Sunday, 23 August 2015

Pasta Annihilation

Something a bit different for a Monday - this is an 'avoiding-working-on-my-book' exercise. And yes, I know it’s 'antipasto', but that doesn’t work for a particle physics joke, does it?

#science, #humour, #physics

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Play to your strengths

By Louise Thomas

The first half of this year’s netball season my Year 7 team (11 to 12-year-olds) were struggling. We hadn’t won a single game. I had a Goal Defence and a Goal Keep who would lob the ball away down court straight to the opposition, and another Goal Keep whose body was just too big for her brain and she was constantly falling over – three or four times. Every game. With a contact penalty being called against her just about every time she fall over. I’ve gone through a whole box of sticking plasters.

I had a Wing Defence who could intercept the ball well, but then couldn’t get the next pass away as the down-court players were all leading away from her behind opposition and she just couldn’t throw that high or far. A Centre who wouldn’t let go of the ball at pass-off or around the circle edge. A Goal Attack, who was about a head shorter than everyone else on court and couldn’t shoot the ball past tall defenders. I was constantly on their case, pleading with the GK and GD to take safer passes, the other GK to try and stay upright, the WD to practice her lobs, the C to let go of the ball, etc. You get the picture.

My teenage daughter, a 15-year-old rep player who is my assistant coach, said to me at the start of Round 2, that we had to change the team up a little. We looked at and talked about every player. How could we do things differently? She said she used to lob the ball when she played at GD at the same age and use to get in trouble with the coach as well. She pointed out it was only an issue until the WD in her team got to know that that was what she was going to do and would drop right back down to the transverse line by the attack third to take the pass – suddenly they were eating up the court. Only two passes from the defence third to the top of the goal circle. Surely that’s an outcome that any team would want?

As coaches we’re suppose to teach these young players to come forward for the ball, take the safe passes, look after the ball. But maybe that’s wrong, or, at least, not always right. I was trying to get these players to improve their weaknesses rather than playing to their strengths.

Before Round 2 started we decided that we were going to offer the GD and the GK a close lead and two far away leads that they could lob to. We were going to encourage the GD and GK to use their strong throwing skills. My assistant coach came up with a game play where the Centre Pass-off went straight to the GD and then was lobbed right down to the GA under the hoop. This involved the WA blocking the GD at the pass-off (playing defensively instead of joining the attack) the GA dropping back under the hoop, and the GS running out to the transverse line to draw off the opposition GK. It worked brilliantly. It left the goal free with only our shooter anywhere in sight. Even if the lob fell short she was still the closest to pick it up. And no one, but no one, was expecting an 11-year-old to lob the ball from mid court straight to the shooter under the hoop. We got away with it five times in one game before an opposition coach screamed at her GK to stop following the GS out of the circle.

The other big change I made was moving the uncoordinated GK out to Goal Shoot. She is tall, a pretty good shot and has a good eye for the ball, but what really made this a brilliant move was turning the falling-over-frequently to our advantage. See, the thing is, in netball, if you’re on defence and you fall over your own or someone else’s feet, nine times out of ten you’ll get pinged by the umpire for contact. What we discovered was when you’re on attack the opposite is true. This second round, just about every time she’s fallen over, rightly or wrongly, the opposition has been called for contact. Meaning we get a clear shot at goal, usually under the hoop.

The problem with the WD I solved by telling the C and WA that if they want the ball from her that they had to drop back and then lead forward EVERYTIME, in opposite drives. Otherwise the WD was just going to pass it back to the GD for a down court lob to one of the shooters. They do now, or at least one of them remembers to, after all who wants to cut themselves out of the game with a bad lead. The WD has a great powerful chest pass that the attack can drive onto. Passing problem solved.

I’m still working on my C letting go of the ball, but this has been partially solved by moving my short GA into the midcourt (And my former GS to GA). Turns out she’s really good at being Centre.

The change in results has been amazing. With one game to go in the round we are currently leading the pool. We’ve comprehensively beaten teams that pummelled us in the first round.

There’s probably a metaphor for life in here. Something along the lines that we’re only a bit of left-field tweaking away from being brilliant. And definitely, most definitely, double down on your strengths and find away to mitigate any weaknesses without getting hung up on them.

Also, I suspect that next year maybe I should be assistant coach. I’ve got a sneaking feeling my daughter might be smarter than me.

#netball, #coaching, #strengths

Sunday, 9 August 2015

What is in a name?

It was a big call for me adding “artist” to the “writer and editor” job description. After all, artists are mostly consumptive impoverished types who were fooled into following their bliss, aren’t they? They usually do a good sideline in mail delivery, shelf stacking, and late-night shifts at the gas station, when not suffering from crippling depression or trying to self-mutilate. With that attitude, you could see my concern.

