14 November 2007

Regent's Canal

As the finale to our little intro to open canoeing course six of us set off last night for Limehouse Basin and a trip up the Regent's Canal. The idea was to add an element of journeying to the course and do something a bit more interesting than practicing strokes on Shadwell Basin. The logistics of getting boats to and from Limehouse within a normal Tuesday evening club session was the major challenge but, in spite of heavy traffic on The Highway, we managed a fairly slick operation and had an hour on the canal.

There is good access to Limehouse Basin from Basin Approach off Commercial Road but parking in the Basin is not available (use Mill Place/Island Row instead). We paddled as far as the junction with the Hertford Union Canal at Victoria Park for a there and back distance of 4.6km.

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17 October 2007

Canoe coaching

The new emphasis on open boating in the BCU's revised Star Awards has lead to a much greater interest in canoeing, as opposed to kayaking, within our club. This suits me well when it comes to my regular club coaching sessions as coaching open boating is a great opportunity to practice my own skills and it can be a lot of fun introducing people to something new.

last night I offered an intro to open boats session and had five takers. They had varying levels of kayaking experience but only one had been in a canoe before so we started off just going for a paddle to see how they would get on with keeping a straight course. After a little experimentation we gathered round to discuss the results and I introduced the J stroke as a solution to keeping the canoe running straight.

The small group gave me a chance to work with everyone individually for a few minutes and we made good progress with developing the technique. Working one on one really helps me to see the different learning styles and is a good reminder to try and deliver a session through a variety of learning channels.

After some land based drills and a little more practice with the J stroke we moved on to turning strokes, taking the opportunity to introduce the idea of using bow and stern draws to turn the boat. As kayakers the group were familiar with draws but the idea of using them for steering was new. This led on to the pry and then the box stroke. I think they were quite surprised at how different some of the canoe strokes were to what they were used to.

We finished up with some balancing games including standing and walking around the canoe and one of my favorite finales: the five canoe pyramid, which we paddled back to the dock.

The session had covered a lot of technical stroke work (and even some knots), probably a bit more than I would normally do with complete novices but the kayaking experience of the group and their interest meant that they were able to take it all in. I enjoyed the session and am looking forward to introducing more of my club mates to canoeing.

18 September 2007

Loads of strokes

For the final week of our beginners course we were back in general purpose boats and concentrating on technical strokes: sweeps, draws, forwards and backwards paddling, low braces and low brace turns. It was quite a lot of content but the students seemed to soak it all up enthusiastically as it was nearly all new to them.

We had two coaches and split the ten students into two groups for some of the session which made coaching in the dark much easier. Then we brought everyone back together for a good game of polo in which everyone got stuck in using their new skills.

Students: 10
Coaches: 2 x L2
Coaching hours: 1.5

11 September 2007

All the boats

My grand plan last week had been to kick off the beginners course with a multi-disciplinary introduction to paddle sports, in line with the latest BCU philosophy embodied in the new star awards. In the event, the second week proved a better time to introduce different craft.

Before the group arrived I selected a variety of boats including sea kayaks, general purpose boats, a river runner a play boat and an open canoe. This immediately generated interest from the group in what each one was for and we covered much of the theory section from the old star awards in just talking about the different designs.

On the water I found that the sea kayak I had selected was a bit too tippy and we had some early rescue practice but otherwise the plan worked well with most people swapping into something different at least once.

We did not cover as much technical stroke work as we normally would in a second session but I think we had more fun and broadened everyone's horizons.

We finished up with everyone trying an exhilarating high seal launch from our ramp.

Students: 8
Coaches: 1 x L2, 1 x L3
Coaching hours: 2

6 September 2007

Beginners week

Once a month we run a three week beginners course at THCC and Tuesday was the first session of our September course. We had a group of eight enthusiastic new paddlers and I coached the group with our L3 coach.

I had a new plan for the session to coincide with the introduction of the new BCU star awards but got held up by the tube strike so that by the time I arrived there was no time to implement it. I'll try again next week.

We reverted to our normal beginners session and made good progress helping people with the sometimes tricky art of paddling in a straight line. We finished up with some fun and games and, of course, a capsize drill.

Coaching hours: 1.5
Students: 8
Coaches: Me plus one L3

26 June 2007


Tonight 13 of us set out on the river. This was a chance for some of our less experienced paddlers to explore the Tideway. We paddled as far as Deptford and back (about a 5km round trip).

