#9: The Inside Game with Cindy Burwell

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Meet CINDY BURWELL, the founder of ‘The Inside Game’ coaching network. Inspired by John Wooden’s saying ‘A good coach can change a game and a great coach can change a life’, Cindy promotes the power of play and the positive impact good coaching can have on each of us as individuals and on society as a whole.  She brings together world-renowned coaches to support each other to inspire each other not just to change the game, but to change lives.


  • Play
  • Building a Team
  • Sports Coaching
  • Life Skills
  • Physical Competence
  • Self Confidence
  • Physical Literacy
  • Athletic Development
  • Human Development
  • Mental Health


Start With WHY by Simon Sinek

Find  Your WHY by Simon Sinek


Friday Night Lights (American TV Series) – about a football coach.


‘A good coach can change a game and a great coach can change a life’
~John Wooden

‘No-one cares what you know until they know that you care’
~Theodore Roosevelt


Read Full Transcript

LifeWise Podcast Episode 9
The Inside Game with Cindy Burwell

Welcome to the LifeWise Show where we explore the things in life that make you feel truly alive. Today I am talking to Cindy Burwell, Founder of a coaching network called ‘The Inside Game’ - inspired by John Wooden’s saying ‘A good coach can change a game and a great coach can change a life’.

This is a passion project for Cindy who, a mother of 3 boys who participate in high-level sport, understands the potential impact good coaching can have on each of us as individuals and on society as a whole.

Welcome Cindy. Thank you so much for being with us today.

Tania Cotton: So, Cindy, I first met you because you came to the hospital and you wanted to open the hospital’s eyes to the power of storytelling. At that time I had just begun making films about how we can help individuals, including elite athletes, overcome health and performance challenges. So, why are stories such a powerful way of communicating?

Cindy Burwell: I think, regardless of who you are or what you’re trying to learn, people learn better if it’s something that’s relatable to them or something that’s authentic.

From my whole coaching journey, it was to tell stories that another person can relate to and go, “I get that. I know what that… That happened to me. Tell me more.” People will learn more and be more engaged if it’s relatable. Storytelling gives that power of relatability.

Cindy Burwell: Visual and participation is the key. Your movies are relatable because they’re visual and people can see them. The conferences I’ve run have been relatable because we do interactive workshops, and have people engage participating so that they retain the information and can walk away with a real experience.

Tania Cotton: You watched a couple of the films, and then we realised we were both very much on the same page and that we should meet. You came up to the mountains, you went on a walk and talk, and I would say that we covered so much ground. I mean both physically and metaphorically. Do you think more people need to have meetings this way?

Cindy Burwell: There’s no question. I mean the power of walking. For me, personally, I’m a runner, a recreational runner, and I get my biggest sense of creativity and inspiration is when I’m outside in nature, running. I have a huge loss if I’m not out or in nature, doing some kind of movement and running.

So, whether I’m feeling good about life and I need some inspiration, running is a great thing. Or, if I’m feeling not so good about life and I want to get over that, moving and walking or running is great. So, when you and I did the walk, it was just an immediate connection of, you know… I don’t think we saw the kilometres pass, because there was so much that we could cover. I absolutely think that it should be integral to creativity, yes, and problem-solving.

Tania Cotton: Totally. It was on that walk that I really discovered about your passion project, the ‘Inside Game’. It immediately resonated with me. Tell us about the ‘Inside Game’, and where this idea came from, and what you wanted to achieve through it.

Cindy Burwell: It was a number of years ago. As you mentioned, I have three sons, who play competitive sports, and I personally grew up involved in many, many competitive sports. Notably, I was an equestrian, [in a reasonably 0:04:10] very, very high-level equestrian sport, so I had personal experiences with coaches. Then I saw the experience that my own children were having with coaches, and it wasn’t at all the same.

I think I was lucky. I had some really great coaches. I can talk about that, but I was seeing coaching that was very based on ‘X’s and ‘O’s, and really talking about technique, and strategy, and discipline, but there was no human element to it. There was no connection with the athletes. There was no motivation for the athletes. There was no, you know…

So, I saw within a particular instance with my elder son, who, at the age of 14, was getting very disillusioned with sport and very disillusioned with his experience in sport because of the relationship – or lack of relationship – with a coach and with the type of coaching he was getting, which was extremely negative, not encouraging at all, sitting on the bench, etc., etc.

I could see how it wasn’t just the experience at the sport hall or in the… That was affecting him. It had a bigger effect outside of that, as well, where his marks went down. His confidence went down. His ability to interact with kids his own age went down. He lost a total sense of self-confidence. This, to me, was wrong.

Coincidentally, that year I’d been home and I went to see my old former equestrian coach, who I probably hadn’t seen in 20, 30 years. It was the exact opposite experience. Here I had this coach, who I was so connected to, and she cared so much about me, and my development, and my… She could be tough, and she could be hard, and she wasn’t a pushover, but we had a super-interesting connection.

When I saw her, I don’t know, 20, 30 years later, it was like time hadn’t passed. We just picked up where we were. She and I sat down and I was explaining to her about my son, how this happened and how this coaching… We were talking back and forth about what makes a good coach and [how it becomes a good 0:06:29] coach. I just said to her, I said, “I’m going to teach coaches how to coach, and you’re going to help me do it.” That was, sort of, the spark of it, and she, you know… A number of email exchanges, she’s like, ‘Let’s do it.’ That was the spark, and it was probably, maybe, a year or two later.

