Although I don’t have fixed moments at which to do it, I like to also regularly reflect and look back in my personal life or when operating my one-person company called Ullizee-Inc (my vehicle to deliver value in four Scrum Service Areas). [It is not a form of or a part of ‘Scrum’, because —well— that’s not what it is.] Even if I rarely experience such moments of reflection as reasons for a hard stop or to drastically pivot, turn back or turn around, it does help me to validate the direction I am taking, review what is most important or change direction.
Moving into a new year is one of those cyclical periods where I typically practice some larger scale reflection by considering the past year–its defining events, emotions and experiences. However, I do stay away from making so-called ‘new year resolutions’. I embrace the continuity of time and prefer more incremental changes along the way. Whatever we do, and even if we prefer otherwise, time will tick on (regardless its relative speed) and we will go forward. We can’t actually stop or turn back the clock.
I maintain a “Backlog” as an evolving list of work or realizations that I deem as needed or potentially valuable without having some calendar year separation in it. [I don’t use an electronic tool for it, unless my Apple Notes app is considered such a ‘tool’ obviously.] There is no hard stop in my list of ideas and opportunities just because of the flash moment where we go from 31 December to 1 January (which in my calendar means we go from one calendar year to the next). I manage my opportunities to deliver value continually. Although juggling is a better word than ‘managing’ is. My Backlog is always actual. My Backlog is the source from which I extract the work I will focus on on a week-by-week basis. [I don’t consider my weekly iterations ‘Sprints’, because that’s not necessarily what they are.]
It is not entirely unlike managing my reading list. I buy more books than I can possibly read. Every newly bought book starts high on my list, but given my ever-changing interests, unplanned readings that demand my attention and time ticking away relentlessly it remains to be seen whether it stays that high. And then only actually reading them can validate whether I gave it the right priority. I can only be sure of the books I have actually read.
Next to the first cluster of online classes that I have planned for 2023 as part of my Scrum Caretakery activities, I plan to more mindfully undertake my Home Caretakery activities: the care for our two sons with very special needs (given their respective disabilities). In practice, the activities in this fifth, shadow service area already ruled out being away from home too frequently or for more than a few days anyhow.
I do envision however (finally) creating my new book about Scrum in which I currently envision sharing ideas and ways to move (your) Scrum downfield. As we speak and as I am embarking on this new writing journey, I also discovered a few ideas somewhere hidden in my brain for a fourth edition of my book “Scrum – A Pocket Guide” as well.
As part of the Scrum Service Area “Events”, I look much forward to traveling to the USA for the first time in several years. I will deliver a talk at the Scrum Day USA event in Madison, Wisconsin (kindly invited by Mary Iqbal). I will probably share my latest ideas, observations and findings about “Moving (your) Scrum Downfield” and, who knows, a status update on my book about the topic. >>> Get your ticket soon (early bird until 30 April).
Allow me to close my message by going back to the theme of calendars. Did you know that the Chinese Year of the Rabbit (sometimes a hare) has started? In general, I am not into zodiac and alike things, but this one caught my attention. A very long time again (at the age of 11), in a ritual called ‘totemisation’ at a summer camp with the boy scouts, I was given the name of “Diligent Rabbit” (“Ijverig Konijn”).
I wish us all the best for 2023 and beyond, even if the Doomsday Clock was recently moved forward to 90 seconds to midnight, which is the closest to global catastrophe it has ever been.
Love Gunther Verheyen your independent Scrum Caretaker
People regularly approach me (often privately) with the request to speak out (potentially publicly) on various things ‘Agile’. Although I am humbled by the trust that genuinely speaks from their words, there is also (o, the horror!) the expectations in their requests.
I want to share my (multi-layered) doubts and hesitance regarding the matter of speaking out publicly on (some) things ‘Agile’. And thereby, in a way, speak out publicly anyhow… albeit offering–what I hope is–a nuanced perspective.
1. Regarding the matter of importance and impact
I wouldn’t overrate the importance or impact of my words and viewpoints. Because, surprise, surprise, I am no wizard. Agile nor Scrum. I’ve only found a way to stick around for a long time and still be hopeful. It is an ‘achievement’ that also includes that I have survived a bunch of ups and downs and have seen many others come and go.
The fact that some of my public messages get a lot of ‘likes’ is to a certain extent meaningless. It is not a sign of importance (let alone of impact). Because pressing ‘like’ on some social media platform does not represent commitment or action. I have found over and over that it often doesn’t even mean that a liker has actually read what I’m sharing. Worse, I observe regularly how some of the comments seem to have no other aim than trying to shine a light of importance on the commenting subject, often through some form of simplistic clickbait message. One of my core beliefs is that a name and a reputation can at most be a side effect, never the purpose (unless one doesn’t mind a very poor purpose).
Judging by the number of people actually actively joining me in my journey of humanizing the workplace with Scrum(extremely low), much of the expressed ‘respect’ is no more than paying lip service. Best case it is a confirmation of my wrongly presumed importance. It is not a confirmation of any impact that I may have (or not). Commitment is not in what people say, not in how they name themselves or look like. It is in what they do.
