Coaching Basics Part 1

Coaching Basics for OC6
Controlling the Group

For this article we will assume that you know your paddlers and know their capabilities, illnesses and injuries and other “duty of care” factors.

First – when you are the coach you need to “touch base” with each and every person in your control! It doesn’t have to be a lot, even just an encouraging word here and there. This is in addition to the prior to getting on the water briefing and the after paddling round up.

To do this genuinely you need to be able to eye ball every paddler at least once during each session.

How do you arrange yourself to manage that?

Several principles apply:

1. When you are the coach it is NEVER about your own training.

  • If you are steering you should be competent enough that steering doesn’t take up your focus too much. If that is not the case, then sit in seat 5!
  • NEVER sit in seat 1! How can you see anyone behind you? if you are a seat one paddler and the coach, you will need to hand over coaching to an assistant once in a while so you can paddle without thinking about others (good for any coach to do!)
  • Try to choose the slowest canoe so you have everyone else in front of you most of the time. If you find yourself in the fastest canoe, swap out and get behind people.
  • Arrange with your steerer to hang close to other canoes and to swap around which canoe you are with.
  • Eyeball paddlers, make notes, keep track of who you have seen and commented to and what you said.
  • Keep your mind just on the one point you set up at the beginning of the session – this will help prevent confusion in yourself and your paddlers!

2. Regardless of the focus of the session, it is ALWAYS about technique!

  • Following on from the discussion above, even if the session is about physiology, make sure there is still a focal point for technique, that you refer to constantly throughout the session.
  • It can be simple, “we are doing a long steady paddle today with a few “ups”. I want you to refocus on your (……….) at each change of pace. Steerers, please call the re-focus and check that everyone is on it”…..
  • Then, as coach, you need to give every person feedback. Regardless of the length of the sets, allow a minute or two in the breaks to give feedback. Everyone likes to know you are paying attention to them.
  • If you have limited time in between long sets, make you comments short, not too critical or overly involved, and only on the one focal point for the session!

3. Keep the “phone book paddling” to a minimum!

  • “Phone book paddling” is simply referring to the random numbers we use to make sets and reps – 12 minutes 85%, 3 minutes 75%, 2 minutes 60%, 8 minutes 95%, … – you get my drift!
  • Keeping canoes together is hard enough, but when you have a long complicated set, people miss the change of pace, or the change of pace isn’t really anything that can be controlled that well in an OC6!
  • Remember OC6’s tend to be on at sprint pace, on at marathon pace, or off! There is not a lot in between! So long sets will invariably wind down to a relatively easy aerobic threshold (NOT anaerobic threshold) and have little fitness training.
  • Longer sets of shorter, more intense intervals, will always be better conditioning, even for ultra marathons! Make the “ups” UP and the “downs” DOWN!

4. When I am assessing coaches on their practicals, only two things can send the learner coach back to the drawing board:

  • The first is leaving ANYONE behind. Again – as coach you should be BEHIND all canoes. If any canoe is falling too far behind change the paddlers around to make them more even. Yes, there are times that you will be working on a racing crew  – in that case delegate other coaches/steerers to be in charge of the main group and do your thing. No-one should ever paddle off into the distance assuming everyone is right behind them, but I sure see it often, and too often from learner coaches!
  • Apart from not being able to “coach” the canoe that is lost in space, you have a major duty of care issue on you hands!
  • The second is being focused solely on the physical aspects of the session. Just the numbers. Just getting the work done. Of course there are times to “just get the work done”, but it can never be divorced from technique! Practicing garbage technique will result in a severely reduced physical capacity! Good technique opens up the whole body, increasing the strength, power, aerobic capacity, and endurance of the paddler as well as improving muscle fibre recruitment patterns, and body balanced movements that are less prone to inducing injury.

Finally, for the rest of the mob:

  • Hang with your coach!
  • If the coach’s canoe is slower, don’t leave it behind. Circle around behind it.
  • Go in the same direction as the coach’s canoe!
  • Don’t go off and do your own thing unless pre-arranged
  • Your steerer is in charge of your canoe, but the coach is in charge of the session and all canoes. Steerers have a responsibility to convey the coaching messages throughout the session.

Remember, coaching is about THEM, not YOU!

What Makes a Good Coach?

On Coaching and Being Coached!

What makes a good coach?

Some people think it is results, however, the coach doesn’t get the results – the athletes do!

You might think it is their technical knowledge, however, it is not the coach who changes technique, it is the athlete!

And perhaps they know how to finely tune bodies to peak performance, but again, its not the coach who gets fit, its the athletes!

So let’s talk about personal responsibility of each and every athlete to get fit, develop their technique and to perform well when its time to put it on the line!

The greatest athletes on the planet have a different relationship with their coaches than the “also ran” athletes. The great athletes use their coaches as a mentor, sounding board and support. Essentially all technical development responsibility, physical conditioning responsibility and performance responsibility is taken on by the athlete. Their coach is the director of their play, but they don’t expect the coach to perform it for them!

Athletes, good ones, take the time to internalize and understand the directions given to them. They will take time to practice at home in front of a mirror, and they will try to get their bodies to do the movement slowly and in reverse! In this way they will begin to understand the movement, internally, not just in theory!

Good athletes can also “see” what others are doing. Not just in terms of what people are doing “wrong”, but more importantly, what they are doing to be effective. They can almost “see” the “feeling” of how the other person is moving!

Now, let’s talk about coaching an OC6!

Learning new skills should first be discussed and practiced on dry land. It is nearly impossible for anyone to capture an idea and implement it “on the run”. Feedback regarding their efforts AFTER an on-land discussion will be more effective.

One coach per boat under the direction of the head coach! Your club needs to implement coaching skills for all steerers, or as many people as required to put a coach in each boat!

All the coaches need to be using the same language! It can be really confusing if one coach says “place the paddle” and the next coach says “slam the paddle in”. Having said that – its great for a variety of coaches to express “the same language” in their individual ways – the number of times and athlete gets something with a new coach, after years of the regular coach hammering them, points to variety of personalities in coaching being good.

If you can’t use the same language as your head coach – don’t say anything! Misinformation is worse than no information!

Let’s sort out some common language problems:

1. The catch is all there is – yes most coaches focus on the catch but that is because paddlers invariably miss the catch! The main reason is that paddlers tend to reach out with their arms (getting full arm extension) – you can’t put the paddle in the water with a fully stretched out arm. Reaching for the catch needs to come from rotation, and rotation needs to come from the hips. Then the arm can be relaxed and simply placed into the water before pulling back! So, coaches, correct your language and ask for what you mean – placing the blade before pulling!

2. One of my favourite “hates” – “quick in the water” – now no-one wants a sluggish paddle in the water, however, first and foremost, the paddle cannot go quicker than the boat – if it does, then the paddler has slipped their paddle and not done as much work with it as they could have. We want gentle but effective acceleration of the blade, which keeps it locked onto the water, rather than pushing water. We want to move boat, not water! Coaches – ask for what you want – moving the boat, not for a bunch of people slipping their blades!

3. Another favourite “hate” – “push those bubbles back”. Mmmmmm -The whirlpools made by the blade in the water actually don’t move – again, the boat moves!!!! The idea being conveyed by the strange words is to move the canoe more effectively, however if people actually start trying to get their bubbles to move backwards in the water (not sure it is actually possible) but my thinking is that they must have to slip the blade? To keep the bubbles still in the water, the paddle needs to be vertical and buried when the paddle is at the hips (get your bum over your blade, get your part of the canoe over the blade).

On this subject, the faster the boat is moving, the more distance it puts between strokes, and the further it moves past the whirlpools being made by each paddle. So, if seat 3 is putting their paddle in the water with seat 1’s whirlpool in front of them the boat is moving slowly. If seat 3 has to reach over seat 1’s whirlpools the boat is moving faster. It has nothing to do with any paddler pushing their whirlpools back!

Remember that the speed of the boat is always going to be affected by the water. If you are paddling onto a nice head wind the boat is slower – less distance traveled past the whirlpools. A following current may make the boat go faster relative to something fixed, however, relative to the water, it may appear to move slowly (not much whirlpool clearance).

Another big factor in whirlpool clearance is the concept of “separation” – letting the boat glide freely between strokes.

Anyway – stop pushing the whirlpools back and start moving the boat forward!

4. On the very same topic – “keep the rating the same but drop the power”

Rating should be totally dependent on boat speed and water conditions. If you drop the power the boat slows down. If I lock onto the water and move the boat over the paddle, then when the power drops, and the boat speed drops my rating MUST slow down.

The only way to keep the rating the same with the boat going slower is to slip the blade, make an impossibly short jabby stroke, or do dome other weird thing that is not good technique.

What the coach really means is “don’t let the boat drop too much” – so say that please!

A small note on water conditions and rating:

  • Strong head wind and/or head water, oncoming waves, etc = slower boat = slower rating, strong feel in the water and less separation.
  • Following wind, following waves, etc = faster boat = faster rating BUT with more seperation to maximize free boat run.
  • Water feel should automatically determine the right rating and rhythm.
  • Rating and rhythm go hand in had with boat speed. You “get the boat up” and then feel the boat to keep it “at speed” with the least effort possible.

5. Long winded conversations of any type in the middle of an effort – coaches keep your instruction clean, simple and clear – preferably with pre-educated words, while you are out on the water. Save longer instructions for breaks between efforts. Take the time to educate your athletes on what you mean when using various terms, and make sure you know what you mean when you use various terms!

Welcome To The New Outrigger Paddling!


I will be updating this site with all the previous posts and lots of new stuff over the next few weeks. Stay tuned!