The Tough Coaching Decisions

I recently went through a situation where a team I coached was to attend a competition with the intention of racing a 200M sprint, 500M heat and 2000M race. I require a minimum of 10 practices to prepare for this event and the boat needs a minimum of 10 people with some race experience. As we know, a 2000M race is tough as it requires, endurance and sprint training to accomplish 4, 500M pieces with turns.

When registration opened, we had dropped in race attendance and were considering asking first season paddlers with 6 sessions to attend. 6 practices are not enough to get the new paddlers up to speed when the new roster now consisted of over 60% of the boat being non-experienced paddlers. This was not the race for them.

Now, could it have happened, yes. Was it wise to put unconditioned paddlers in this event? Absolutely not. Did they want to go? YES!! I pulled the race from their plan.

This decision was a situation where “mother knows best” call for coaches. It sucks when we have to disappoint paddlers. But it’s worse as a coach to show up knowing paddlers are not prepared. That uncertainty filters through the team. I have learned from years of experience that a coach has to create the energy for a team to feel confident racing. If we don’t have it, it is hard for paddlers to feel it. And empty ego boosts do nothing for your credibility as a leader.

Positive reinforcement without belief breeds untrustworthy decision making and as coaches this is the rise of our fall if we want our paddlers to treat us with respect. Paddlers sense falsehood and it breeds disrespect and can make our decisions untrustworthy.

The “paddlers know best” attitude is fleeting, varied and dependant on personality not on progressions, experience and knowledge.

Paddlers don’t know your progression plan, they don’t know your race strategy, they are mostly concerned with their own agenda. As they should be. As coaches we have to continually stress that we do our jobs and paddlers do theirs. If this isn’t a hard boundary the team will begin to experience what I call “silent division”.

What happens in silent division?

They don’t respect coach decisions

They don’t trust coach decisions

But the truth is, they simply don’t understand coach decisions.

However, it is paddler agendas that need managing and refocusing when you lead a team.

If your team is low on attendance, struggling to meet their goals or lack commitment to the season plan don’t be afraid to pull the plug on race events. If you have been committed to the season and struggle to get your team dialed in it is your call to decide if they are race ready.

I give 100% of my energy and focus and I expect the same from a competitive team. I may let them experience an event where they were unprepared, ONCE, as a good “learning lesson” but I will do what needs to be done to ensure it won’t happen again. (Within reason, s**t happens, and we can’t control everything!)

Session Leadership

  • Stay grounded in your progressions
  • Create resilience by focusing on skill improvement
  • Measure your progression training sessions, numbers don’t lie
  • Provide skill development and focus on race strategy training
  • Direct paddler focus from anything other than their stroke
  • Eliminate distraction by steering every challenge back to what paddlers can control, which is, their stroke

Season Start Leadership

  • Communicate your team goals at the beginning of the season
  • Educate paddlers on the team vision and how they fit in!
  • Provide a season plan that outlines goals, race rosters and paddler expectations
  • Communicate the commitments required to attend each individual race event

Off Water Leadership

  • Offer opportunities for paddler improvement via one-on-one coaching
  • Do clinics and camps for teams that need extra training
  • Address team conflicts and paddler challenges head on by utilizing your club’s procedures for dealing with paddler issues and the applicable policies

Stand strong in your skills, your knowledge and experience as a coach. Our focus needs to be and must remain consistent on the boat as a whole. 20 people are counting on us to make the decisions that lead them to their goals, be patient with your training and lead.

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