Nor can there thus be much expectations (in a positive or negative sense) of the actual impact of my words or viewpoints regarding the question whether a process or framework (whatever name they chose for themselves) is “Agile”.
2. Regarding the matter of action and contribution
Another highly personal belief is the belief in positive action. I want to deliver a positive contribution to our world, help increase the global levels of positivity. Believe me, I have little idea where that drive comes from. As I am aging however, the finding keeps taking root more firmly that I am a man who took the pain of his youth and transformed it into a mission.
There are already so many haters and bashers, certainly regarding my favourite tool, Scrum. So much energy is wasted on spreading negativity. Some people seem to spend their entire life on nothing but ranting. It might help them gain many followers and leave them with a feeling of being a ‘leader’ (again, what a strange idea of purpose). Whether it is through some form of simplistic clickbait messages or otherwise, helpful it is not. Giving them more attention is unlikely to help either. Unless increasing their feeling of importance is the goal. Not to mention that I have found that it often completely drains me, which, I realize, is just one of my many shortcomings for which nobody else is to be blamed.
So, I feel comfortable enough to ‘speak out’ by liking, sharing or commenting on certain messages as a sign of my support. In my case, it is generally a well-considered choice, as is not liking messages. (On a side note, this also applies on the many requests by authors I get to read their article) It is similarly a well-considered choice not to spend time on correcting, judging or contradicting messages, not even when I think I could. I don’t overrate my ability to make people listen, let alone change their mind.
Furthermore and finally, I simply have too many plans, hopes, dreams and ambitions to allow such a waste of time to creep in. Life’s too short.
3. Regarding the question whether a process or framework (whatever name they chose for themselves) is “Agile”
Regardless whether free-floating opportunists like it or not, there is no denying that the source and roots of all things ‘Agile’ is the “Manifesto for Agile Software Development”, or the “Agile Manifesto” in short. Whatever gets labeled as “Agile” should by default mean that it is in line with the four value statements and twelve principles of that Manifesto. It is only fair to use that alignment to assess the validity of the claim of the label “Agile”. And although those value statements and principles were expressed in the realm of software development, they are sufficiently generic to be interpreted outside of software development.
In my book “Scrum – A Pocket Guide” I repeat that “Agile” is not one fixed process, method or practice. In the absence of a concise, specific definition of “the Agile process”, I list and describe three characteristics as the core traits that are common and typical to an Agile way of working:
Value as the measure of success.
I also describe “agility” as the (organizational) state envisioned by moving to an Agile way of working: a state of continuous flux, high responsiveness, speed and adaptiveness. It is a state needed to deal with the unpredictability so common to most of today’s work and to the moving markets that organizations operate within. I consciously capitalise “Agile” but not “agility”.
SAFe, like a few other methods, can be many things (helpful or not, who knows) but it is neither Agile, nor is it a framework. SAFe is exactly the sort of process (in the sense of ‘methodology’) as referred to by the signatories of the Agile Manifesto in the first Agile value statement (“INDIVIDUALS and INTERACTIONS over processes and tools”). SAFe turns this statement upside down and reverses the expressed preference, as it does to the 3rd and 4th Agile value statement (and likely even the 2nd). Similar findings can be made about the lack of various aspects of “Agile” highlighted in the twelve principles, like timescales, collaboration, emergence and self-organization. After all, there is a reason why there were no people from RUP invited for the Snowbird gathering.
My hesitance to speak out loudly is not because of my ‘reputation’ (I have none) or commercial or legal consequences. It is because I know first-hand that the best form of promotion that SAFe got in the past was a few global leaders heavily speaking out against it. What they said was correct, well-intended and of high integrity. Still, the effect was people massively looking at SAFe, thereby causing damage and big setbacks in helping the world move away from the paradigm of industrial views and beliefs.
It shows how the statement of my book is true: the old (industrial, Taylorist) paradigm has deep roots and a considerable half-life time. So, let’s hope nobody reads this text if it increases even more interest in a methodology that claims you can change without having to change. And I’ve already spent too much valuable time on it anyhow.
By the way, various other approaches claiming to be “Agile” don’t put people (as human beings) and capitalizing on people’s intelligence and creativity front and center either. Nor are they iterative-incremental. Work is not organized in short cycles allowing and provoking emergence, pivoting and bottom-up knowledge creation. They also aim at pressuring for ‘more’ (volume) instead of discovering ‘better’ (value). They can be useful or helpful (who knows), but they are not “Agile”.
And for the bashers/trolls, I am well aware that many implementations of Scrum suffer from the same problem. At least, it is a problem of interpretation, not of definition. I stand my ground when stating that "Scrum is the most widely adopted definition of Agile".
I don’t abide by it, but the reality is that many, many people don’t care about integrity but prefer (commercial) convenience.
A last, personal example: As part of my ambition and will to deliver a positive contribution, I have developed a Scrum Pocket Class called “Scrum in the Large”. It is based upon the insights on ‘scale’ that I already shared in the first edition of my book, in 2013, which was even before (or maybe at the start of) the whole scaling hype. As most of my public classes, it barely attracts people (it is not what most want to hear), although the people that join generally describe it as a true eye-opener. I accept it as a confirmation of what I stated regarding the matter of importance and impact: my limited impact or recognition rather than being an “important voice” or “Scrumfluencer” (quoting some direct messages).
