Harnessing my inner pirate – breaking rules for positive social change

As I sat on a train to a meeting, I sipped my flat white and questioned how a coffee and croissant could cost nearly 6 quid. It struck me how easy it is to accept the status quo. Whether it’s the price of a coffee, long Shay Fenlonapplication forms or the qualifications you need to do x, y or z, so much of our lives are controlled by rules and systems and we often do not give them a second thought. Accepting that is just the way it is.  

Now obviously there are rules in place to keep us safe, and to help life run smoothly but what if the systems that influence our lives are out of date and do not meet the needs of modern society? What if they, in fact, get in the way of positive social change? 

Using our individual power for the greater good 

I recently read a highly recommended book called Be More Pirate by Sam Conniff Allende. It reveals the radical strategies of Golden Age pirates (roughly 1650 – 1726) and updates them into solutions for today.  

Interestingly the uncertainty and political unrest those pirates faced is not unlike what we face in society today. The book draws parallels between the strategy and innovation of people like Henry Morgan (a famous pirate) and modern-day rebels such as Elon Musk. Basically, you should read the book, it’s great.  

According to Sam, the 5 steps to be more Pirate are: 

  1. Rebel with a cause; or how to draw strength by standing up to the status quo 
  1. Rewrite your rules; or how to bend, break and ultimately rewrite the rules 
  1. Reorganise yourself; or how to collaborate to achieve success 
  1. Redistribute power; or how to fight for fairness and make enemies of exploitation  
  1. Retell tall tales; or how to weaponize stories and tell the hell out of them  

So what about our context, the world of coaching in physical activity and sport? I reflected on how it’s often the rules or systems that have been in place for years and years that get in the way of people and organisations achieving great things. 

It feels a bit like we are saying be creative to solve this problem, but you can’t do X, you can’t have Y and you most definitely can’t be Z.  

Pirates get a bad rap 

So, I’ve been thinking recently about harnessing my inner pirate and breaking a few rules.  

Now let me be clear, I am not interested in stealing cargo, I find parrots a bit creepy, and my sea legs are pretty dodgy. So aside from enjoying the occasional rum, I am not your classic pirate.  

However, the Golden Age Pirates achieved societal change in their era and that is the bit I’m keen to channel. I feel it’s no longer enough to accept the status quo, it is time to rebel and cause some ‘good trouble’ to change the coaching landscape for the better.  

What can we learn from pirates? 

For Golden Age Pirates, democracy was everything, so as I started to consider what coaching rule I would break and rewrite, I knew my first step was to get the views of my crew mates (other people involved in coaching). So, I asked them: 

“If there was one thing about coaching you would change, or a coaching rule you would break & rewrite, what would it be and why?” 

The result? It turns out we have coaching pirates everywhere ready to put all hands-on deck to challenge the status quo around coaching. Some of my favourite comments were: 

  1. “To see coaches given guidance to better coach young people’s character. Focus on the principles, disciplines, resilience & mindset requirements for success in sports. Give tools to help these attributes transfer into life away from sport. We have their attention = opportunity” 
  1. “The notion of para coaching being something separate. If you’re a good coach you should be able to coach kids, adults, male, female and disability… But that means reforming coaching to give every coach a disability toolkit and changing CPD for the better” 
  1. “That coaching courses/training be delivered more flexibly around family/work/life without having to travel miles!” 
  1. “It’s great that we have so many volunteer parents who want to ‘coach’ kids teams – but surely we need 2 make it easier for these parents 2 get some proper training to ensure they’re enriching the kids & not doing more harm than good?” 
  1. “This had me thinking! 🤯 Ditch ‘talent’ / selection programmes for U16’s, rankings and coaching levels/ hierarchy or Let’s bust the myth that you have to be a good player to be a good coach or women have to be more qualified than men to get HP coaching roles.“ 

You can read the full thread of responses here, I would really encourage you to do so, there are some golden insights in there – https://twitter.com/shay_fenlon/status/1506969779487318022?s=21 

Join the Leap coaching mutiny and let’s cause some good trouble! 

So as I cast off on my pirate journey, I’m inviting you to join me, picking at a few unfair edges, questioning pointless rules, and encouraging others to do the same.  

Thanks for reading, if your inner coaching pirate wants to create some ‘good trouble’ and join the Leap coaching mutiny, click here to let us know your thoughts on how we can do this. 

Or join one of our upcoming events to have a more in-depth conversation. 

Coaching Jam: Bending, breaking, and rewriting some coaching rules (3rd May, 7pm – 8pm)

Click here to book your place on the Coaching Jam 3rd May

Coaching Jam: Bending, breaking, and rewriting some coaching rules – (7th May, 9:30 – 10:30) –

Click here to book your place on the Coaching Jam on 7th May 

Shay