I’ve always called myself a “science writer”, now that’s a serious no-nonsense career, requiring exacting professionalism, a sound knowledge of science issues, and a proper leather briefcase.

To me this was what was true. But lately I’ve had a sneaking suspicion about certain things, they are:

1. As I sweep down the slope on the wrong side of middle-age it could just be that I’m mortal. My lifespan measured against any criteria (apart from a mayfly) will be regrettably short.

2. It is just possible that some of my attitudes and snobbishness, my beliefs about labels, are stopping me living a more fulfilling life.

There have been times, an increasing number truth be told, when I’ve been editing some particularly turgid document, and I’ve thought: “Is this it?” I’ve looked outside at the sunshine and wanted desperately to be in the garden, or looked at the rain, and wanted to be writing, painting or doing some tapestry.

Why was I doing what I was doing? Don’t get me wrong I love writing about science, I’ve been penning reports for over two decades and I still find stuff that interests me. But why just that? There are lots of other things that interest me as well.

I’ve had a few ups and downs in the past year, in what has been a remarkably steady 20plus-year career in New Zealand’s science industry. Some long-standing clients have left me. It was nothing personal, the Government stopped their funding – some of them are actually shutting their doors soon. Other divisions of institutions I’ve worked for have also been disbanded in the past few years or are seriously dwindling. Researchers are out on the street looking for jobs as fry cooks.

I’ve found myself unmotivated to chase the crumbs that are left. I’ve gotten out of the habit you see, as I’ve enjoyed a couple of decades of word-of-mouth referrals providing a steady income, and now, somehow, at this stage of my career, it seems a little degrading.

The uncertainty is making me re-evaluate lots of things, and I came to the somewhat discomforting conclusion that I cared about my perception of how other people saw me. You see, to be a “science writer” requires smarts. People know you’re brainy, and my perception of myself has been pretty tied up in people knowing I’m the one they need to call for quiz night. There’s a certain amount of ego gratification involved in being asked by several different groups to be on their team to answer the science questions (hint: there’s always a periodic table one).

If I was say, a “needlepoint designer”, or just an ordinary “writer”, people might think it wasn’t a serious career. Not only would those labels not tell people how “smart” I am, but they are for the most part pretend careers – frivolities that some people indulged in as a hobby or for pin money, while their rich husbands brought home the bacon. The quiz team requests might dry up.

But given the mortality suspicion it might be time I got over myself – checked my attitude – maybe I’ve been shutting down possibilities and limiting myself. Stagnating.

It’s time for a little reinvention. I started earlier this year when a science writing colleague/friend got me a writing gig that didn’t have anything to do with science. Okay, that’s alright, I’ve got to pay the bills. The magazine involved has asked me for some more stuff. Yeah, that’s good, I like their magazine and I like them. The same friend has also just finished writing and publishing a book after spending a year river boating around France, I confess to being slightly green with envy. He’s got his life together while I’ve been floundering – and I don’t mean fishing for flat fish.

I’m a needlepoint enthusiast. When I can get away with it, I’ll get out a basket of wool or graph paper and coloured pencils and muck around making patterns. I’ve never considered trying to make a quid out of it, but last month I decided to take the plunge and sent off one of my designs to five different craft magazines. Two never replied, one said “The editorial team reviewed submitted designs today and we unfortunately came to the conclusion that we cannot use your design at this time, though it is lovely. Thank you again for your submission. Hopefully our needs will line up better in the future.”, which is a kind of nice rejection, but then shockingly, two said yes, they like it. I went with the one that said: “We’re really excited about featuring your project in the magazine!” (exclamation mark their own – I usually avoid them on the basis that nobody wants me yelling or shrieking with excitement at them). What’s more in a subsequent E-mail the editor made reference to the “artists” who contribute to their magazine. Get that, I’m an “artist” contributing to their magazine – well, grab a feather duster and tickle me pink.

I’m still jealous about the book thing, so I’ve started writing my own novel – I’ll get back to you about that in about a year. I’m thinking I might turn a few of my designs into a book as well, but this is a long-term project. Anyone who has ever done any tapestry will tell you how long it takes to make a cushion. In the meantime, you can buy a tapestry pattern off me, presented as an easy-to-follow nine-page PDF booklet with an enlarged symbols chart, if you fancy getting crafty.

I’ll leave you with the wise words of Kurt Vonnegut – even though I think some of his books are pretty weird: “We are what we pretend to be, so we must be careful about what we pretend to be.”

#writing, #being an artist, #naming, #aging