I’m at peace with that. It’s even good to keep my feet on the ground while being able to sustain my family and do my part of personal caretakery at home. At most, I am a man who took the pain of his youth and transformed it into a mission. It’s an infinite game anyhow. I plant seeds.
Remember from yesterday’s entry (8) of my assistant’s web-log of the IWAS Powerchair Hockey World Cup 2022 Sursee that it was collectively decided to leave earlier than originally planned. It holds that the bus departed at 1 am rather than 8 am. Besides avoiding Monday traffic and its jams it also avoided having to get up early for breakfast yet another day… (grin)
If you have gone through the effort and the pain of reading the complete series of my entries (0-8) you will have noticed that it was somewhat of an emotional rollercoaster.
Nevertheless, I have profoundly enjoyed being at the event. I certainly learned a lot about my son’s sport, powerchair hockey, and have tried to explain what I’ve learned about the game throughout the preceding entries. I have had wonderfully insightful conversations with players (from our team as well as from other teams), classifiers, referees, former players, other teams’ coaches. I specifically enjoyed talking to members of the Dutch delegation, as I also enjoyed their team’s style of playing enormously. Hup, Holland, hup!!! I do believe that in their way of organizing as in their way of playing they raise the bar in a way that will be beneficial for powerchair hockey in general in the somewhat longer term. Once some people get over their jealousy…
Final score for atmosphere/event: 10/10.
When reading my entries, you will also have noticed that it did turn out a good father-son experience. I hoped it would become such an experience (albeit, honestly, not exactly for the reasons and in the way that it turned out). That was also what helped me get over the fact that the assistent that was supposed to accompany my son cancelled last-minute. I believe I have been able to guide my son through some tough lessons that life has in store for us at times. Being able to draw from events and experiences from my own pretty complicated youth and life helps in the sense of being able to share analogies and stories that are credible and make sense. What doesn’t kill us…
I know that my son has made impressive steps forward in his athlete’s stance and in his way of playing by watching many of the other teams. And I admire the work and effort that he, his team mates and the team managers put into their sport. I am sure that each of them took home valuable insights and lessons about playing at this (world cup) level. Which will help us for the European Championship in 2024.
I bow deeply and humbly for what these people achieve in their complicated lives (in often far from inclusive circumstances) and their sport!
I do wonder about the near-total lack of attention in the Belgian press and even from the overarching sports authorities. For me, these players are Team Belgium, even when the official sports leagues and organizations do not recognize them as such (yet). They are true ambassadors. This tournament confirmed what a fascinating game powerchair hockey is. You can check for yourself in the movies I added in my preceding entries or in the recordings of the full games as made available by the organization via the official YouTube channel. It is fast and dynamic. It requires quick decision making, re-positioning and speed combined with game tactics. By the way, if you think that driving and turning such a powerchair at the speed that these athletes do is easy, try getting in such a chair and play against them. Ultimately, powerchair hockey has all the characteristics that make it very, very similar to field hockey. But, hey, it took field hockey also many years to get noticed.
The travel goes well. I even get to catch up on sleep. Imagine! And, indeed, no traffic jams. As expected and hoped for. Thanks again, Hilaire.
Celebrate. This party’s over. We’re going home. And with ‘home’, we mean our beloved family who have been so supportive before and during our journey. Time to be at home and be with the people we love so deeply to share what we went through and get their point of view, which will be even more enriching. Time to wish someone her ‘happy mothers’ day’ also…
As I stare into the rising sun, I comfort myself with the thought (as I’ve done so often in life) that not fitting in is an art too. When it is happening for the right human, ethical or deontological reasons.
I hope you enjoyed reading all about our adventure for which I created following episodes:
Today we needed to get up early because our game is the first final of today. We play against Spain to determine who will take 7th and who will take 8th place. Yesterday evening, the finals game Canada-Australia ended with a score of 8-2, meaning Canada took 9th place and Australia ended 10th. I assume you have noticed how all teams play a finals game. I deeply appreciate the underlying message that all teams count…
I am intrigued by the mascot of the Spanish team. They explain it is a 15-legged octopus, as Team Spain has 15 members: 10 players and 5 staff members. I simply love the symbolism of the team’s cohesion and expression of unity.
But then, it is…match time: Spain-Belgium.
Team Belgium starts off ok. We come into the lead 3 times during the first half, with Spain evening the score again after our first two goals. Our son enters the game at 12 min in the first half.
I observe how his first action is great. That is important because powerchair hockey is a fast game that allows little or no time to stop and think things over. I am proud because I know how our son has been observing the fierceness and assertive styles of playing of other teams. It has opened his eyes a lot. And now I see him enacting the ingrained observations. Again. Beyond his defensive work, I like how he facilitates forward actions. The “Verheyen Screen”, I hear as a live comment during the livestream. It means that our son moves forward side by side with one of our forward players, thereby preventing our forward player to be blocked by an adversary.
Mid-game score: 2-3 (for Belgium!).