Canary Wharf from Deptford (click to enlarge)

Coaching hours: 2

12 June 2007

Open canoe coaching

The water in Shadwell Basin is feeling much warmer, unfortunately, we have a blue/green algae bloom to go with it. That didn't stop us from doing some fun rescue practice at the end of a leisurely session.

Coaching: 3 students, 1.5 hours.

1 May 2007

Open canoe coaching

After all my recent courses I had decided it was time to start running some of my own so tonight was the first of what I hope will be many open canoe coaching sessions on Shadwell Basin.

I only had a couple of takers but I am sure this will grow as open boating becomes a regular option at THCC on a Tuesday night and everyone else sees what fun we are having.

With only two students I was able to cover a lot of ground and they both made great progress.

gunwale bobbing (click to enlarge)

25 March 2007

Level 2

Today was my assessment for the BCU's Level 2 coaching award. Despite having been previously advised during training that I met the required standard and just needed to log the requisite number of hours, that word assessment made me a little nervous.

It did not help when the anticipated guinea pigs who we were to coach did not turn up. Consequently, we had to make do with training each other and our assessors. Anyway, after some cold rescue practice in the Thames we finally completed the practical session and warmed up over the theory and debriefing. Happily, everyone passed.

L2assessors copy.jpg

13 March 2007

Beginners' river trip

From time to time our club runs beginners' trips on the Thames Tideway. These have to be carefully co-ordinated with easy tides and the availability of our Level 3 coach but it is well worth the effort as paddling on the Tideway offers such a unique perspective on London and seems to be quite a highlight for those who take part.

Tonight's tide was especially good in that it turned at 20:00 offering us assistance both to and from Tower Bridge. I was not surprised when, on arrival, some of our newly fledged river paddlers started taking photos. Tower Bridge illuminated with floodlights is spectacular, especially when you are almost underneath it in a kayak. Those of us who paddle regularly on the river are sometimes in danger of taking it for granted but this was a reminder of what a privilege it is to paddle here.

The group comprised twelve paddlers: eight from our two star group, one L3 coach and myself and two other experienced paddlers assisting.

Coaching hours: 1.5

20 February 2007

Boredom alert

Tonight I stood in at the last minute to coach a group of twelve working towards their Two Star award. It was a challenge to manage such a large group, despite having some help from our L1 coach.

We spent an hour and a half working on some technical strokes and skills: draws, stern rudders, low brace, low brace turns etc. While I had the group working on a particular stroke I was able to single out individuals and do some good one on one coaching but there was not time to attend to everyone and I sensed that they were getting bored.

Thinking about the session afterwards (and reading the BCU Coaching Handbook) I realised that this is a critical stage for learners where they are likely to loose interest. the quick wins, in terms of skill gains, of the complete novice have passed but the more advanced skills take a lot longer to acquire. Practising strokes for practice sake is especially boring at this stage and, ideally, people need to start putting what they are learning to work for real for it to seem worthwhile.

I would really like to organise a canal trip for this group to give them a bit of a change and a real world opportunity to practice an important skill: forward paddling.

Coaching hours: 1.5

30 January 2007

Coaching in open boats

Its been a while since I did any open boating so when a couple of newcomers to our club enquired about the possibility of coaching I was pleased to be able to help. I am now just a few weeks away from an assessment for a Level 2 kayak coaching qualification and, if I can follow it up with a 3 star open canoe cert, I will be equally equipped to coach canoeing and kayaking.

I thoroughly enjoyed being back on the water in an open boat and coaching skills which are still new to me meant it was easy to understand the challenge of transitioning from double to single bladed paddling. We covered J strokes, box strokes and some experimentation with kneeling versus sitting.

I think it was a good session and with only three of us there was plenty of time for individual attention. I am looking forward to making open boat coaching a more regular fixture.

Coaching hours: 1.5

16 January 2007

Two star coaching

I spent an hour and a half tonight on Shadwell Basin coaching a group of seven towards their two star award with the help of one other (L1) coach. We covered forward paddling, draws (regular and sculling), low brace, stern rudder and finished with a game of polo. The water is starting to feel very cold and there was no enthusiasm for wet skills.

7 December 2006

Christmas paddle

Tuesday was the annual THCC Christmas paddle to Tower Bridge. This year we had a total of 55 boats on the water which was quite an impressive sight.