Interestingly, I’ve never actually had her [speak at it 0:06:49], which I should do. She was, back in the day when I was being coached by her, she was one of the first coaches who started to use mental training. She trained with Terry Orlick, who was again a forefather of the whole theory of athlete development, and coaching through mental focus and mental training.

Tania Cotton: What was the foundation of his way of coaching, do you believe?

Cindy Burwell: He was… Terry was one of the first – my first – keynote speaker at the first conference which I eventually ran. He came and spoke at it, and his whole message was about love. You’ve got to love your athletes. You’ve got to love what you do. You’ve got to show the connection to your athlete, that you care about them and that you… It’s not just about winning, it’s not just about the result at the end of the game; it’s that you are coaching a human being.

You need to actually love coaching that human being, and love that person, and want to see them develop. That was really his whole message – not just about coaching, about life in general. He’s gone on and written many, many books, which aren’t just related to sport coaching but are really about how to create joy in your life.

Tania Cotton: I think that’s a big take-home message: that it’s not just about sport. I think at the last ‘Inside Game’ conference you emphasised something so important. You had some people from iCoachKids there, Dr Sergio Lara, and you said, “iCoachKids, what a great name.

Cindy Burwell: That’s just the thing. I hear so many times, “We hired a new coach. He just loves hockey.” My first response is, “I don’t care. Does he like kids?” because anyone can coach a technique. You can learn a technique and you can [learn how 0:08:45], but if you can’t actually… If you don’t care about the kids – or not necessarily kids, the adults you’re coaching – if you don’t care about them, and you don’t relate to them, and you don’t have a certain connection and try to connect with them, you might have short-term results, but you’re never going to have a long-term result. The kids are never going to feel that same sense of being part of a team or being part of a sport.

To me, whether you love… Of course it’s important that you love the sport you’re going to coach and you have a high level of knowledge. Of course, that’s a known, that’s a given, but if you don’t love people or you don’t love being around people, and seeing them develop, and being part of their day-to-day life, then I think that’s critical to being a good coach.

Tania Cotton: Yes. I think that’s something. Clay Erro, one of these beautiful coaches that turned up that really warms your heart, (Laughter) he’s very much about the ‘we’, not ‘me’, and taking ownership and responsibility – not just for yourself as part of a team, but for your life. Yes, he also emphasised what you’re saying.

Cindy Burwell: Yes, interesting, when… Tania, when you when I first met and you were helping me get speakers for that event, you brought Bill Knowles, you brought Clay Erro and you brought Jimmy Radcliffe. I don’t know if I’ve even told you this, but admittedly at the time I was like, “I don’t know if these guys are the right guys for this conference. They’re very… ” On paper I was like, “He’s a track-and-field coach,” or, “He’s a football coach,” or, “He’s a physical rehabilitation coach. This is all about the coaching side.”

In the end these coaches, because they get it as coaches, because they relate to their kids, their athletes, and they connect to them, they didn’t even… They came to this conference, they flew in from the US and, yes, we knew they were a football coach or whatever, but what we walked away [with 0:10:49] was the importance to coaching to them was relationship with their athletes and the connection with their athletes. Regardless of whether it was a football coach, a track-and-field coach, or a physical rehabilitation trainer, all of them had that same relationship and that same caring attitude towards their athletes.

Tania Cotton: Yes, and I think they summed it up by saying, “We are all in the people business”.

Cindy Burwell: Exactly.

Tania Cotton: “We are in the people business.” When you meet them, they’re just such incredibly warm people. You can see that they do just love their job and love the people that they work with.

Cindy Burwell: Back to your storytelling, they all had powerful storytelling that everyone in the room could relate to and learn from. At the end of the day, the most compelling information is something that’s real and happened. So, when they could share their stories about real athletes, and real teams, and real outcomes, based on their philosophy of coaching, then I think the people who attend these conferences can walk away going, “Maybe I do need to think differently,” or, “Maybe this is not even a new way of coaching but the right way of coaching.”

Tania Cotton: I think it was John O’Sullivan who took the little Post-it notes, and gave everybody one and said, “Write down on that piece of paper what you remember most about the coach that really helped you.”

Cindy Burwell: “The best coach you ever had,” yes. I think they had to write three or four. I can’t remember how many, just a word to describe their coach, the best coach they ever had. Then, “If that word that you described the coach was something relating to connection, or character, or your pure coaching, put it on this side of the room. If it’s more about that coach, what you most liked about that coach, it was related to technique, or ‘X’ and ‘O’s, or strategy, put it on this side of the room.”

It’s not surprising that at the end of the day 90% of the Post-it notes were on the connection side of the room. So, the coaches in the room clearly got it that, “Yes, when I think of…” I think it’s Wade Gilbert was another speaker that we had one year, and he… His thing was: “Be the coach you wish you had, or that you, maybe, did have. Be that coach.” So, we saw in that room was people with the Post-it notes of what they loved most about their coach, they didn’t care what the coaches knew. They cared that the coaches cared.

Tania Cotton: Absolutely.

Cindy Burwell: That’s what it boils down to, too, is ‘nobody cares what you know, until they know that you care’. That’s another expression which I don’t know, but it comes up again and again at these coaching conferences.

Tania Cotton: I love that. You clearly do care. You care so much that in setting this up… How did you set up the ‘Inside Game’, because it looked to me that you just went over the world, and went to every coaching conference and met as many coaches as possible?