“A slight surprise,” says the reporter on the live stream… But it is a confirmation that I am witnessing the finest Belgian play I’ve seen so far at the world cup. Finally, a foundation to build upon. That is what I hope we came for, more than for actual results. It feels good to end the tournament and prepare to go back home with at least that finding.
On a personal note (1). I can’t do anything but honestly admit that at this time the relief is too little, too late for me personally. During our stay here, the tensions and uncertainty have been accumulating so much that I ended up with a continuous headache that has stretched over a few days by now. It is a sort of migraine I suffer from regularly and of which I’ve learned over time that it is always caused by stress and tensions. What makes it exceptional is that I am not getting it under control, which has never happened before. Not even the max dose of my usually useful medication is helping to take away the pain and reverse the situation.
On a personal note (2). I am also in real-time exchanging messages with family and friends in Belgium who are watching the game on the livestream, as I’ve done throughout the whole world cup event. They also wonder why there are no more substitutions on our side, as we knew upfront that we are not here for results, but for learnings. I repeat how I feel that his presence makes a difference. I repeat how our son and I talked about the potential opportunity for him to play and how he should go full in when he gets that chance. Which is exactly what he is doing. That was already the case for the 5 minutes of play time he got against Switzerland (see entry 5 of my “assistant’s web-log of the IWAS Powerchair Hockey World Cup 2022 Sursee”). I guess we have been made clear–indirectly–that the rest is not our decision to make or to speak up about…
Our son is substituted with 10 minutes to go in the second half and a score of 4-4. In no time we go to a score of 7-4 with 7 minutes to go. The final score is 8-5. We take 8th place and Spain takes 7th place.
My son and I skip watching the final game Italy-Germany for the 5th and the 6th place (end score: 7-0), but do watch the sensational final game Finland-Switzerland for 3rd and 4th place. At the end of the regular playing time, the score is 4-4, with Finland only evening the score in the very last minute of the game. The rules of powerchair hockey say that the teams then play an additional 10 minutes max. However, the team that first scores within that 10 minutes, wins. If after the additional 10 minutes, the score is still even, shoot-out penalties decide who wins. In this case, Switzerland scored the “golden goal” after some sensational suspense that ultimately lasted 5 minutes and 25 seconds.
The final for 1st and 2nd place, Denmark-Netherlands, is decided with a golden goal too. Denmark wins 3-4. Although Denmark has demonstrated their qualities throughout the previous stages of the tournament (see entry 7 of my assistant’s web-log of the IWAS Powerchair Hockey World Cup 2022 Sursee) in this final they suddenly revert to a sturdy and passive form of (what I would call) anti-hockey, where the whole team remains before their own goal. Meanwhile Team NL does whatever they can to attack, find a hole. Much to our surprise Team NL even gets officially punished for (what is called) “passive play” (a new rule that holds that a team needs to hand over the ball to the other team when keeping it in the team for too long). When Denmark wasn’t even trying to capture the ball, but leaves it to the Netherlands the whole time. This is sportspersonship and fairness turned upside down. I can’t imagine a jury (who makes this call) to be able to honestly apply a rule to actually justify a situation that the rule was designed to prevent. It still happened. Anyway, Denmark is the world champion.
Ultimately, my conclusion is that also in powerchair hockey there are honorable winners and there are teams that win by not losing. I honestly hoped that such cynical play was limited to money-intoxicated sports like soccer. Not, it seems. But, hey, in the end sports games, like life, aren’t designed for fairness. It makes fairness a choice, rather than a built-in, inescapable must. Some make the choice. Others don’t.
After the closing ceremony, we head back to the hotel and its surrounding facilities. Earlier today it was suggested to leave earlier than planned. The original plan was to leave tomorrow (Monday) after breakfast at around 8 am. The new plan is to leave at 1 am and use the night to drive home. It will help us avoid Monday traffic and its jams. With a strange inner grim, I think it also helps me avoid having to get up early for breakfast another day. In a way…
We go to the dinner that is being organized for all teams (at 9 pm) which is followed by a little dance party. The powerchairs have been loaded onto the bus already before the closing ceremony. Our luggage and suitcases have loaded already before dinner so that no time is lost when embarking at the newly agreed time of 1 am.
This party’s over. We’re going home.
I hope you enjoy reading all about our adventure for which I envision following episodes:
Remember from yesterday’s entry (6) of my assistant’s web-log of the IWAS Powerchair Hockey World Cup 2022 Sursee that the opportunity to play this game is why we needed to win our last game of the group phase. If we had lost that game (against Canada) we would have been competing for the 9th or 10th place today, which would have been our last game of the world cup at the same time. However, because we won our game against Canada, today we are competing Germany to determine who is going to play in which of tomorrow’s games (the finals day). The winner of today will play for 5th or 6th place. The loser will play for 7th or 8th place.
By the way. The reason for this course of events and games lies in the fact that this world cup exceptionally has 10 participating countries, rather than the usual 8. There is a reason for that too: There is a world cup every 4 years. In between, there is the European Championship. The last EC should have taken place in 2020 in Finland. Obviously, given Corona the tournament didn’t happen. The ambition was to move it to 2021, but that turned out impossible too. Therefore, 10 teams were allowed into this world championship as a way to make up a bit for the missed opportunity of playing the EC. Without any unfortunate events (like Corona), the next EC will take place in 2024 (country to be determined) and the next WC will take place in 2026 (country also to be determined), both with 8 teams again.
