UKCC Paddlesport coach or canoeing instructor? I understand the title is causing confusion and frustration among some water sports professionals out there. Being labelled instructors is becoming a derogatory term used to describe those of us who qualified before the BCU went down the UKCC route of qualification. Four letters don’t make a coach, it’s the years of experience and depth of knowledge that we bring to our sport that defines a coach.
Just for the record I started coaching in 1992, in cricket and not paddlesports! There’s a revelation. When I was a young newly qualified teacher the Lord's Taverners put money into schools to pay for coaching and to train teachers to teach cricket. We had a very inspirational coach come to our school in the form of Gordon Lord – a former Worcestershire player who would go onto to coach the England under 21 side. Gordon not only taught our pupils how to play cricket, but instilled into them the values of fair and sporting conduct. Values that were sadly amiss out on the housing estate where most of the pupils came from. Gordon also taught me how to assess movement and adapt coaching models to meet individual needs. The most dramatic of these adaptations was a tiny 10 year old girl who could bowl fast, but always bowled wide. Solution? Bowl round the wicket, rather than over the wicket – Shane Warne style! This resulted in some ball tearing deliveries that put fear into even the hardest year 6 boy.
Gaining a teachers certificate in cricket allowed myself and a likeminded colleague (who coached cricket and ice hockey) to feed into the National Coaching Foundation courses available locally. These courses gave us a basic grounding in physiology and sport psychology. Okay, we weren’t going to be Olympic coaches, but at least we now knew what made an athlete tick and how to motivate.
It wasn’t long after this that I returned to kayaking – one fateful Friday when Pam threatened to burn my boat if I didn’t paddle it again. I then ran into a coach called Tim who laid down the basics that I still incorporate into my coaching. Tim also gave me the confidence to go after coaching awards and I entered the BCU scheme directly at level 2 – like many experienced paddlers at the time.
Once qualified I met Phil Russell and was dragged into founding Shropshire Paddlesport Club. Phil and I didn’t always see things the same way, but the club would go on to dominate the youth competition scene for many seasons and produced several British team members. I perhaps didn’t appreciate Phil’s input at the time, but he certainly gave me breath of experience. Phil’s philosophy was simple – if you’re coaching, you should be able to paddle any boat put in front of you. You should also give your athlete the best possible chance of success. Watching the Olympic slalom this week Pam and I joked that we’ve finally found out what happens at the end of the start countdown. 3-2-1-GO! We were never around to hear GO! We were on our way to the first gate after 1.
Phil encouraged us all to take part in competition and I think every paddler should try it at least once. It gives a different view to the sport – just ask Pam what it’s like to tackle Jackfield in a white water racer. Competing in slalom made me learn to use river features to get around the river, rather than just trying to power down it and paddling a sprint C1 was just ridiculous.
It is this “can do” ethos of coaching that I’ve now taken into AR Kayaking. Some mornings I take a complete novice and put them in a boat, usually by the afternoon they’re running their first grade 2. Steep learning curve? Or just 20 years of coaching experience coming into play? Coach or instructor? You tell me.