Cindy Burwell: Actually, when I did this, I went, I did a bit of research here in Switzerland, and I went, “Okay, what exists for coaching development here? What do coaches get? How do they train?” It’s not unique here versus any other part of the world, but coaching [is they need 0:14:23]… In many sports organisations, they’re low funded. They don’t have a lot of opportunity to pay coaches, so there are a lot of volunteer coaches, parent coaches. They often, typically, will put the coaches with the least experience with the kids at the most vulnerable age, which is again not correct, but I was looking around, going, “What is the level of coaching here? How are coaches educated?”

In a lot of cases, there was no education. There were no criteria. There were no standards for coaching. There is a sport-coaching organisation in Switzerland that, at a certain level, organisations do require their coaches have to attend a Level 1 coaching course. When I looked at the curriculum for all of these courses that are offered, it was again 90% technique, 90% ‘X’s and ‘O’s, 90% planning and organisation, and only 10% did it actually talk about the real part of coaching, which to me is the connection, the character, the creativity – again, the love of coaching and love of your kids.

That was such a minimal part I went, “No, there’s something missing here. I think we need a conference.” Then I researched what exists around the world because I knew this wasn’t a unique phenomenon to Switzerland. I actually studied what was going on in Canada, because I’m Canadian, and saw they have a coaching conference which brings together coaches from all across Canada, in all different sports, and they spent two/three days together. So, the first year I ran the conference, I really emulated it off some of the topics they did, and I brought in Terry Orlick. It was a real challenge because I’m new, nobody knew who I was, what I was doing. Why was I doing this coaching conference? I’m not a coach myself. Getting speakers to speak was a challenge, and filling the room was a challenge.

Following that first year, then I met you and then we had our second-year conference. Then I started to go, “Okay what’s going on around the world?” I attended the same very first conference that I first studied just online, and went to the conference in Canada and was blown away by the quality of the speakers, and there was… I think 700 people flew from all over Ontario to come to this conference, and it was just a… I studied how they organised, what type of… What worked? What didn’t work? What were the workshops? Who were the speakers? I met some of the speakers. Most notably, I met Dean Kriellaars. I think you remember, while he was doing his presentation, I spent the whole time taping it, and sending you clips and going, “This is your guy, Tania. This is your guy. You’ve got to connect with him.”

Then I went on and did a few other ones – conferences. We’ll talk about Dean in a minute, but that same year I went back to the USA, where I met John O’Sullivan. I’d already asked Jon if he would speak, and John I got… I think I randomly saw him post something on Twitter and I went “That’s my guy.” I remember, whatever he posted, I sent to my husband and I went, “He’s just described us. We’re those parents, those helicopter parents. We need to…”

I picked up the phone and phoned John O’Sullivan. I said, “I’m Cindy Burwell. I organise a coaching conference. Do you want to come and speak in Switzerland?” and he said, “Yes.” (Laughter) So, I went to his conference to see him speak and see what he was all about, and from there it’s just, kind of, gone on. I’ve attended other conferences and my network of really great speakers has come – come through that: through just going, and meeting, and talking to people.

Tania Cotton: No, it’s incredible, actually, how you… Yes, that you manage to have this connection with other coaches just because of your passion. Then, when each of the experts, in whether it’s or human performance – and mainly in your case it is people in the coaching network – when one person sees who else is coming, they’re like, “Oh, my gosh, I want to go. I want to go there if they’re going to be there.”

It was really apparent to me how many of the different coaches wanted to meet the other coaches, not just wanted to speak at this conference. Then, of course, as you know, we did a weekend where actually the coaches had an opportunity – the speakers had an opportunity – to be together in a chalet in the mountains. For me, that was as valuable and as insightful as the conference itself, and something we should do it again, Cindy.

Cindy Burwell: Absolutely. I mean, to your point, I’ve had… When I signed some of the speakers to come, they’d go, “I can’t wait to hear so-and-so speak.” I think we talked about Sergio Lara. He says, “I can’t wait to hear Wade Gilbert speak. I’ve met, but I’ve never actually heard him speak.” Or I had other coaches coming in, saying, “I’m really looking forward to being at your conference, because the other coaches or the other speakers that you have I’ve heard about, but I’ve never met them,” or, “We’ve connected indirectly.”

Then, when we had our weekend and the retreat, it was invaluable for all of us to have that moment of relaxation, but also talking about: “We’re all independently motivated by this passion about change in sport, but how now can we really…? What can we do to really make this happen, and what can we do to move things forward?” At the same time, going up and skiing some pretty incredible skiing, and for many of us doing some new things for the first time and being coached through that, through Robbie. It was just a fantastic way to end a conference, to have this retreat weekend of skiing. Maureen Monte came, who doesn’t ski. She just was a photographer for the weekend. Then sitting by the end of the day by the fire and sharing our stories was amazing.

Tania Cotton: I don’t like calling them ‘speakers’, because they weren’t just speaking. Everybody at your conference does something. I mean, Dr Sergio Lara from iCoachKids, you… The ‘Inside Game’ conference was at a school, and he took a group of children he had never met before, and he coached them.

For me, as a movement analyst, it was so eye-opening because, for me, he was playing games, but actually they were so clever because the way he was getting the children to interact with each other, he was actually making them actually lift their head up. It was high-five in between bouncing the basketball. It was always different challenges, but all about, and it lifted their heads and it made them move better, and their posture. It made them have to relate to each other as a team.

Yes, we talk about them as speakers, but they’re so doers. When we came to the mountain, that was so evident as well. Everybody went out and did something, and everybody was up for a new challenge. I think three of you had never been ski touring before.

Cindy Burwell: Yes. No, it was just a fun experience to all be doing something new, as well.

