Tuesday, 12 July 2011

Who'd be a coach?

I recently spent 2 days in the courts in Newcastle. It was a very enlightening experience, but appearing in the witness box was not at all pleasant.
In 2005 I was at a local climbing indoor climbing wall. A group of Territorial Army soldiers were there too, and one fell off the bouldering wall. He hurt his ankle, and I went over to give assistance. He clearly needed hospital, and an ambulance was called. End of story, I thought.
In 2010, 5 years later, I was contacted by the owner of the climbing wall. The soldier had sued the Ministry of Defence, who had in turn pulled in the owner, presumably to share the blame. I gave a statement about the little I could remember. End of story, I thought again.
This year I was asked to set aside 3 days to appear at court. This involved finding cover for work, and travelling to the deep south (well, deep south from where I am). It was fascinating to watch, but deeply uncomfortable to be involved in.
The TA had had a climbing instructor with them, clearly a very experienced chap. He took to the witness stand, I think expecting to give a simple description of events.
One and a half hours later he stood down, having been reduced to a literally speechless shadow of his earlier self. The claimant's barrister took him to pieces.
The instructor's briefing to the climbers included the statement that "spotters" should be used on the climbing wall. He hadn't enforced this. No doubt he was thinking to himself, as I would have done, that spotters are a waste of time and probably dangerous.
Unfortunately he didn't defend himself well on this, I guess because panic was setting in.
Of all the witnesses I probably had the simplest statement to speak to. At work I'm well used to defending my position on things, but I don't deal with professional hostile interrogators. Part of their technique is clearly to make you look silly, and they are good at it. I found myself reasonably flustered as he attempted to make me withdraw my evidence.
The lesson for coaches is that minor things can come and bite you long after you think they are dealt with. If you have a protocol or guidance, you must be able to defend a decision to deviate from it. Documentation at the time of an incident is vital, including a record of who said what. Photographs are incredibly useful.
I still don't know the outcome. I hope the wall is exonerated- it seems to me a well run and safe place.

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