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The Unbreakable Chain
Belonging, togetherness, and community...for coaches.
When my friend Owen Eastwood introduced me to the māori principle of whakapapa (pronounced far-ka-papa) it changed my whole worldview.
He defines it this way:
Each of us are part of an unbreakable chain of people going back and forward in time. Back to our first ancestor at the beginning of time and into the future to the end of time. Each of us in this chain of people have our arms interlocked with those on either side of us. We are unbreakable. Together, immortal.
The sun rose in the east and shone on our first ancestor. Here is our origin story. Just as happens with each passing day, the sun slowly moves down this unbreakable chain of people. Each of us will have our time in the sun. But the sun is always moving. Moving towards the west, where it will finally settle.
When the sun shines on us we are alive, we are strong. For we have had passed down to us a culture that immerses us in deep belonging. We feel safe and respected. We share beliefs and a sense of identity with those around us and this anchors us. We share a purpose with them. We share a vision of the future. We fit in here. Rituals and traditions tie us together. The experiences and wisdom of those who walked in the light before our time are passed on to us.
Not only is Owen’s definition a beautifully enriching way to conceptualize life, it’s a call-to-action to contribute to the collective knowledge while the sun is shining on you.
While whakapapa is often thought of in a family sense — a line of descendents — Eastwood talks of other social groups where the principle applies.
In his must-read book, Belonging, Eastwood writes about US Open-winning golfer Michael Campbell and the connection he feels to the tournament winners, like Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Rory McIlroy, and Tiger Woods. Within their unique tribe they are connected by a shared experience, a common struggle, and a sense of connection.
The same is true of head coaches. We are our own whakapapa, with shared experiences, common struggles, and a sense of immediate connection to others like us. More importantly, perhaps, is that we become the beneficiaries of the collective knowledge of all head coaches before us.
In fact, the most compelling aspect of our collective history is the ocean of knowledge we’ve accumulated through trial and error. Like a family’s ancestors, the coaching community passes these learnings down through storytelling, and the next generation benefit from the work of the coaches who walked in the sun before them.
Whether conscious or not, the work we do now — our missteps and modernizations — helps create the instincts of future head coaches all over the world. We aren’t just responsible for ourselves and our teams, we’re responsible for the future of coaching.
You are part of an unbreakable chain of head coaches going back and forward in time, and right now the sun is shining on you.
What will you do with your moment in the sun?
Book Credit: Belonging, The Ancient Code of Togetherness by Owen Eastwood. Published by Quercus.