Tania Cotton: Yes. Robbie Fenlon was our guide, and he took us up to the Aiguille du Midi. It’s up on a glacier. It’s a challenging environment. To share that together, I think, is really magical. These adventures are really important. As Dean Kriellaars said, who we will come back to – you mentioned you meeting him – it’s a level of challenge for every level of ability. So, we had different speakers, or doers, out and over the mountain, having a level of challenge that related to their level of ability. Then that will allow us to later talk on about physical literacy, and how we motivate, and how we empower children and adults to move well, and to play well and get the added benefits of doing that together.

Cindy Burwell: Exactly.

Tania Cotton: So, let’s talk about Dean. I have spent 25 years in a hospital, looking at, perhaps, some of the results of poor coaching and how, if we don’t move well, our body breaks down. But with good coaching, the body adapts, and becomes more robust and resistant to pain, injury, and disease.

Cindy Burwell: Yes, Dean is such a great speaker. As you said, he’s someone who also, when he speaks, it’s all interactive, so he did workshops and had people in workshops. These are coaches from all different sports that were in a room, and yet he was able to coach them through proper movement, and proper warm-up, and proper way to look at their athletes, even though they’re all from different sports, and what things to look for, and how to… Yes, how to run proper movement and how to run exercises to avoid injury.

That’s, I think, too, why you, and I, and Dean got along, is that coaches, they have a lot on their plate. They have a lot of responsibility. It’s not just the emotional part, but it’s also the physical part. I think they need to have that knowledge of proper movement, and proper warm-up, and proper basics, and watching for burnout and overtraining.

More and more in my world of hockey, where my kids play, there was an unprecedented number of hip injuries among kids that were under 20 years old. Kids under 20 years old shouldn’t be having hip injuries. They should not be having hip surgeries. Dean talked about knee injuries among girls playing football. It all relates back to improper basic movement, improper warm-up and overtraining.

Tania Cotton: And gender bias with female-

Cindy Burwell: Gender bias.

Tania Cotton: Yes, having knee injuries. He’s done a lot of studies now that shows, because we differentiate the kind of coaching we give to girls – they then become more at risk because they’re not prepared in the same way for the sport they’re going to do.

Cindy Burwell: Exactly.

Tania Cotton: The other thing Dean really highlights – I would say this is one of his big banners – is how diversity, having many different movement experiences, leads to durability within your body, and how… And that really highlights that whole area of the dangers of early specialisation.

Cindy Burwell: Yes, and that’s been a huge topic now in the coaching world because there was a whole push of, “Get kids, younger and younger, specialising in one sport and doing only one sport.” The research is showing now that that has led to higher injury, bigger burnout, and not better results. Yes, a few top athletes have, maybe, popped out because of early specialisation, but 20 years on now, or 10 years on, when they interview many, many of the top athletes in basketball, NBA, in NHL, in whatever it is, what they will come back and tell you is, “I did multiple sports up until a later time in my life.”

Yes, there is a point to specialise, and different sports need to specialise younger, but the risk of injury and the risk of burnout for early specialisation is far greater than the risk of keeping kids doing multiple sports, where they’re learning movement patterns, and a different way of moving and different way of challenging their body, but also having fun and not feeling so pressured into one single sport.

Tania Cotton: Yes, so much. Dean works for the Cirque du Soleil and the National Circus School, with Patrice Aubertin. So what he’s seen there, he’s learnt so much about durability. Even when they have people who’ve come from, like, the gymnastics world and come in, or come from different sports and then try and adapt into this new circus world, they notice that people who come from a single sport background have more incident of injury than those who’ve come from that circus world, where diversity is part of their whole culture.

Cindy Burwell: There’s no question. I mean, the more we’re moving, and trying new things, and changing our movement patterns and changing what we do, the more adaptable we are and the more ability we can, you know… The more muscles we develop and the more… Yes, it’s just to me it’s clear that we need to be engaging in all kinds of sports.

Interesting about Dean was he actually had dinner at my house after the conference that one year, and he’s so engaging that at the time I think my son was 16, 17, and he couldn’t get enough of Dean, and before the… After dinner, instead of dessert, he’s got my son on the floor, learning new core exercises that will help him for hockey, and printed off things.

His ability to engage with different audiences in different sports and different… Is amazing. He had the attention of my son for so long after this, just wanting to hear more, and, “Tell me stories about this and that, and this athlete and that sport.” He’s certainly a unique character.

You all left, and Dean and I stayed behind because we had a meeting with the World Health Organisation around Physical Literacy, and I took the opportunity to… We did a… We had a big discussion together, which we recorded. I will be making this available as a LifeWise Podcast, I look forward to sharing that with you all.

We talked about Bill Knowles earlier. Bill Knowles, who runs a football academy now in Philadelphia, he was training an ice hockey player when I went there, from Switzerland, who had had a terrible history of hip pain. I then made a film with him called ‘Patrick’s Story’, and I think that’s a really nice visual example for people to go to and watch this film, to understand physical literacy and a real-life example of that, and it relates to everybody, of any age.

Cindy Burwell: Absolutely. Let’s face it: Bill Knowles got Andy Murray back on the circuit, this year.

Tania Cotton: Yes, he’s worked with Tiger Woods, Jonny Wilkinson, yes, Lindsey Vonn. He’s worked with very, very many athletes. So, yes, ‘Patrick’s Story’, on the MovementWise website, is definitely something that I think our listeners will enjoy on this topic.

Cindy Burwell: No absolutely, it’s a great story. It was nice that Patrick actually came to our event and spoke, as well.