Before playing their own game against Germany, the team is watching the other cross-final game: Italy-Spain. Final score: 12-2.
But then, it is…match time: Germany-Belgium.
It looks like Germany is presenting a reduced team. As said in my earlier entries, each team has 5 players on the pitch. Teams typically have 10 players in the selection, in general 2 players for each position. Germany is presenting only 7 players before their game against Belgium. We hear that they have a few suspended players.
While the players, the staff as well as the supporters of other countries often enthusiastically sing along with their national anthem, Belgians are known to be very silent during their anthem. The only exception I know are our field hockey players, the “Red Lions”. Nevertheless, the Belgian fans of our national powerchair hockey team did some admirable attempts to break this old pattern. I’ve witnessed them looking up the lyrics online and give singing along a try…
The game starts off like a really open game. Much to our delight, young Maxime opens the score. Do you remember him from entry 4 of my ‘assistant’s web-log of the IWAS Powerchair Hockey World Cup 2022 Sursee’? As he plays with a T-stick his goal delivers us 2 points. In the play of our team I finally see some good patterns that I’ve seen in trainings but not in the tournament so far. However, not too far into the first half, Team Germany ups their game (with some substitutions) and speed up. From evening the score we go to a mid-game result of 7-2. It strikes me how Team Germany puts some risk in their game, e.g. with the goal keeper dynamically and frequently leaving her goal area. Substitution still seems to not be part of our strategy.
Final score: 13-3.
Our son didn’t get to play. Again. We don’t know why. Again.
Still, what strikes me in the healing and motivating conversations I (need to) have with my son is that he is most concerned over the fact that the team gets beaten (heavily) without any lessons being learned, shared or discussed. He misses a clear game plan, tactical instructions, debriefings, game analyses. This disturbs him much more than the fact that he doesn’t get to play. I admire him for his team spirit. If he doesn’t get to play, at least he would love to know where to improve, what to keep doing, what to change, what experiments will be undertaken in future games.
Caring for the well-being of my son, having worked with teams so much in my professional life and caring about people in general, I ache under the many thoughts and observations that twirl my head and dazzle me.
Is this what it feels like for a player to be a piece of the furniture? Were we invited to be part of the team only to reach the figure of 10 players and because of our financial contribution? If it was never the intention to allow our son to play, why did nobody have the guts and honesty to tell us that before we accepted the invitation? We could have make a balanced decision whether it was worth our financial and time investment.
I can’t stop my brain from comparing how I’ve seen leadership and management behave in my professional life: people climbing the ladder and thereby suppressing their innate (yet, past) people management side, the Peter Principle of people rising through a company’s hierarchy up to the point of reaching a level of incompetence (Is there an analogy of such rise happening when players become trainers?), sea gull managers, managers seemingly starting fires to demonstrate how great a firefighter they are (the competency upon which they got promoted in the first place), conflict avoiders always laughing problems away? On the bright side, I expect this trip to leave me with some analogies and stories that I will use in my consulting and training activities. I am learning all the time. And that is still a part that I love.
In our current reality however, we find ourselves facing a lot of hard unknowns. The only known is that in 5 games, thus 200 minutes of play time, my son has played 2 x 5 minutes. Without having a clue.
The question whether to write about it tears me even more apart. Throughout the conversations with my son, I consciously decide to accept and follow his viewpoint of not going up to the coach to ask for an explanation. I also decide however to stick to my intention of honestly describing the journey of my son and me at this world championship, without obfuscating or adding to the hypocrisy. Integrity is too important a value in my life.
By the way, when looking at the group results so far, in Group B (the other group than ours), Denmark has done a pretty remarkable job too. They won all their games, often with dazzling scores close to what the Netherlands did. One obviously never knows at a tournament like this, but are we heading towards a final of Netherlands-Denmark?
A pizza night with the family and fans that travelled all the way to Switzerland is a wonderful distraction. Tomorrow, we play our finals game against Spain to determine 7th and 8th place. They lost their play-off game from Italy, who will thus compete with Germany to determine 5th and 6th place.
There’s been a short conversation between the coach and my son. Another day, another ray of hope of improvement. Repeat from yesterday.
I hope you will enjoy reading all about our adventure for which I envision following episodes:
It is the day of the last game of the group phase which is against Canada. It’s a game that we must win if we want to play two more games in the play-offs instead of just one. If we win, we end 4th in our group, not 5th. The 5th plays only one more game, against the team ending 5th in the other group. The 4th has two more games to compete.
The day starts with a relaxed morning where most players get some physiotherapy. The team watches the game Switzerland-Netherlands (final score: 5-10) via the organization’s livestream.
But then, it is…match time: Canada-Belgium.
Actually, both teams need to win to not end last in the group, as both teams have lost all their previous (3) games. It leads to a game that starts furious and passionate. It is a nervous game, going up and down all the time. Neither team really dominates as is reflected in the mid-game score: 0-0. In the second half however, our team manages to score 3 times, of which 2 goals from a shoot-out penalty. In my view, Canada plays a bit too wildly, which makes them miss their chances.
