Date night revelations and the power of modelling

By Phill O’Brien, Regional Manager, North:

A window into the marital bliss and routine of Mr and Mrs O’Brien might, at first, appear unsuitable content for such a blog but allow me the benefit of the doubt. Picture the scene… A Saturday night meal in for two, Mrs O’Brien having shopped and cooked with love and attention, myself in best bib and tucker (not to mention new trainers).

A blissful evening took an unexpected turn as Mrs O’Brien’s attention unfathomably shifted from yours truly. Not just her attention but her emotion too – I lost her to a happier place. My rival for her attention? A classical piece of music (get us), chosen by my date that signified no more to me than her having a more refined taste in music than partners.

But what was it about this piece that swept her away? I felt compelled to know what mystical significance the ebb and flow of the music held for her. ‘Peter and the Wolf’, she told me, takes her back to her childhood home. Back to her childhood lounge, her dad’s hi-fi, vinyl and the last time beards were trendy. Peter and the Wolf playing loudly, dad and his girls taking on differing roles, each instrument a different animal, each animal a different movement. A family having fun was the vision she painted. Pre-Family FUNS, but still a family playing physically, bonding – forming relationships with physical activity for life.

The account was vivid, powerful, emotional and moving. Most powerful in the account however was the role that dad played, how his abandon and immersion in the play infected his daughter(s) to the extent that some 40 years later the tune could take Mrs O’B vividly back to her childhood lounge and her childhood self.

My father-in-law dared to play, to give his daughter’s permission to have fun being physical. It’s simply too reductive to imply this a major reason that Mrs O’Brien played rugby at school, went on to study PE, ended up with a sports mad partner and had two sports loving kids – isn’t it? Reductive or not, it got me thinking about the power of role models.

My role models, three volunteers at a community sports club, variously cared for me, took me places and set differing examples of what it is to be a leader. Some were quiet and inspired by example, others charismatic and they inspired by magnetism. They made it possible to imagine a lifelong love of participating in a community of sport.

I have a theory that all of us in the sport and PE industry have a role model story to tell. I indulge myself regularly by asking people to tell me their role model story. I really love to hear those stories – I consider it a privilege. I hear of teachers, parents, community coaches and celebrity sports people – how they all play their part.

I close however thinking of what kind of a role model I am. I suspect in many ways a good deal of our legacy is invested in this question; do I show what is needed to motivate, inspire and energise the next generation to dance to Peter and the Wolf?