Tania Cotton: Yes. Who did you want to attract to your conference, and who, actually, actually came?

Cindy Burwell: The audience is coaches from all sports, from more or less youth coaches, not to say that professional coaches can’t come. We had a professional hockey coach who came last year, and was blown away by the conference, and came for one session and stayed for two days, so it is…

My target audience, personally, is to get those coaches that are coaching adolescents. I think that age is such a vulnerable age for kids – for all things, from an emotional point of view and from a physical point of view – because they’re going through major changes physically as go through puberty. There are so many things going wrong in sport at that age, where they’re selecting the bigger, stronger kid just because he’s bigger and stronger, and deselecting the kids that may be smaller just because they’re physically less developed.

I think that needs to change in sport, and also how you push and train those kids at [a certain… That age when they’re going through these massive, massive physical changes, to avoid injury, to help them, but also going through those emotional changes. There’s a lot going on in school now they’ve got… They’re getting pimples and different… Their bodies are changing and they’re more self-conscious. They have a lot more personal awareness. I think coaches need to be very well educated to help kids through that vulnerable period. I don’t know if coaches realise how important and how much impact they have on kids. That’s a lasting impact that goes beyond the locker room and goes beyond the sessions.

My target audience is really coaches at that age group. We’ve also run workshops for parents. The parents loved it, and I think we’ll also continue to do workshops for parents in future years, because I think parents also… Parents need to be aware a) “How do I take care of my child in sport at this stage?” but also to know what they need to demand from a coach. I too often hear parents say, “No, I can’t ask the coach that. I’m afraid of the coach,” or the kids say, “Mum, you can’t talk to my coach, because he’ll do this or that,” or [kids 0:33:07]… So, I think there needs to be a mutual understanding that parents have an important role with kids at that age, as well. They also need to know what they should be asking of their coaches, who have a huge responsibility with their children.

Tania Cotton: I think also there’s something around how do children, or teenagers and young adults, feel when they’re engaging with their coach, because, as we know, there are coaches who coach through conformity and control, using systems of punishment and reward, which breeds a sense of fear, rather than those that hand over ownership and responsibility of the game and encourage people to test things out and see failure as part of success? That breeds respect. Also a foundation of what you’re trying to do: encourage the second type of coach rather than the first.

Cindy Burwell: Absolutely. No, there’s no question. We want the mutual respect between coach and athlete, but athletes also need to… You can’t learn in your sport if you’re constantly being told what to do or if you’re constantly being put down because you made a mistake. If you start to play a sport with a fear of trying something new or fear of making a mistake, you will never progress.

We want coaches to be aware: “What kind of coach am I? What kind of coach do I want to be, and how do I transition from that?” Part of the process of the conference is to, through storytelling, and through anecdotes, and experience, and bringing in worldwide experts in the areas to teach: “This is what you may have learned in the past. This may have been how you, as a coach, were coached, but we know. We’ve studied all the best coaching in the world, and all the best athletes, and all the best outcomes, and we know that now this is the best way of coaching.”

So, part of what we do is to let coaches understand: “What kind of coach am I now, and what do I want to be?” and then, through the conference, take them from point A to point B. A lot of the coaches who come to the conference, frankly, they’re already the type of people who want to be better coaches and so they’re there with an open mind.

Tania Cotton: So, how can we reach the coaches who, could change, and evolve, and help become the coach that nurtures their athletes, rather than dictate to them?

Cindy Burwell: Unfortunately, I think there’s a certain element that some coaches will never get. (Laughter) Then some you can teach them, and they will get it and they will try, but they might not be authentic. There are those who will go, “Ah, [right, I’ll 0:36:17] get it.” How do we get them in the room is always a challenge. As I said, the ones who want to learn, the ones who want to be better coaches, they’re coming. They’re already there and they’re coming back year after year.

The ones who I want to see the light, they’re more challenging. I think then I have to work at a higher level up in organisations, and then I need to communicate with the sport directors to get them to encourage their coaches to be part of this, because it’s a movement for change. That’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to change the whole paradigm of coaching.

At each conference you really give us an opportunity to have practical learning experiences, and I found these so valuable. Can you give us some examples of things that we’ve had an opportunity to do together?

Cindy Burwell: John O’Sullivan was brilliant at that, at really getting people doing fun, interactive games, like nothing more than playing ‘Paper, Scissors, Rocks’ in team. What he’s trying to show us through these games, [these are the type of] games you can actually do with your athletes and you can do as a warm-up in a change room.

He had us doing, in groups, putting people together where we had to change configuration. It’s hard to explain on a podcast, but interacting in ways, in games that a) were fun, were challenging, made us laugh. All of a sudden, your whole perspective changes now when you even have to go into… Maybe the next session is a lecture where you’re sitting, but, having done something fun, and engaging, and movement oriented makes your whole… Helps you change, going into it.

It’s part of the message to some of these coaches, to say, “These kids are coming to practice. They’ve been in school all day. They maybe just wrote an exam at the end of the day they don’t really feel good about. They rushed from school to the gym, and then they’re being, right away: ‘Don’t be late. Do this, do this. Get on the ice.” So, what he was teaching us was a lot of ways that you can break the ice and you can not… You can change, through these fun games: “Leave behind school. Now we’re going to switch to your sport,” and that’s what the [games does. That’s one of a lot of the things that we had going.

We had another speaker, James Leath, who had a… He’s actually a phenomenal coach, but he’s also an improv expert and so he had us doing improvisation exercises together, which was really fun. Part of what makes the conference fun is that people are getting up, people are interacting together. People are not sitting in seats all the time. There is a high level of interactivity. There’s a high level of game playing, fun, and just learn by doing, as you’ve talked about already.