Two groups set off from Wapping, the first comprising those experienced enough to make the trip on their own (21) and a second larger group (34) with all the club's coaches and more experienced paddlers shepherding the novices. It was quite an organisational feat and, despite a little bit of a delay getting started, everything went smoothly and we all enjoyed mulled wine and mince pies on the beach in front of The Tower. We then caught the last of the ebb for an easy ride home.

Total distance: 4km
Coaching hours: 2
Coaches: 2 x L3, 5 x L2

1 November 2006

One star assessment

Last night was the final session of a three week beginners course on Shadwell Basin. Despite the return to GMT and the first really cold evening of the autumn we had an undiminished group of eight enthusiastic paddlers.

We spent an hour and a half working through the one star award requirements including some extra work on low braces and stern rudders. Everyone did well and demonstrated all the strokes with increased confidence from last week, although some are still having difficulty paddling a straight course. I find this one of the most difficult things to help people with but did have some success by getting them to stop looking at their paddles and simply look where they are going.

The aim of the one star test is to encourage beginners in the sport and the aim of our club, in running introductory courses, is that people enjoy themselves enough that they want to come back and join us but I find the BCU's inclusion of 'theory' questions patronising rather than encouraging. I would be embarrassed to ask people some of the sample questions like "On finding litter what should you do?". FFS.

That said, I think it is worthwhile to stop at the end of the practical session and talk, touching on the different aspects of kayaking and canoeing, the BCU, the access issue and raising safety awareness. Not surprisingly, people always seem keen to chat about a new hobby anyway and I find it much more encouraging when they ask me intelligent questions!

24 October 2006

Introductory course week 2

Tonight was the second week of one of our club's three week introductory courses and, even at this time of year, they continue to prove popular. I was away last week and although I gathered we had lost two or three participants we still had a group of eight. I was coaching with one of the club's other trainee coaches and so we were able to give plenty of individual attention as we looked at forward and backward paddling, stopping and draw strokes.

We finished up with a game of 'stuck-in-the-mud' which was a great workout for the chasers and which I think everyone enjoyed. It is also encouraging as a coach to see how this sort of thing frees people from thinking about what they are doing and how their paddling improves dramatically.

Coaching time: 1.5 hours

11 October 2006

Playing in the dark

Despite the autumn weather and dark evenings, we still seem to have a lot of enthusiastic newcomers at THCC. Last night we had a beginners group of twelve that had apparently only diminished by two or three since they began three weeks ago.

After a warm up we introduced them to some of the more technical strokes: draw stroke, low brace and stern rudder. With four instructors in the group we were able to give them plenty of attention and progress was evident.

After all that learning we played a couple of games. Firstly, rounders, which has a lot of potential but is quite difficult to marshal in the dark with so many boats, then we finished up with a frantic game of stuck-in-the-mud and some of the participants got their first taste of rescue practices.

Everyone went away with a one star award and seemed keen to come back next week to start on the two star.

Coaching: 1.5 hours

27 June 2006

One star assessments

Tonight was the culmination of the beginners course on Shadwell Basin, as this was the first assessment I have done, I was anxious to set the correct standard and not quite sure what that should be.

Luckily, I had a more experienced coach working with me which was very helpful as we were able to discuss the students' standards together. Of course, the one star award is all about encouragement rather than a strict technical appraisal but it is still helpful to get input from other coaches on assessment standards in general. Happily, everyone passed!

Students: 7
Coaches: 2 (myself and one other L2)
Coaching hours: 2

20 June 2006

Beginners course part two

For the second week of my first beginners course we had, inevitably, lost a few of the students but those who remained were very eager to learn. Having spent the previous session getting used to being on the water, we moved on to some of the more technical controlling strokes including draws and stern rudders.

We ended the session by joining in with a game of polo but this was perhaps a bit too much too soon.

Students: 6
Coaching hours: 2

13 June 2006

Beginners course

Today was the start of a three week long beginners course comprising two coaching sessions followed by a one star assessment.

I was glad to have the opportunity to run a course for complete novices from start to finish and was determined to incorporate all of the good things I have seen other coaches do.

I felt a bit self conscious to begin with as, once we had everyone kitted out, I got them all gathered around on dry land and tried to demonstrate the elements of a good forward stroke before getting them all doing some air paddling. I think our regular club paddlers found this rather amusing (I picked up this particular coaching tool in the US). It was useful to do this before getting on the water, however, as it is much easier to explain when everyone is standing still and not drifting away. It also served as a useful warm up!