Final score: 0-3.
Goal achieved! Belgium will play a first play-offs game against the 3rd team of the other group. The result of that game will determine who we will play against in the last game, and for what final rank.
Our son wasn’t allowed a chance to play in this game against Canada, which is–honestly–very, very frustrating. For my son, it is frustrating because he has no idea what is the problem. For me, it is frustrating because I am having to re-energize and motivate him again and again. It might be one of the only cases where combining being a father and his personal assistant isn’t too bad. Of the 4 games so far, which represents a total of 160 minutes of play in total (remember: a game has 2 halves of 20 minutes), he has been on the pitch for about 10 minutes. But both times, I feel he did really, really well. I assumed it would highlight his qualities and that his performance would speak for itself. So, not? We wonder.
I know that not playing is part of the game too. However, what is not part of the game and what (to me) is even not acceptable is that he isn’t given an explanation. At all. This is even actually the worst. Transparent communication might help him accept the situation and come to terms with it. But…the lack of transparency is causing exactly the opposite situation.
On a side note: having worked with people organized in teams for so many years now, I am so saddened by what I see happen in our team, and specifically the (lack of true) leadership towards the players individually and the team as a whole. The analogies with the business world are sadly enormous. What motives people? What binds a team? How to coach and facilitate team growth? How to help surface different opinions and handle them? How to overcome the absence of conflict? It requires essential skills and insights. It’s more universal than many realize. After all, whether it is software development or powerchair hockey: it’s about human beings. That doesn’t make it a simple challenge though. Even on the contrary, it is extremely complex. A funny finding is that I am using examples from my professional life to explain what I see happening in my son’s team to him, while I already know that I will use examples from what I’ve seen happening in my son’s team as analogies in my professional consulting and training activities.
In the end, our assumption (having overheard some conversations) is that he played only to make sure the classifiers have seen him play to get his final classification score, which would allow him to play in the play-offs (Aaaargh, do you smell the potential cynicism?). Remember from entry 3 of my assistant’s web-log of the IWAS Powerchair Hockey World Cup 2022 Sursee that before the tournament started, each player was assigned a classification score (ranging from 0.5 – 4.5). And that this score is finalized upon observations of the players in their actual games?
Let me build on this topic to add that a classification score of 5.0 means that a person is not eligible to play powerchair hockey. It means that the person is plainly too strong in both arms and upper body. It would make the game unfair. A last learning point: the classifiers are entitled to update a player’s classification until the end of the tournament. I learn all the time.
Do you also remember that I wrote how classifiers can be recognised by their green shirts? Well, outside of the pitch (where they wear black) referees can be recognised by their blue shirts. However, referees are also being observed by people wearing the same blue shirts (carrying a different title on the back though).
I am learning all the time. And I love it.
So, match day 3 concluded the group phase. The conclusion after match day 3? See the conclusion of match day 2, but…amplified by a factor. You can probably sense it in my writing: the growing unbelief and annoyance over inner-team approaches and (non-)communication of which my son’s position is an example.
Tomorrow we are playing the playoffs. Another day, another ray of hope of improvement.
I hope you will enjoy reading all about our adventure for which I envision following episodes:
In the afternoon we will face home team Switzerland. The prospect of an afternoon match makes waking up and some morning rituals a bit more relaxed.
A group of Belgian players and assistants (including my son and I) depart for the world cup arena before lunch already (using the organization’s shuttle service). We want to watch the game Italy-Netherlands live and on-site (rather than watching the livestream in a meeting room of the hotel). From the report about yesterday (Entry 4 of my assistant’s web-log of the IWAS Powerchair Hockey World Cup 2022 Sursee: “Match day 1”) you will undoubtedly remember how we already played against both teams and how difficult that was. Understatement.
Now, the game between the ruling World Champion (Italy) and the ruling European Champion (the Netherlands) couldn’t have been better.
WHAT . A . GAME
I can’t imagine a better way to promote the sport of powerchair hockey! This game has energy, passion, emotions, incredibly skilled players, strategic moves, intelligent (thus highly irritating) blocking actions, a red card, a yellow card, team interplay, smart substitutions. In the 2×40 minutes there was not one single dull moment. These teams play a different ball game (in a different universe). Final score: 1-8 (in favor of the Netherlands).
New for me is the fact that there are speed controls during the game. Remember from Entry 2 of my assistant’s web-log of the IWAS Powerchair Hockey World Cup 2022 Sursee (“Checking in and being checked out (part 1)”) that the powerchairs of all players are checked twice before the tournament starts. The goal is to verify that their maximum speed does not exceed 15 km/h. During the game such checks happen too. I am learning all the time. The clock is stopped and a player is asked to drive his machine on the test bank.
By the way, the red card I referred to in the Italy-Netherlands game was the result of such a check. An Italian player did a manipulation of his wheelchair after the check before re-entering the pitch, probably turning off the cooling. This is forbidden. It means that the player turned on the cooling before the check. But the machine checked should be the machine as used in play. A red card means leaving the game and being suspended for the next game. A yellow card means that a player needs to leave the field for 5 minutes.