Tania Cotton: Yes, it really emphasises the importance of play, and the power of play, and that we all perform better when we’re relaxed, but also, through play, it’s how we learn to communicate and collaborate with each other.

Cindy Burwell: Exactly; exactly, and I think it’s how you build better teams, as well. I think if you’re coaching a team, it’s a little bit different than coaching an individual athlete, but these games is a way to do not just… It’s teambuilding. It’s getting kids that don’t normally play together or don’t normally, maybe, even like each other, but to get them to come together as a team, in a nonthreatening, non-results-oriented way. Yes, actually, I think that that’s so much important in sport, is play, is just making play a big part of what you do, regardless of how old the athlete is. That works in NBA dressing rooms as much as it works in an under-13 dressing room.

Tania Cotton: I don’t know how old your husband is. We won’t say that over the air, but I think he understands the importance of play, as well. He’s an ice hockey player, as well.

Cindy Burwell: Absolutely. He’s still playing fun hockey with a group of guys, yes. No, I think that we’ve always, as a couple, have played with our kids, so after dinner was playing soccer in the backyard and playing, throwing a football around and just doing something together as a family, building our team – family team – as well as just playing and getting the kids moving, doing something different from their day-to-day work or school.

Tania Cotton: I would say your family, you’re just such a good example of that, even all your photos. You really do play together and you really are a team. It’s just wonderful – wonderful to watch.

It seems to me that physical education, a grounding of physical education, can be a wonderful asset for coaches. Vera Pauw and Jimmy Radcliffe really emphasised this.

Cindy Burwell: Yes, there’s no question. I think, again, going back to coach education, I think far too many coaches don’t have that basic knowledge of physical education of how to teach proper movement patterns, and how to warm up properly, and how to run a practice that encourages proper physical play.

Unfortunately, I think schools, too, are… There’s not enough physical activity. We know now research shows that physical education is as important in mental development as it is... Is learning math. So, I think there’s been an issue with schooling, as well, that there’s not enough physical education and there’s not enough outdoor play, of just free play with kids. I think just letting them play is such an important basis to learning any sport.

Tania Cotton: Through play – and that’s including in sport – we’re not just learning skills for that sport; we’re learning skills for life.

Cindy Burwell: Absolutely. I think the sport – any sport you do as when you’re young – is setting you up to be able to do anything you want to do later in life, provided you stay healthy, and fit, and try different things.

Tania Cotton: Do you think – and I’m laying this out on the table now that we’re actually recording this during the coronavirus – that kids are having a really tough time now, adjusting to a different world where a lot of what they’re used to has been taken away from them?

Cindy Burwell: I do. I think that it’s been really hard on many, many athletes to have their season suddenly come to an end – kids on some teams or sports who were getting ready to win a championship, or preparing for it, and then their season has abruptly ended. Yes; no, this will be interesting to see how sport will continue after this coronavirus, but I think there’s a huge loss. I think it’s more important than ever that coaches stay connected with their athletes through this time.

We again saw our dear friend Sergio Lara-Bercial, who’s doing online coaching, so he’s got… He’s doing a Skype class with his basketball team, and he said 12 out of 14 of his kids all signed in and they did an hour-long practice in their living rooms, or workout in their living rooms. I think that’s the coach everyone wants. That’s the coach that people, when they’re writing their Post-it notes later in life, are going to go, “My favourite coach was this because he really cared. When we went through this terrible world event, he was still there. We still felt connected.”

These kids, particularly in sport, it’s very structured. They have… They know what’s coming next. They are at school, they have their practice, they have their game, they have their time. They need to prepare, they need to organise, and that’s all been taken away. It’s taken away for all of us. [I mean I think] we’re all a bit lost, but I think kids, too, are quite vulnerable. Now they don’t have structure, they don’t know how to organise their day, they don’t know how to stay in shape, and they’ve gone from being super active to now not being able to go outside. Yes, I think that’s why, again, it’s super important that coaches can stay connected with their kids and help them through this period.

Tania Cotton: How much do you think sport, and during this particular time as well, is about physical fitness, strength and flexibility, that kind of thing, and how much do you think is about mental health and fitness?

Cindy Burwell: No question that there’s a massive impact on mental health. We all know just the process of working out and active releases endorphins, which means they’re happy. It suppresses cortisol, which is a stress hormone, so there’s that. There is a very physiological impact of doing sport, which will have an effect on your mood, and your anxiety level, and your feeling-good level. Yes, I think the having suddenly their sport taken away from them is a mental challenge as much as a physical challenge. Kids feel a bit lost without that.

Tania Cotton: I would say particularly for those children who come from homes where they don’t have strong role models and where they don’t have parents who believe in them, yet when they go and do their sport their coach believes in them. Everybody needs somebody who believes in them, do you not think?

Cindy Burwell: Absolutely. Yes, everyone wants to have… You want somebody to have your back, no matter what. You want somebody who supports you, encourages you, and makes you feel good about yourself. We all want that. We all want an attaboy. (Laughter)

Tania Cotton: Yes, we do. They say-

Cindy Burwell: Or attagirl; attagirl.

Tania Cotton: Yes. Young children that never receive any love from anywhere just simply die.

Cindy Burwell: Right.

Tania Cotton: It’s like it’s the most fundamental thing. It comes back to what you were talking about at the beginning: that good coaching is founded on relationships and around love, really.

Cindy Burwell: No, absolutely.

