Two approaches to action: Managerial & Kairotic

One of the most popular mantras in contemporary professional sport is: ‘Play what is in front of you!’ To understand the significance of this mantra, you have to fill in the background against which it makes sense, and the other mantras it is responding to.

Managerial Approach

In much contemporary sport, there is now very detailed analytical coaching and planning of plays. Plans and plays are scripted beforehand and then practiced over and over during training, so that when they are called every player knows what they must do to play their part. This emphasis on preparatory planning aligns with the planning in the military and in business. Start-ups and new businesses also invest much effort in business plans that will be used to determine their future activities.

Across all these fields, there was a belief in the value of plans, and in the value of conforming to these plans. It was as if you could see into the future or decide or predict the future, and the plan as your road-map. The plan is an analysis of the situation and predicts what should be done by tracing the causal connections and effects of different sequences, structures or combinations of actions; and playing is simply a matter of ‘following the plan as laid down’. The player’s job is simply to remember the plan and follow it; not to think or make their own decisions.

In this scenario, players are as it were tools of the coaching staff and their plan. Their job is to ‘apply’ the plan, a set of strategies and combinations of plays that has been worked out theoretically beforehand based on reams of statistical data.

The assumption in this approach to sport – or education for that matter – is that it assumes that things mostly goes to plan, that there is very little room for chance, or mishap, or surprises. The assumption is that a well-drilled team with a well-planned set of strategies and structures will triumph. The same for armies and businesses.

This managerial model is the approach deployed in the Vietnam War, the Irak invasion. The chaos following the Irak invasion was a surprise to US military planners because their planning was based on the assumption (based on solid evidence) that the Irak population would welcome arrival of US troops and immediately embrace a new national democratic government, enabling coalition troops to withdraw quickly.

It is a model that assumes that every possible contingency, every needed resource, can be predicted and dealt with beforehand in the planning process prior to any action.

We could sum up this approach as the ‘managerial model’. The coach, CEO or Commander draws up the strategies; the role of players, workers, and soldiers is to follow orders—not to use their own intelligence or judgment about ‘what is in front of them’ and what would be the most effective way of responding. Thus, the mantra capturing this approach is: ‘Stick to the plan; Ignore what is in front of you; We have already predicted everything that can happen in the big picture and have it covered; Just do what you are told and don’t go feral on us’.


Kairotic Approach

So, now we can understand the meaning of ‘Play what is in front of you’. It is a rejection or supplement to the managerial approach. This new mantra embodies the belief that no pre-planning can ever cover every contingency arising in a game. What happens and what to do is not a matter of precisely defined causal relations that can be perfectly dealt with by slavishly following pre-determined rules, precepts or instructions. What happens is an amalgam of the predictable and the unpredictable. In fact, the more predictable, the more important the moments of unpredictability become. It is in these moments of confusion or disruption, that a space is opened up for inspired play by players alert to ‘what is in front of them’ and able to think outside the box of ‘the plan’.

About Rob McCormack
I am a retired second chance educator living in Melbourne, Australia. Theory I am interested in includes: Rhetoric, both ancient and contemporary; Post-structural discourse theory, Laclau; Halliday's systemic functional linguistic theory; Hermeneutics (esp. Gadamer); philosophy, Heidegger, Wittgenstein, Derrida; 'practice theory' in social theory such as Schatzki, Bourdieu; political theory, such as Arendt, Laclau, Tully ; pedagogic theory and philosophy such as Biesta, didaktik. Praxis I am interested in include: Adult education and adult literacy; second chance education; academic discourse and writing; langauge and learning; Indigenous education.

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