Other novelties for me, things I’ve never seen happen before, are a few broken floorsticks and–more scary–a few powerchairs turned on their side. If you wonder how it is possible, I do too. Even now that I have seen it actually happen…
Other things I’ve learned is that there is a reason why we have so few female players in Team Belgium (because players are a lot recruited from among people with neuromuscular problems, which are often men) and why there are no players from the Walloon part of Belgium (they focus on Powerchair Soccer which is sponsored by Fifa). Another important limitation to the skill level of the national team is that in Belgium people get granted a powerchair quite late and a sports chair has to be purchased privately (where for instance in certain parts of the Netherlands there is a government intervention possible).
After lunch we enter the arena where we will face the organizing country Switzerland. Before the game the players drive and play around in order to warm up their bodies but also the engines of their powerchair. Another pre-game activity is a short material check. That is rather minimalist: the sticks are verified and it is checked whether the floorball can freely pass under a chair (which is a requirement).
As the mid-game score shows (7-0) it is indeed not an easy game. Switzerland has been doing very well so far, probably with some additional motivation of playing before their cheering home crowd. Our son enters the pitch to play the last 5-6 minutes, at a score of 10-0.
I am obviously biased and not an expert. Still, I dare say that he did make a difference, even for the short time that he played, even more than he did in the game against the intergalactic team of the Netherlands yesterday. As you can imagine, it is again not what a driven and ambitious player, eager to learn and improve, hopes for. We’ve also still no idea about what goes through the mind of the coach. The uncertainty and non-communication is probably even worse than not playing or playing just a short period.
After the game (final score: 12-0) our team receives compliments from the Swiss coach for our way of playing given the young and unexperienced team that we still are.
Match day 2 left us again with a feeling of accomplishment albeit with even more mixed feelings too. More time to play! Tomorrow…
I hope you will enjoy reading all about our adventure for which I envision following episodes:
After a few days of checking in and being checked out (see Entry 2 and Entry 3 of my assistant’s web-log of the IWAS Powerchair Hockey World Cup 2022 Sursee), today we finally can go to ‘work’. We have two matches to play: against the Netherlands and against Italy. Neither game is going to be an easy task. The Netherlands is generally accepted as the best powerchair hockey country around and they are the ruling European Champion, while Italy is the ruling World Champion. Team Italy won the world title at the world cup in 2018 in front of their home crowd. If that hasn’t been goose bumps, I don’t know what would.
The game against the Netherlands quickly confirms the justness of their (informal) world leader status in my (admitted: unexperienced) eyes. What a team to play against! So fast, so assertive, super hard hitters on the ball, total ball control at the tip of their sticks, finding each other blindly even when moving around all the time, genius blocking actions. I am no expert but even I see how this team is perfecting the game. That finding is hard to be decoupled from my observation that they are by far the most professional team I’ve seen at the event. Fyi. They do their own live, real-time video analysis during the game. This certainly looks like a candidate world champion to me. A Dutch contact however claims that Denmark is of the same level as the Netherlands. I just might be jumping to conclusions too quickly. Which is not really a surprise…
Our team, being a young and newly composed team, works hard, searches and…learns about playing at this level. The hard way. I do wonder if they couldn’t have been better prepared for the sort of play that is played here? Our coach has been at every single world championship after all. Just a thought. I am learning all the time.
In my view, young Maxime Decrock deserves a special word of appreciation and admiration. He was brought into the team during the first half and he did what needed to be done and what he does so greatly: dance around the pitch and sting like a bee!
Our son is only brought into the game 5 minutes before the end at a score of 0-20. Fyi. A game has 2 halves of 20 minutes of playing each, with a break of 10 minutes in between. Still, as a father, I was proud to see him playing his first minutes at an official world championship, even if it was only so short and in a completely lost game. As an observer, I truly believe his presence made a difference. Judging by the fact that he was explicitly targeted for being blocked a few times leaves me with the impression that he did a good job. I am though well aware that this also raises the issue that he should try to avoid ending up in a position of being vulnerable to being blocked. I find myself in a state of being convinced that his good play will not go unnoticed for the coach.
I am continuously looking around, processing observations and absorbing insights. Despite the absence of a limitation on the number of substitutions, it doesn’t look like Team Belgium uses it as a strategic tool as much as other teams do. I am learning all the time.
And furthermore, who could have imagined this in November 2007? (when he was diagnosed with DMD, at the age of 6) Or in the fall of 2015? (when he was expelled from the Belgian boyscouts movement because of being in a manual wheelchair and when he started playing powerchair hockey–two loosely related events)
The mid-game score of the game against the Netherlands is 0-12. Final score: 0-23.
The afternoon game against Italy is—again—a difficult one, as expected. Italy demonstrates why they are the ruling world champion. Although rumours say that they are a rather defensive team, they put a lot of forward pressure on our team, allowing us little to no room to escape the area of our own goal. Fyi. A powerchair hockey goal is about 2 meters wide, but no more than 15 cm high. Similar to other versions of hockey, players can go around the goal. I am obviously just beginning to know the game, but, despite the similar score (mid-game: 0-11; final: 0-19), the way the Netherlands played the game impressed me a lot more.