Tania Cotton: What do you think is the future of coaching? What are the fears you have, and can we turn this threat into an opportunity?

Cindy Burwell: I think things are changing. I think there was a huge movement in North America recently and worldwide with coaching. We saw it through gymnastics, where we’re hearing horrible abuse stories have come out. I think people, whether it’s through Internet, through people changing, but people are more vocal now and more willing to share their stories.

There’s been, in the hockey world, and in the football world and a lot of the professional sports, where we’re now hearing about coaching that was not okay, the abuse of coaching. I’m not talking about physically abusing. I’m talking about abuse of coaching that mental games, whatever it is, is discouraging, or putting down people, or insulting them, or coaching through sheer fear and meanness.

I think that people are talking about it now and people are sharing their stories. Frankly, coaches at the highest level are getting fired and being called out, and that’s good. I think, because prior to this those same coaches were role models for the coaches that are coming through the system now: “It works for him. He yells and screams at his players. It must be the right way to go. He insults his players,” or, “He uses sarcasm when he coaches,” or, “He puts his people down, so that must be how people respond.” We know, through research, that is absolutely not how people are motivated, or it’s not how people respond.

So, this whole recent, we call it ‘Me Too’ movement in sport is bad, but at the same time it’s good. I think it’s going to have an impact and I think people aren’t going to take it anymore. Kids are not going to… Kids, parents, athletes don’t want to be dictated to anymore. They want to have a relationship, and they want to be encouraged, and they want to be autonomous. They want to be coached. They want to be taught and then let to try it, and fail, and try again until they get it right.

I think we’re moving in the right direction, and I think there are more and more people like me, maybe like John O’Sullivan, like Sergio, that are really impacting the coaching world. I think standards are going up. I think there’s going to be far more credibility that there are going to be more checks, and I think it’s going to be good. I think it’s going to have a positive impact on coaching. There may be fewer coaches willing to do that, but I think we’ll have better coaches.

Tania Cotton: I think there it’s really important for us to have networks where coaches can support each other and also just make sure things are moving in the right direction. You’ve been very involved with, for example, the Female Coaching Network, and I was lucky enough to hear Vera Pauw speak, who I think you connected to her through them. She’s certainly been one of the most inspirational coaches I’ve observed, having after the conference went out and really learnt about how she hands over ownership and responsibility to her athletes and turns them around.

One compelling story that she shared with us was how she went to South Africa and took 11 women who’d learnt to play football on the street. They came from 8 different tribes and they played as individuals, so there was a lot of conflict and distrust between them. Then she changed the culture within that team, and she gave them values upon which they could grow, and really support each other and play. She qualified them for the Olympics. It was so inspirational for me, but even more inspirational having got to know her and seen how her values are part of her life.

Cindy Burwell: No, she was one of – she’s been one of – the phenomenal speakers who, as you said, through a connection with the Female Coaching Network based in the UK, we were both starting out at the same time, Vicky and I, who started the Female Coaching Network. Her mission is slightly different. She’s trying to get more female coaches coaching, and get recognition for female coaches, and yet we were launching our two missions, I guess, at the same time.

So, we connected through Twitter or through whatever it is, and she sent… When I said, “I’d like to have a really powerful female coach,” she said, “Vera Pauw is your lady,” and she arranged for that all to happen. Vera was phenomenal, and she is a wonderful coach and a wonderful role model for women in sport and women female coaches.

Tania Cotton: Yes. No, without a doubt. We’re looking forward to having her on a podcast that I’ll be recording next week. Yes, so watch out for that.

Cindy Burwell: Yes, I will definitely be listening for Vera.

Tania Cotton: So, Cindy, are we going to have an ‘Inside Game’ next year, and what would you like the theme to be if you can make this happen?

Cindy Burwell: Next, given all that we’ve talked about here, I would definitely like to launch a new ‘Inside Game’. It will be the fifth year of ‘Inside Game’, so not consecutive year but the fifth year, fifth ‘Inside Game’ coaching network event. As I said, it is coaching network. Part of what you said is, “Bringing coaches together to learn from each other,” and even [of 0:54:36] the speakers, learn from other speakers, so, yes, definitely.

I haven’t picked a date yet, but looking towards doing another… Probably a two-day conference. I’d like to do it, actually, split in two days, where we do one which is physical literacy and movement on the first day so we can have people like Dean and yourself speak at it. We can take coaches through warm-ups, and proper movement, and basic, so that… Basic movement patterns and so then on the second day, when we’re coaching 0:55:09 more about coaching theory, and coaching practice and better coaching, they have a basis of knowledge to be better coaches when they leave the room.

Tania Cotton: Wade Gilbert really highlighted… He put a picture up on a screen, which was this tree, on its own, in the middle of a field. He said, “That’s how a lot of coaches feel.” So, yes, the coaching networks are so important because many coaches feel quite alone and on their own. This is something we need to make sure that we provide ways for coaches to connect – and not just with other coaches. I mean like myself. I’m a healthcare professional. I work with a lot of athletes in movement, and I work a lot with coaches. That’s been so invaluable, what we learn from each other. We all do need to learn from each other.

Cindy Burwell: No, that was, sort of, the goal coming out of last year’s ‘Inside Game’, was exactly that: to launch more of a network, to provide a way that coaches can connect with each other, and ask questions, and help. If I have a rugby coach in Zürich who feels alone, feels like that lonely tree on the island, he wants to have a connection of coaches.

