Stephen Rollnick-Bringing People Together. A Restorative Approach and Sport


After a recent blog post The Race to the Bottom, I was very thankful that Stephen Rollnick got in touch with the aim of initiating further discussions. Stephen is an  Honorary Professor at Cardiff University. Alongside William R Miller he developed many of the founding principles of motivational interviewing..

The conversations I have had so far with Stephen Rollnick zoomed in on our approach to coaching and the necessity of creating a learning space that builds relationships and gives young people the opportunity to develop a sense of self. Stephen has been highlighting for me a collaborative, goal-orientated style of communication with attention to the language of change. Something that I have repeated many times during my workshops is that if you want to change and develop a culture, then you must change and develop the language. These conversations have encouraged me to reflect again on the importance of creating a culture of trust. One that focuses on the development of the whole child by strengthening the quality of relationships with, in and around the child.

Digging deeper in to my blog archives I see that much of what Stephen and I have discussed is what the International Olympic Committee want us to address as reported in their Consensus statement on youth development. (See here)

The Culture of youth sports in general, has become disproportionally both adult and media centered. There is a need to address interactions between athletes, coaching styles and practices. The effects on youth athletes from parental expectations and the view of youth athletes as commodities, which is often intrusive with a fine line between objectivity and sensationalism (IOC Consensus statement on youth development)

In preparing this piece on the restorative approach and sport Stephen was very keen to acknowledge the work of Andy Williams, Deputy Head, Monmouth Comprehensive School, Monmouth, Wales. So perhaps we should allow the words of Andy Williams taken from his excellent article “Restorative Practice in Schools” to set the scene.

Restorative practice can help to inform our approach to leadership, learning, curriculum design and behaviour modelling. Decisions are made with reference to five core restorative beliefs:

  • Everyone has a unique perspective.
  • Our thoughts and feelings influence our behaviours. 
  • Our actions have a ripple effect. 
  • We have needs that connect us to people and purpose. 
  • The people best placed to find solutions are the people themselves.



The restorative approach has its roots in restorative justice, a strategy developed in the field of criminal justice to bring offenders and victims together with the aim to restore a sense of justice. Many schools worldwide have adopted this approach. This excellent video with Andy Williams Deputy Head, Monmouth Comprehensive School, Monmouth, Wales is an inspiring example of this.


Many of the conversations I have had with Stephen have swayed towards a much wider application of these ideas in sport, especially in the culture of youth sport. Essential skills are needed by the coach to help young learners navigate through the complexities of youth development.

As a student put it to his teacher: “Why is it that you only ask me how I think and feel when I have done something wrong?”

If we look at how the “Restorative Approach” is successfully applied in schools Stephen points out some strategies that are promoted strongly by leadership.

  • All students are encouraged to say how they think and feel.
  • Struggles with behavior are seen as no different to struggles with academic performance
  • Systems of reward and punishments, using merits and demerits, are often abandoned, on the grounds these are extrinsic motivators unlikely to be as effective as internal ones.
  • Relationship-building and a focus on peoples’ strengths hold the key to wellbeing, better performance and improving the culture of the setting. Self-determination theory Is often used as a guide, with its focus on student needs.

Now this got me really reflecting!

I was recently updating my UEFA A license with the Swedish FA. One of the guest speakers was Jan Ekstrand. Working out of Linköpping University as lead expert on the Football Research Group, Jan Ekstrand’s research is on the frontline of football injuries and prevention. His work has carried him across Europe to some of the world’s top elite clubs. During his lecture, Jan asked the question “Which are the most important factors to prevent injuries on elite level football?” Three of four of the most important factors revealed in his work are:

  • Leadership styles of coaches
  • Internal communication
  • Well-being of players

I sense that there is a common ground between the work of Jan Ekstrand and the ideas promoted by Stephen Rollnick that needs to be explored, especially within the area of expressing values and improving relationships to improve outcomes.

Essentially it is about bringing people together. A restorative approach empowers leadership with a clear message to convey to others. That message is simple. Relationships matter. Whether we are discussing change, conflict, injury prevention, player or team development, relationships matter. Stephen believes that Motivational interviewing skills can be very helpful. Even more so the skill of affirmation and empathic listening.

“Here’s some advice from Stephen on “bringing people together”which he has taken directly from the work of Andy Williams in a school setting”.

  • Go around the circle one at a time, using a talking “piece”; you can pass if you don’t want to say anything; no interrupting or cross-talk
  • Everyone has a right to be heard
  • Speak for yourself not others
  • Avoid the trap of blaming others (therefore the wording of your questions is essential)

As a practical example:

Review of a game that was lost (same principle for reviewing any game)

Questions might include any of these: What happened in the game? What did you notice that went well? How might we improve next time? What can I do to help others?  What I would like to practice more for next time? Then coach offers his points for improvement in practice (2-3 max), followed by request for suggestions.

How can we support the mental health and well-being of our young learners through the main aim of our  training environment (learning space) – learning. Stephen just like Andy Williams at Monmouth Comprehensive School in Wales. challenges us to diverge from a traditional “top-down” and “doing to” culture and use the restorative approach to develop the emergence of a “doing with” culture.

I will be taking part in a conference curated by Stephen Rollnick in Cardiff on July 14. Entitled “The power of words and better relationships. Motivation, behaviour change & culture change in sport”.

For more information


You can see an excellent video with Andy Williams here:

There’s an article by Andy Williams here:


2 thoughts on “Stephen Rollnick-Bringing People Together. A Restorative Approach and Sport

  1. Congratulations, a fantastic article; absolutely superb.

    There was a great deal covered in this which I found entirely fascinating.

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