Background and purpose: This paper focuses on the learning culture within the high-performance levels of rowing. In doing so, we explore the case of an individual's learning as he moves across athletic, coaching and administrative functions. This exploration draws on a cultural learning framework and complementary theorisings related to reflexivity.
Method: This study makes use of an intellectually, morally and collaboratively challenging approach whereby one member of the research team was also the sole participant of this study. The participant's career as a high-performance athlete, coach and administrator, coupled with his experience in conducting empirical research presented a rare opportunity to engage in collaborative research (involving degrees of insider and outsider status for each of the research team). We acknowledge that others have looked to combine roles of coach/athlete/administrator with that of researcher; however, few (if any) have attempted to combine them all in one project. Moreover, coupled with the approach to reflexivity adopted in this study and the authorship contributions, we consider this scholarly direction uncommon. Data comprised recorded research conversations, a subsequently constructed learning narrative, reflections on the narrative, a stimulated reflective piece from the participant and the final (re)construction of the participant's story. Accordingly, data were integrated through an iterative process of thematic analysis.
Results: The cultural (i.e. the ways things get done) and structural (e.g. the rules and regulations) properties of high-performance rowing were found to shape the opportunities both to be present (e.g. secure a place in the crew) and to learn (e.g. learn the skills required to perform at the Olympic level). However, the individual's personal properties were brought to bear on reshaping the constraints such that many limitations could be overcome. In keeping with the theory of learning cultures, the culture of rowing was found to position individuals (a coxswain in this case) differentially. In a similar manner, a range of structural features were found to be important in shaping the cultural and personal elements in performance contexts. Finally, the cultural and structural elements in rowing appeared to be activated by the participant's personal elements, most notably his orientation towards quality performance.
Conclusion: The participant in this study was found to be driven by the project that he cares about most and at each turn he has bent his understanding of his sport back on itself to see if he can find opportunities to learn and subsequently explore ways to improve performance. The story here emphasises the importance of learner agency, and this is an aspect that has often been missing in recent theorising about learning. In this study, we find an agent using his ‘personal emergent powers’ to activate the resources in the culture and structure of his sport in an attempt to improve performance. We conclude from this account that this particular high-performance rowing culture is one that provided support but nonetheless encouraged those involved, to ‘figure things out’ for themselves – be it as athletes, coaches and/or administrators.