More insights from World Kenpo Karate champion Sinead Byrne…


July 2, 2024

If you haven’t seen our first and second blog posts, it will be worth tracking back to read the background and our first two takeaways before you carry on with this post.

When you’re ready… we are going to start this one with confidence building…


8. Confidence building


You can see how many of the activities within the club are designed to build confidence. From the buddying system to the use of scaffolding. Something that is perhaps unique to Sinead is her approach to fear when it comes to competing. Unlike many instructors, she is completely honest with her students (old and young) about her own fears when competing. But she doesn’t stop there. She actively seeks to have an open dialogue about it. Students are encouraged to reflect on their fears, write them down and share them with the group. In the right environment, this helps them to get peer support during their training and at the event.


As Sinead explains:

“Some clubs try too hard to stop you feeling stuff, the classic, “Boys shouldn’t cry” or “What are you getting emotional over?” You know, “You just lost a fight,” or “Why do you lose your head over stuff?” Whereas I’ve always tried to ask them what they’re feeling to then work out a way that’s best for them to then overcome that feeling.”


She also ensures they know exactly what is going to happen and are prepared for it. Everything from where people will be sitting and how they will be scored to how they should walk out onto the mats. In fact, they practice this simple entrance until it is perfect because having the knowledge and confidence to navigate the initial steps of walking onto the mats and introducing yourself to the judges means you are well-placed to perform. It also means they are projecting an air of confidence that the judges respond well to.


L&D takeaway: How can we help learners master the initial steps to remove any fear that might be holding them back from showing greatness? What simple things could they learn that stop them from being too scared to do something? How can we encourage managers to work with them on addressing and overcoming their fears- instead of suppressing them to save face?


9. Plan around them, but be reactive


When talking to Sinead, I was interested to know if she used lesson plans and a structure for the year, particularly when preparing for a big event. She does, but she is also open to the energy in the room, so she adapts when needed. Working with young people can mean they bring with them baggage from their day/week, so sometimes the class has to rally around someone or switch things up for individuals to provide them with the support they need.


What surprised me was her planning for the year, and it was something I hadn’t identified even as a seasoned ‘ninja mum’.


This structure has been honed over many years of teaching and is actually pretty seasonal. They start in January with a focus on the children’s goals. These are documented by all the students in groups. Their focus is often achieving what they need to have learnt for their next grading, which takes place in the first half of the year. The idea of grading is positive, so as these are scheduled, students are focused on working towards their goals. These blocks are counted in weeks, and a countdown is shown in the Dojo. This helps to focus young minds from something that seems months away to how many times they will get to practice and get support in the Dojo. Four months seems like a long time, but 16 opportunities to practice do not. This will be an individual plan for each child because the steps towards a new belt will be consistent, and the child’s ability (skill level) will vary.


As they move through the year, they will work towards new goals, like competitions or ‘tips’ (assessments that lead towards belts. At the end of the year, in November/December, she avoids teaching new things because they generally have too much going on outside of their training in school, etc. So, things start to wind down. It is also cold and flu season, so she sees a drop in attendance as students get sick. So, this is the time to be more flexible and student-led. The time to provide more choices on activities and bring in more fun.


L&D takeaway: Are we aware of the natural flows in the organisation? Do our strategies take into account the ‘new year, new me’ feeling at the start of the year and ease off at the end of the year? Do we use these ‘down times’ like holiday periods to offer more relaxed, informal, student-led opportunities?


10. Continual personal development


An inspiring Sensei leads by example, and so should you. They lead by example and continue to push themselves and learn new skills. For Sinead, this includes attending classes with other schools or learning complementary skills from other sports like kickboxing to bring back what she has learnt to her students.


L&D takeaway: We should be doing this too. Are we continually taking opportunities to learn and develop ourselves to reflect in our practice? Are we looking at practices outside of our zone of responsibility to see what we can learn? A great example of this is learning from the field of marketing. Imagine if you thought like a marketeer when developing learning opportunities!

On the opposite side, if the example we set is that we are too busy or too knowledgeable to invest in our personal development, then we are telling colleagues that learning isn’t important to us… while also creating training for them. Personal development is important for everyone, but perhaps more so for L&D professionals. So follow Sinead’s lead, and make sure you are leading the way in developing your current and new skills.

Don’t have the budget? Listen to Podcasts, attend free events, read blogs and watch presentations on YouTube from experts. Oh, and shameless plug… join our Elearning Unlocked programme!


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