while also meeting our second objective – giving direction. We should be able to quietly achieve our own coaching objectives which centre on developing the fundamental ABC movement skills of Agility, Balance and Coordination. Regardless of ability, kids of this age should be experiencing many different activities in a way that equips them to fulfill their potential across a range of sports and specialise later, on their own terms. Coaching Ireland dictate the content for qualifications in coaching children aged 5-8 across various sports. This is the FUNdamental phase of their Lifelong Involvement in Sport and Physical Activity (LISPA) framework . It aims to provide a good foundation while exposing kids to as many sports and activities as possible before they decide to specialise in later years. None of us would expect to build a house without making sure the foundations are strong and sporting participation is no different.


Camogie with Aideen Naughton

Our job coaching 5-8 year olds is to match their motivation to have fun with our primary objective to develop their physical literacy, regardless of the sport. The biggest reward for coaches at this age group are happy faces.  I also love seeing the small incremental improvements in agility, skills and confidence day-by-day and week-by-week. Of course, a little patience also goes a long way but the feel good factor is hard to beat !

Of all the sports the 40 girls experienced last week from athletics, soccer, camogie, gaelic football, cricket, rugby and ultimate frisbee, there was a unanimously positive reaction to the Karate session with Brian Carroll and assistants from Larkhill Karate Club. The squeals of laughter were infectious without a moments complaint from the girls despite the high intensity workout ! I’m going to have a close look at Brian’s session next week in O’Connells to try figure out what his secret is !

Rugby with Mikey Russell

Alongside the sport, we were conscious we needed to provide some downtime for the girls and we wanted to make this fun as well. We incorporated music into the activities through daily guitar and sing-a-long sessions with Andy Coogan. We also had a major theme of healthy eating at the core of the project which was delivered by Dr Lorraine Brennan and her colleagues from the UCD Institute of Food and Heath. Both of these will be topics for an upcoming blog post but just to say we couldn’t have delivered last week’s activities without incorporating both of them.

There were a number of other people and bodies without whom we could not have delivered last week’s camp:

We also received important financial sponsorship from the following organisations

We look forward to seeing all of the girls again on a weekly basis from end August onwards and hope to help them on the road to participating in organised sport in their own community as they grow up. In the meantime, we have another hectic two weeks ahead of us with 40+ new girls aged 5-8 in O’Connells School starting this Tuesday. Deep breath and…… let the fun begin !

Feel free to Like (and Share) our Facebook page “Project Fun Direction” by clicking the Like button on the top right here which provides some colour on our daily activities.

I will be posting on this blog once or twice a week over coming months on the topic of child development through sport so if you’re a parent or coach, click the Follow button on the right hand side here and type your email address in the box to receive new posts directly.

Thanks for your interest and I’ll catch up soon