Written by Ken Cowen, CEO & Founder of School of Hard Knocks

I love an audacious goal. Take the founders of Google for instance, who decided back in the late ‘90s that their mission was to “organize the world's information.”

Google Server

When Google say they are going to do something these days, people tend to believe them because their resources are eye-wateringly vast, but back in their early days at Stanford, they didn’t have much more than a ping pong table and a server that was housed in, of all things, Lego bricks!

Fast forward 25 years however and, well, who doesn’t go to Google when they have a question that they want a quick answer to?

They refined their goal a few years ago to say that it was their mission to “Organise the world’s information … and make it universally accessible and useful.” This addition – ‘to make information useful’ – is really interesting.

It’s one thing to have all the information of the world catalogued and organised, but it is quite another to make it accessible, and more crucially, to make it useful - and all respect to Google for making this happen.

There is a problem with all this however and it’s this: if you don’t ask the right question, then you won’t get the answer you need. Further still, what if you don’t even realise that you may need some further knowledge on a subject and therefore don’t even bother thinking what question to ask?!


Over the past ten years at School of Hard Knocks, we have slowly but surely built up a strong body of knowledge and an ever-increasing understanding of why what we do works. It was around nine years ago that the Professor of Psychology at The University of Edinburgh and friend of SOHK, Liz Gilchrist, asked me that very question: “Do you know why what you do works?”

It goes without saying that I saw very little profit in blagging an answer to a bona fide expert so I simply confessed: “I have a bit of an idea, but I’d love you to help me understand better.”

And that was the start of what has since become an intentional element of our work – connecting SOHK with several leading universities and employing colleagues who have worked with us on a part time basis while they undertake their PhDs or MScs within a variety of disciplines within Psychology.

I am certain that everyone who has worked in this capacity would testify to the fact that being able to work on the front line of a leading Sport for Development (S4D) charity has been deeply enriching to their academic study. But it works both ways: The charity itself has benefited immeasurably by having these incredible colleagues apply current academic thinking to frontline practice. Questions have been asked and answered, giving us knowledge that we didn’t even realise we needed to have!

Looking forward, we want to make the very best of this aspect of SOHK culture - and not just for us, but for other organisations out there in the S4D world.

 Here are some things that are driving this:

  1. We believe that sport-for-development (S4D) organisations, National Governing Bodies (NGBs) and schools should be evidence-based in their approach with frontline practice that is informed by the latest research in psychology, sport, working with children and adults affected by trauma etc.

  2. We believe that ‘practice’ and ‘academia’ often work in silos. This means key research findings sometimes do not filter into practice and thus do not change the way we work for the better. Further, those working in practice sometimes do not inform the research priorities, meaning the impact of some academic work is limited. 

  3. We believe that there is significant work to be done in identifying the best current research in our Higher Education (HE) institutions and making that understandable and accessible to front line practitioners, coaches, teachers, mentors etc.  
  1. We believe that in the third sector S4D space we are uniquely placed to develop this work given the existing relationships with several HE institutions we enjoy and the growing numbers of colleagues who have a foot in both camps. 

This will develop in all sorts of exciting ways, but we are starting with a simple article written monthly by members from the SOHK community who have expertise in a range of disciplines. We are calling this group the SOHK Think Tank. These articles will be practical and accessible. We want to ask some key questions that, when answered, will help coaches, mentors and managers in schools, NGBs (and in fact any sports-based intervention out there) to become more effective, day to day.

You could say that we are doing our little bit to organise information and make it useful. Not quite Google, but it’s a start!