Our son wasn’t given the chance to play against Italy. We have no idea why (not).
Given his ambitions and the fire of the sportsman that I know is burning in him, I have some good evening conversations with my son about the result, the team’s performance and his frustration of not being able to contribute. Sometimes a dad can’t do a lot more than being available, listen and try to motivate him to work hard and do the best he can. And my son, being the driven athlete that he is, is not supposed to be happy with the result anyhow, right?
Nevertheless, the atmosphere in the arena has been impressive and outstanding. It is vibrant and full of noisy cheering, but all in a spirit of fairness and sportspersonship.
Match day 1 left us with a feeling of accomplishment albeit with some mixed feelings too. More time to play! Tomorrow…
I hope you will enjoy reading all about our adventure for which I envision following episodes:
Entry 3 of an assistant’s web-log of the IWAS Powerchair Hockey World Cup 2022 Sursee
After two days of ‘horror’, that means having to wake up early for different reasons, my son and I are now enjoying breakfast at a more decent time. Which means we have slept a bit longer. I notice how my son goes for the ‘traditional’ breakfast that our kids always go for in the context of a hotel stay with a buffet: scrambled eggs, sausage(s) and bacon.
The seriousness of today starts with having yet another aspect of the athletes being checked out. In a “classification” process every player is interviewed and assessed by a panel on various aspects: their physical capabilities and abilities, mobility, strength. That assessment leads to the assignment of a number of points to a player, where a higher number is an indication of higher mobility and strength. Fyi. 0.5 is the minimum and 3.5 is considered very high. This is important because a team is not allowed to have more than 12 points on the pitch during a game. There is no limitation to substituting players during the game, but there can never be more than 12 points in the field.
The classification is indirectly also an indication of the ability to hold a floor stick or having to play with a T-stick (for not being able to play with a stick in hand). A T-stick is a stick attached to the powerchair. Many of the athletes have progressive disabilities, meaning it gets worse over time. That is the case for our son, by the way. Others are just born with less physical abilities. As players score low, or lower and lower over time, they might reach the point of getting scored 1.0 or less, which is often the point where they go from playing with a hand stick to playing with a T-stick. That is also important for the team composition because, next to having no more than 12 points in play, a team is required to have minimally one T-stick player on the field, besides the goal keeper who also plays with a T-stick. So, there can never be more than 3 hand stick players in play at the same time for a team, as the game is played 5 against 5.
The outcome of this step of the classification process however is only a temporary score. The classifiers (you can recognize them by the green shirts that they wear) are attending games to verify their findings against the actual performance and behavior of a player on the field. The temporary score can still be corrected upon their observations. It is only after the first round of the world cup, the group phase, that the final score is assigned (Friday 12 August). A player needs to have a final score to be allowed to play in the finals phase of the world cup (Saturday 13 and Sunday 14 August). That does therefore imply that a player must have some chances to actually play during the first round.
I must admit that the whole “classification” procedure was far less formalistic and bureaucratic than I had feared. The team of classifiers (3 people) were open, clear and patient in taking our son through the complete scenario. There was total transparency about the classifiers’ score on individual topics as well as combined results. And the temporary-final score was as expected, holding that it is also lower than the last national check. Our son went from 2.5 to 1.5. I am pretty sure it won’t change when the final score is determined.
Note: I was allowed to take pictures of the classification process but only with the consent of the classification team and the people present from Team Belgium and only for the potential use in a book that one of the classifiers is writing. It is about the classification process, so not really for the general public. I wish Kees the best of luck with writing his handbook for classifiers! Having written a few books and papers myself, I know how much work goes into it.
This step concluded all tests and assessments that our son had to undergo which means he is now actually allowed to actually play:
Documents control? ☑️
Speed check (forward, reverse)? ☑️
Powerchair and equipment compliance? ☑️
After lunch the team has a light tactical training at the training location. Ending a training by asking all players to do a few shoot-out penalties is a bit of a tradition as well.
But, obviously, the BIG MOMENT of today is the OPENING CEREMONY of the world championship. Yesterday we felt pretty overwhelmed entering the arena for the first time, going on the pitch for the first time, getting our materials checked again.
But…this is the REAL, REAL THING, and more than overwhelming.
Being a total emotional softy, I also had a few tears rolling down my cheeks a few times, thinking about the honour of being there with the team, the pride of our son being in the team, considering the long road of getting there, the many complications and difficulties encountered during his life so far, his persistence and ambitions. Even at the national anthem being played. It wasn’t easy, it isn’t easy and it will never be (easy). But there are moments when we realize that the fight is worthwhile.
I was proud to be able to join Team Belgium in the parade with all of the other teams to greet the audience, accept the appreciation from the audience, show our gratitude for being at the event and remember the loved ones who are no longer with us.
Personally, I salute all players, their assistants and the staff members for the hard work they put into their sports and their lives, the persistence they show in addressing and overcoming the many, many challenges that they meet in their daily lives as well in their sport. Believe me, they can fill a few blogs with stories…
We are sooooo glad that the days of checking in and being checked out are over. Time to play! Tomorrow…
I hope you will enjoy reading all about our adventure for which I envision following episodes: