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Jul 16 2013

Coaching, Instruction and Strong Opinion

So it recently came to light that I have some strong opinions on coaching and instruction, and opinionated articles usually make great articles.

As a result I am putting out there some of my thoughts regarding Kayaking Instruction and Coaching. Disclaimer is you may not agree and also get offended.

1) Great Coaches don’t have to be great kayakers
For some reason the kayaking world is twisted in the sense that there is a widespread belief that in order to properly coach someone, you have to be really good yourself. Let’s face facts: this isn’t true. Look at other sports. Michael Phelps has a coach, and you can be damn sure that coach isn’t nearly as good as him. Add to that, he definitely doesn’t jump in the water with him and show him how to do it. Same with say, Tiger Woods – that guy has a swing coach, and that coach isn’t as good as Tiger.

But, Kayakers still believe the coach has to be better than them. What you’re thinking of is called teaching. Google search Coaching vs. Teaching.

2) Great Kayakers don’t always make great coaches
I’ve witnessed this on the Ottawa specifically. Now, I don’t mean to knock the Ottawa coaches too much, but they bring the worlds best kayakers to coach. They are great paddlers, and good, well meaning guys. But, how are these guys in any way qualified to coach high end kayaking? Do they coach a national team? Are they highly recommended? Generally my perception of the Ottawa coaches is “watch me throw down, then I’m going to tell you to work on something and offer very little real advice”. Again, my perception is most of their athletes/students improve from simply time on the water and working with their peers, and little to do with coaching from the ‘pros’.

I’ve seen coaches on the Ottawa
– Mix up who was in their group and start coaching people not in their group
– Aggressive yelling and swearing at athletes/students
– Lose athletes (didn’t know where they went)
– Ignore swimming athletes in favor of another ride on garb
– Say practically nothing during an entire session

This may or may not be correct, but it is the perception the coaches on the Ottawa have given me regardless of reality. Credit where credit is due, I am both impressed by some professional kayakers ability to coach and their ability to kayak. Guys like Billy Harris can claim this – except he’s too modest.

The biggest, and fore most reason people think they learn from these types of coaches is the halo effect.  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Halo_effect

3) Just because you can kayak doesn’t mean you can teach kayaking
I’ve seen this all the time. You’ve seen it all the time. Some dude (or woman) who has reasonably good skills feel the need to impart their ‘god-like’ knowledge of kayaking on an unsuspecting newbie. It’s really bad concerning the roll. I’ve seen more people quit the sport rather than take it up because of crappy instruction – the newbie has an awful time as a result, and never kayaks again. I’ve seen terrible teaching lead to miserable failures. If want to teach people, get certified.

If you haven’t learned the proper way to teach something through an instructional course, don’t teach it! Get your buddy or whoever to take a lesson from a certified instructor. Your friend will learn faster, and enjoy it more.

Additionally, if there is a lesson going on, for the love all that is good in this world, don’t interfere and try to offer advice to the lesson; the instructor just wants you to leave well enough alone and not undo the progress they’ve made. This applies to EVERYONE. It’s OK to offer encouragement, like “You can do it!” or, “You’re doing great!” but don’t offer technical skills advice to a commercial operators group. You are in fact, not helping.

 4) Ask before you offer
If you are an instructor, coach, etc. and you see someone having troubles overcoming a challenge, ask them if they would like advice before you lay it on them. It’s the courteous thing to do as not everyone wants advice all the time.

So there you have it, a very opinionated and possibly mildly offensive rant concerning kayak instruction and coaching. I’m not saying I’m infallible and some super coach by any means –  I make mistakes like anyone and have personal bias like everyone so take this with a grain of salt…

1 comment

  1. Billy

    Hey Neal,

    Just stumbled upon this, thanks for the props Neal. The river these days is full of good boaters but few can teach your accuracy in the statement above I agree with. Something to keep in mind for coaches and students, and its across the board. Teaching styles vary, people vary, states of mind vary. I have been profoundly lucky to have a great river, warm water, a great beginning and exceptional students. But I have had trouble with teaching and students. I quite often find if we don’t connect, its ok, there are great instructors out there and often I send them on to someone who teaches the same thing but in a different way. People come in all different shapes and sizes, so do their personalities and when you don’t connect with a teacher move on. Find the instructor who’s right for you. Neal, I look forward to teaching with you on the gull river this year, my roots, my hero’s, my start came on that river a long time ago. I love coming back and doing a bunch of sessions with our mutual friend “Earl” and the gang.

    Billy Harris

    Billy Harris.

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