For personal and professional reasons, the ‘Inside Game’ was a bit put on hold for this year, but now it’s time to start that up and to put in place not just a one-year conference but to put in place some events where coaches can get together, That’s a goal, and then to have a big two-day conference and back to how coaches relate.

Even last year at the event, we had the raclette night. It was just an informal night of exchange and fun, and we played ping-pong and we made raclette. It was just a really interesting night. I think that is so important to this network of engaging, and interacting together. The coaches, learning from coaches from UK, USA, from Germany, from all over the world, and France, and Switzerland, it was just a really great dynamic to have that. That is again the objective of this conference and this network.

Tania Cotton: You are really fantastic at being the leader and bringing us all together. You really are incredible at being the glue for us all.

Cindy Burwell: Thank you. (Laughter)

Tania Cotton: Thank you. Something I ask everybody on this podcast is do you have a favourite film, a favourite book, or a favourite quote?

Cindy Burwell: I can’t pull out a film, but there’s a TV show that my family and I were all addicted to. It’s an American TV show called ‘Friday Night Lights’. It’s about a coach who coaches football, and it’s really about a community, but this coach, he exemplifies everything we like to see in a coach. He’s tough. He’s hard. He makes tough calls, he makes hard questions, but he opens his doors to his athletes. So, it’s a TV show that for me is super inspiring and super relatable. I often joke to my kids: “Your coach does that all the time,” (Laughter) which he doesn’t do, of course.

My sons are now watching this whole, you know… I think it was five-year series. They re-watch it and they just, you know… They relate to the athletes. They relate to the community. They relate to the coach. I tend to like sport films or inspirational movies about people being challenged and overcoming challenges. I like movies about real people.

In books, I do read a lot of Simon Sinek books. I find his whole philosophy, while he’s talking to the business people, everything he writes can be applied to coaching. He’s someone who I, you know… You can’t help but listen to what he says. He’s all about human beings and all about connection. To me, he would be a brilliant coach, even if he’s never done sport in his life.

Tania Cotton: Invite him next year.

Cindy Burwell: Yes, I’m sure he’d cost a lot of money. (Laughter) Yes, but his whole gig finding your ‘why’, and I think that’s a question coaches need to ask themselves, is, “Why do I coach?” I think that’s such a critical question, is finding your ‘why’, because again it goes back to that: “Do you love the sport, or do you love the people you’re coaching?” If you’re there just to win championships and just so you, as a coach, look good, then you shouldn’t be there, because that’s the wrong ‘why’. That’s not… It’s not going to help develop young athletes. So, I think that is part of what I think even Wade Gilbert talks about when he does his lectures: “Find your ‘why’. Why do you coach? Live by that.” So, yes, books, and now what was the third one: books, movies, and a quote?

Tania Cotton: A quote.

Cindy Burwell: I think that there are so many of them, though. There’s Clay’s: “It’s we, not me.” John Wooden, “A good coach can change a game, but a great coach can change a life.” I think that’s the essence of what it’s all about. These coaches have so much impact on kids. It’s a huge responsibility, and they should embrace it but own it and know that they’re having an impact on kids, and so it isn’t just being a… Changing the game. You’re changing someone’s life.

My coach changed my life. I came from a family of four kids that all went down a path, but I had that grounding of a coach that, kind of, kept me straight and narrow through when I was surrounded by people that were falling off through drugs and alcohol in different ways. I think coaches can change a life and so I think that’s a really important quote for me.

Tania Cotton: No, very much so. Yes, it’s definitely a core value for you. You very much live by that. Cindy, you are an incredible horse rider. That’s something that your coach taught you. Also, you trained as a competitive skier. Now, at this time of your life, what is it you are wanting to do, and why? What’s your ‘why’?

Cindy Burwell: Also, I’ve been a mum for a lot of years, and raising kids has been my ‘why’ for now, but they’re getting older and more independent now. I have some personal challenges now. I discovered trail running last year. Once we’re all allowed to be together again in the world, (Laughter) I would like to pursue more personal trail running.

I’m starting to think now about what am I good at and what do I like doing? Helping people and motivating people is something I like to do. I think in the future I want to start thinking of ways I can do that, whether it’s through sport or working with elderly people, but something definitely on the sports side is the future, and again taking this coaching thing back up a level to where we were just starting to take off.

Tania Cotton: Great. Cindy, thank you so much. Your input today has been outstanding, the way you’ve brought it all together, an invaluable amount of sharing that many of us have just turned – been able to turn – into action, because it’s been an experiential way of learning. We look forward to the next chapter. I, personally, look forward to many more walk-and-talks and to doing more ski touring with you when we’re allowed to get back up into the mountain. (Laughter).

Cindy Burwell: Thank you, Tania. It’s been fun chatting about this and getting my head back into the coaching thing, because it’s been focused on other things for about a good year now.

Tania Cotton: Good.

Cindy Burwell: So, yes, motivating.

Tania Cotton: Good. Let’s motivate each other and make it happen. Thank you so much.

Thank you for joining us today on the LifeWise Show. Next week, in Episode 10, I will be talking to Vera Pauw, a truly inspirational human being. She is a football coach who has been honoured by the IOC for her contribution to promoting equal opportunities for people within sport and within life. I look forward to meeting you there.

Meet Tania Cotton

Tania Cotton avatar

Tania Cotton is a Movement Analyst and Chartered Physiotherapist with over 25 years' experience helping people overcome pain, injury and disease to lead a happy and fulfilling life. After 12 years as a consultant for the Swiss Olympic Medical Centre in Geneva, Tania began making films on health and human performance to show people what is possible and to inspire them to take action.

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