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The Coach

The best, most consistent advice I’ve gotten from nearly all of my paddling instructors is: work with as many coaches as you can. Take what works and discard the rest. Learn not just paddling but teaching, organization, and communication styles.

Teaching paddlesports is a bit like being a rodeo clown – you’ve got to be entertaining but also capable of ensuring the safety of others when things go awry.

So, I was surprised when, as I was taking my Sunday morning class out, one of the head coaches at the shop introduced me to a Brit, I’ll call him G, from the UK. G is a multi-discipline coach at a county paddlesport center. The guy does this  for a living. On top of that, having started in the British (BCU) tradition, any coach from the UK automatically gets at least demigod status here in the US.

“He’ll be joining you on the water.”

“Do I need to do anything special? Am I being evaluated?” My local coaches have been known to spring surprises on me. My paranoia is not unjustified.

“No, just do your thing. He’s there if you need him.”

So of course, I proceeded to nearly ignore him the whole time. I couldn’t think of how to introduce someone who I hadn’t properly met. I did have an aside with him at one point to explain/apologize for my use of the environment – the wind was stronger than the current so I moved where we were practicing. Then, I struggled to find a way to manage two neophyte paddlers who barely had control of their boats for about an hour. Thank God the conditions were flat.

After the class, he joined us for lunch and after some chitchat about the local paddling scene, I got some good feedback from him. It echoes what I’ve been told before, but I got more affirmation of what I got right.

I was very organized, he said, and made good use of games. Overall the class went well. He suggested more discovery, even in the beginning – give them a problem to solve without any instruction, or pair them off with my assistants to ask questions, but my assistants can only answer yes or no. We also talked about the particular problems I had with each student: one just was not going to sit up straight, and the other was so worried about capsize it hampered his ability to learn. Matching boats to people is turning out to be one of the most important things an instructor can do!

Afterwards, we went for a short paddle. It was low tide when we left, and we only had a couple of hours, so basically we paddled north against a spring tide (a supermoon spring tide, I might add) to the Intrepid, an old aircraft carrier docked at 44th street that has been turned into an air and space museum (they have a space capsule hanging off the side). There is another paddle shop there, and we took a break before practically flying back with the current.

I got some good additional feedback there. I was telling him I was learning new games to try, including one called Follow My Leader, when *splash* –

“Uh oh,” he said. “Your assistant’s in trouble.”

This particular assistant has been learning to roll, and practices whenever he can. Unfortunately he decided to do this about seventy yards out, and failed. He came out of his boat and I gave him an assisted rescue.

We tried some more rolls, and critiqued both his and mine. Then, it was time to go in.

It was a good opportunity to get some feedback from another highly rated coach. I’ve worked with a couple here in the US but they are few and far between. This guy was succinct and very clear, but also very positive. His coachismo, as I call it, was present but not overpowering. He had very specific points but did not belabor them. I felt like I learned more in half an hour of conversation than I have learned from days of paddling with certain other people.

Published in 2014 Backpaddle British Canoeing Coaching Kayaking New York New York City NYC NYKC Sea


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