Q&A: BEING A TEACHER-ATHLETE
Being a full-time teacher and an athlete has given Murray a unique perspective when it comes to dividing his time between the track and the classroom. Read his Q&A on this topic below:
How has the Varsity College school community taken the news of your selection in the Commonwealth Games team? Are they coming to watch you compete? Have they provided support in any way?
I’ve been humbled by how the school community has been excited to share this journey with me. In the lead up to the national championships, I received an overwhelming amount of support by the staff and students which I truly believe helped take me to an entire another level of performance on the final night of competition. The support of the college administration prior to the selection trials was also immense, with the college approving a short period of leave and doing everything they possibly could to ensure that I was thoroughly equipped to deal with the mental and physical demands of the season.
Following the trials, I returned to the college after the news of selection to speak in front of the school assembly and the reception was truly incredible. There were moments there talking to staff and students, in which they’d mention how I’d been an inspiration or how they’d cheered me on as a family in front of the television that I’ll never forget! I just feel extremely proud that I have been able to do my little bit to represent both the students and staff of the college and the community. Many of them will be attending the Commonwealth Games which is exciting and a touch nerve-racking at the same time!
How has your success in sport influenced your approach to teaching?
It’s certainly given me a very strong foundation to build my teaching practice. I’ve always felt that there’s been a lot of cross-over between success on the sports field and in the classroom, and I’ve tried to apply as many of the lessons learnt in one arena to the other. In both fields, it’s clear you have to start out each cycle with specific goals in mind, as ultimately there’s got to be a challenge and direction in what you’re doing or the drive tends to fade very quickly. From there my experiences on the sports field have taught me it’s really just a case of hard-work, sacrifice and accountability to the process.
We all know there are no real shortcuts, and generally speaking, you get back what you put in. In saying that, sometimes things don’t go to plan and in those cases, it’s been important to focus on what could have been controlled and not get tied down with the ‘un-controllable’. I see a lot of teachers and athletes get themselves into despair over things they really don’t have much influence over, and this shouldn’t be the case. In this way, I’ve had to learn to just trust in the process, and at some stage reward for effort will come.
The final element for me that transfers directly into the classroom is reflective practice. The sport has always taught me the importance of continual feedback and to seek to create that ‘good- to great – to exceptional’ mentality whereby you constantly look to take your practice to another level. In all cases, there have been lessons learnt from both sides of the equation that have been vital for my development.
What are the similarities between running a 400m relay leg in front of a stadium full of people and getting up in front of a class of high school students? What kind of preparation is required for both?
For me, whether it be teaching a class or competing in front of a full crowd, there’s always that desire of wanting to do your very best and to represent yourself and everyone involved with pride and respect. There’s nothing worse than walking away from a lesson or a race knowing that you could have done better on the day or feeling that you’ve let people down. So I guess in that way there’s always that mix of nerves and excitement when you approach these situations knowing that several outcomes are possible. At the same time though you come to realise that it’s not unless you’re bringing yourself out of your comfort zone that you get to experience those heights in emotion at all, so you tend to find yourself chasing those opportunities to challenge yourself over and over again.
In terms of preparation for both, I’ve tried to control that ‘fear of the unknown’ by just focusing on the processes rather than the end result. It’s been about employing a pretty common sense ‘one foot in front of the other’ style approach, breaking down the race or the lesson into the smallest and most measurable elements I can, and concentrating on the execution of these rather than getting carried away with the big picture.
I remember at one point when I was doing it tough my coach said to me, “You might not yet believe you can win a national final yet, but as long as believe you can react to the starter’s gun we’re on our way.”
In that respect, you just tend to build your confidence up slowly over time as you start to simulate the various elements of the race/lesson so that by the time you arrive at grand final day it all feels fairly routine. Obviously critical to the whole preparation here as well is the teamwork element. No athlete or teacher can go it alone. It’s absolutely imperative to surround yourself with the right people to give yourself the best chance of delivering with success. Importantly, as athletes or teachers, we can’t be afraid to understand our own limitations and to learn from those around us. Too often teachers and athletes alike to try to be everything at once and inevitably this tends to lead to sub-standard outcomes.
What has the lead up to the games been like for you, juggling a hectic training schedule with your teaching career?
Busy! At its peak my training week consists of 6 track sessions, 3 gym sessions a water running session, a hill running session and several recovery and physical therapist appointments, so there’s certainly a lot to juggle in between work, and personal time. It’s definitely not a glamorous lifestyle, there’s a lot of sacrifice involved and plenty of time spent away from home, but I’ve been lucky enough to be supported by a great group of administrators, staff, family and friends who’ve all gone the extra mile to help out where they can. It’s only through them that it’s been possible. A lot obviously comes down to time management as well, making sure that I’m prepared the night before for the sessions and lessons the next day. It’s something I’ve had to work really hard at to stay on top of.
Naturally, at times I feel really torn between the time I’m investing in either one pursuit or the other. I’ve always been someone who is very conscious of trying to not let anybody down, so it’s constantly a challenge to balance out the time as effectively as I can. In the end, while it’s obviously a lot to juggle at the moment I’m hopeful that the experiences I’m gaining will all feedback at some point to both my personal development and my scope of experience as a teaching professional.
What do you enjoy about teaching and what inspired you to become a teacher?
I’ve always felt like the transfer of knowledge element of teaching was a natural extension of something I personally really enjoyed. I was fascinated by my own sports teachers and coaches ability to break down complex patterns and information into manageable and meaningful elements. In trying to emulate these role models, I remember as an older brother growing up, there was nothing better than being able to pass something on, and over time that grew into being able to share various knowledge and skills with an increasingly wider audience. In that sense, I’ve always been one to really want to understand the “how and why” behind what I’m doing, and that inquisitive mindset I think has served me well in both my sport and teaching careers.
As all teachers know, there’s something truly special when you’re able to give a student relevance and understanding to the content at hand, and those “make a difference” moments in teaching are something that consistently motivate me to continue to improve my practice.
Teaching also brings me joy through its ability to keep me youthful, the comradery with staff, the ties to the community, the fast-paced and ever-changing environment.