Over the last few months I’ve been training pretty regularly, paddling three or four times a week on top of daily circuit and cardio training.  My core training has been twice weekly coached sessions at Lee Valley. I’ve found it really useful to have the feedback and focus that comes from working with a coach. It lifts the quality of the session immensely, and there’s been some useful input that’s helping to bring my technique up to date. Most of the coached sessions have been with Shaun Pearce, a former GB paddler and 1991 world champion who has since coached the Canadian and GB teams.

There’s a nice symmetry to this, because I coached Shaun in 1992 – 1993 when I first came to Britain from Australia.  I must admit I found it quite a challenge to coach the GB kayak squad back then, stepping into the role vacated by Hugh Mantle.  I’d only been coaching for a couple of years, but it did include the full international season up to and including the Barcelona Olympics. I’d raced against Richard Fox, Melvyn Jones and Ian Raspin through the 80’s, and they were far better and more consistent than me.  We all knew that there wasn’t much I could teach them technically. So I was forced to take a different approach to coaching, focusing on maintaining a high quality environment, enabling the paddlers to train well and making sure they had the information and resources they needed on race day.  1993 was a very successful year for the team. Richard won his 5th world title, Melvyn was 3rd and Shaun 4th.  Together they dominated the teams event. So at the very least I did no harm!

Shaun, Melvyn and Richard 1993 World Champions, K1 teams

I often refer to this experience in my corporate work, when I’m training managers how to coach their people. Managers can find it hard to believe they can coach people who know more, or are more technically skilled, than they are themselves.  This is a barrier only if you believe that coaching is just about telling someone what to do. It can be much more than this, like asking insightful questions that get people to think through their own solutions, giving feedback that helps people take accountability, and ensuring there is a constructive environment with the right resources available.   Of course it’s important to have some technical knowledge and to understand the context. But it’s not necessary to be a better performer than the person you’re coaching  – in fact this can even be a disadvantage if it gets in the way of really empathizing with the person being coached.

Being a truly world class slalom coach requires deep technical knowledge as well as a solid understanding of physiology, strength and conditioning, nutrition, psychology and so on. But sport coaches are increasingly supported by experts from each of these fields, so that the coach is more of a co-ordinator and focal point than the sole source of knowledge.  My own view is that a good coach is primarily motivated by seeing someone else improve, they are creative and passionate about making this happen, and they build a trusting relationship. Without these attitudes, all the technical knowledge in the world is of limited value.

I’m interested to hear other thoughts about coaching – either as a coach or being on the receiving end.  What’s been most useful for you?  What hasn’t helped?

Comments here please or on the  Facebook page 

See you on the water!