I have been coaching, running coach education courses, running leadership training and mentoring other coaches/ leaders for a long time. As the saying goes, “Everyday is a school day” and this past year has certainly been true of that for me.
I am currently studying for the British Canoeing Level 4 award. This is for a Postgraduate Diploma in Performance Coaching (Paddlesport) through the University of Stirling. For those that don’t know me, this is a big thing to enter the world of education after coming out of school to kick a football around. This didn’t happen for me so the world of skiing and paddling came instead.
I enjoy the variety of environments, the challenges that need to be overcome, the stories to be told and the sense of freedom that travelling through the stunning environments. We will come back to this!
Having been exposed to great coaching (and not so great coaching) over the years I have a fair handle on what the attributes of a good coach should be.
One thing that I was always impressed with is that they always seemed to have plenty of tasks and activities for everyone. It didn’t seem to matter at what level the skills were getting worked on or the ability of the student the coach always had something for them to do. This is something that keeps the sessions happening and learning continuing.
The more experienced the coach the more I started to see good flow in the session and very intuitive decisions being made. As I assess coaches at all levels this flow is something that I look for but how do you train it?
Some of the answer goes back to the variety of experiences that we have as a performer. We have solved problems ourselves and therefore we as coaches are keen to prevent others having the same problems. This problem solving approach is one that is great for the challenges that we have in our boating. It aids the students in understanding the context and the reason why a lot of paddlers come and get some coaching. They are looking too short-cut the problems and get someone to aid them who have already solved them.
This ‘recipe’ approach is one that the sports coaching educationalists mention at length in a variety of sources. These ‘recipes’ use existing knowledge that may come from a variety of places.
On coach education courses we often help the new coaches with how to deliver sessions so give them our ‘recipes’. This gets the new coach up and running and gives them a framework to work from. The ‘recipe’ can also come from the coach’s own experiences. Sessions that they have delivered in past that were previously successful. It can also be templates they have seen in books or videos.
These ‘recipes’ are to be encouraged and are a great way to get up and running. However, the challenge within running based on a ‘recipe’ is do you have you the right ingredients for the paddlers in front of you. As coaches we need to ensure that we have the correct ingredients to form the ‘recipe’.
Who are you coaching and what are their wants but particularly what are their needs?
With the experiences that I have as a paddler and that I do a lot of coaching over many years, I have many of these ‘recipes’ to choose from. However, I still lose sleep at night working out what to coach and how I am going to deliver to these wants and needs.
By ensuring that I work with the paddlers, that I help them to achieve their goals and aspirations, aids in getting the correct solution for the challenges in their boating. By putting the individual paddler at the heart of the coaching challenges our ‘recipes’.
One size doesn’t fit at all. Some get what they need but others don’t. As coaches we can fall short of meeting the paddlers wants and needs. Also like earlier where the great coaches always had the next task/activity if working to just a ‘recipe’ we can run out of the ingredients and therefore now what?
This falling short or what next can leave the paddlers that come for coaching feeling frustrated and not engaged.
In my own coaching when working on new courses, courses that I haven’t delivered for a while or having a new challenge to solve then I need to put a bit more into the planning.
There is the real formal approach where using a proforma session plan can aid the coach. This helps with thinking through variety of strategies such as timing, where, types of practice, delivery strategy and space for our notes. By having this written down aids the coach. The saying ‘ink it don’t think it’ comes to mind here. This can be a lot to hold in the head.
By spending time before the activity reflecting on existing ‘recipes’, looking at the ways to deal with the challenge, writing down our thoughts it aids focus and forces the coach to have a ‘plan’. Even if we don’t follow the plan we have thought through our options. We have options – plan ‘B’ / ‘C’ / ‘D’ and so on. We have thought about our questions and what we are asking them for.
By having adopting this planning approach it can aid in getting a good night’s sleep knowing that I can at least get up and running with the session. Sometimes for the more challenging courses or new courses these plans can be a big mind map.
Being able to write it down and read it helps with my thoughts and ensures that I follow the great coaches that I have witnessed and have enough tasks/activities for the paddlers that I coach.
One of the challenges to the formal approach can be the sticking to rigid plans. Not allowing our natural decisions making instincts to kick in can lead to the same frustrations as the ‘recipe’ approach.
To help me overcome this and something that you see a lot of the great coaches do is to write down in bullet point format the top line information. Taking these bullet points out onto the water with me gives me the starter of the ‘recipe’. If I am stuck or unsure of where next I have my plan to go back too.
Keeping the ‘recipe’/‘ingredient’ analogy going. When you watch the cooking shows we see the chef start of with a recipe. They get the ingredients out. Missing ingredient or different taste requirements no problem we see them adapt to meet the specific need at that time. So it is with coaching. We have the existing knowledge / plan and recipe in mind. We write it down and check it over. Meet the paddlers and adapt as required.
This more formal approach or writing them down in what ever format builds on our existing experience. It starts the process over as we have added to our ‘recipe’ book.
Coaching is a messy unpredictable beast. It is ever changing and the challenges keep on coming. Be they because the manufacturers keep changing the boat design, harder pieces of water are looking to be paddled, our understanding of the sport is ever increasing and as paddlers come to us looking for different challenges / problems to be solved. We, as coaches, need to adapt and overcome.
We shouldn’t forget the ‘recipes’ of old but we should be using them to help us create new and exciting programs / solutions for those that we coach.
So my question for you coaches out there is, “How big is your ‘recipe’ book?”
Happy Paddling and hope to see you on the water.
Dave is the full time paddlesport instructor at Glenmore Lodge – Scotland’s National Outdoor Training Centre. He has been involved in the development of the new awards and provides expert advice throughout the industry on all things to do with coaching, safety, leadership and personal paddling. He is passionate about all things paddling and specialises in white water kayak and open canoe where he will most often be found.