Once we got on the water we worked on the basics of forward and backwards paddling, and simply enjoying being out on the water.

Students: 9
Coaches: me plus one L2
Coaching hours: 2

17 May 2006

3 star coaching

Last night I worked with a group of five who are preparing for their 3 star assessment in a couple of weeks. We practiced draw strokes, support strokes and some rolling.

It was a good session and I think we made progress with clear improvements evident over the course of the evening. The skills we were working on are quite technical and I enjoyed coaching them, particulalry when I felt I was able to use a few simple exercises to build confidence with the support strokes.

The water in Shadwell Basin was noticeably warmer than only a couple of weeks ago and I am looking forward to being less constrained by the cold in coaching wet skills over the summer.

Coaching hours: 2

10 May 2006

Beginners on the river

Last night we took advantage of the low neap tide to take some beginners out on the Thames. We paddled against the tide past Canary Wharf and back to Wapping, a total distance of about 5km. I think everyone enjoyed being out on the river on a beautiful warm evening and I hope we were able to give a good introduction to the pleasures of paddling on the Tideway balanced with an awareness of the hazards.

The group comprised 9 'one star' paddlers, one L3 coach, one L2 coach, myself and one other L2 trainee. Duration was 1.5 hours.

2 May 2006

2 star coaching

After all the training of the last few months it was a pleasant change to be coaching again on Shadwell Basin, although I did miss getting some exercise.

I was coaching a group of four working towards their 2 star award. We covered forward and reverse paddling, draw strokes, low brace turns and the stern rudder.

After DW I have gained a much greater appreciation for a good forward stroke so I was trying to stress the importance of learning good technique early on but I find it quite a difficult stroke to coach. It is also hard to hold people's interest paddling up and down Shadwell Basin and it is probably better left to river or canal trips.

After the technical stuff we joined a polo game for the last half hour and I finished up with some one on one high brace practice.

Coaching hours: 2

25 January 2006

Two Star river trip

I normally leave work at 6:00 pm on a Tuesday evening to be in good time for my weekly club paddle. Last night, at around 6:15 pm, I realised that I was artificially busying myself with 'urgent' calls and emails that I had been subconsciously putting off all afternoon so that I would be too late to go paddling on this freezing cold evening. Mentally giving myself a slap in the face, I grabbed my kit bag and ran for the bus, as always, it was worth the effort.

I was on coaching duty and not looking forward to a lot of sitting still on Shadwell Basin. Luckily, nobody else fancied that either and, as all those who wanted to paddle were of at least Two Star standard, we decided on a river trip instead (our club rules were recently relaxed to allow 'Two Stars' to paddle on the Thames providing they buddy up with a 'Three Star').

A group of five regular river paddlers set off ahead of us leaving eleven including three 'Two Stars' for whom it was their first time paddling this far on the river (the 10 km to Greenwich and back took us two hours). They all seemed to enjoy the opportunity to do something other than practising strokes on the Basin and I think they gained confidence paddling on the Thames in the dark and cold, which can be an intimidating environment.

9 November 2005

Learning more about coaching

Last night I ran a coaching session for a group of four working towards their two star award. Maybe it was the cold and dark, but it seemed hard to get things going or to be very enthusiastic.

We spent just over an hour working on a variety of strokes culminating in the bow rudder which we then put into practice with some rudimentary slalom drills. I think I was perhaps unrealistic in asking them to tell me when they got bored or when they wanted to move on as the prevalent group dynamic seems to be to look to the coach to steer the session. Towards the end I asked if they wanted to join a game of polo with one of the other groups and for the first time in the evening they showed some enthusiasm - I guess I asked too late.

I need to improve the balance between keeping the group engaged and giving individuals attention as I found last night that I would be working with one of them on something while the others were losing interest. Perhaps a bit more structure (and fore thought) is required to have some exercises I can give the group to get on with while I can single out an individual for some one on one technique coaching.

One other thing I realised is that, despite enjoying my lovely new feather weight paddle, no one else could see how I was using it as it is black and consequently most of them were trying to do bow rudders with the back of the blade! I may have to revert to a cheap plastic white paddle for night time coaching.

(coaching hours: 1.5)

11 October 2005

On a roll

I really enjoyed my first coaching session since doing the L2 course. I had a small group of four paddlers who had recently completed their two star and I found it easier teaching them than absolute beginners. They are more demanding in terms of good technique though and I really need to work on polishing my own strokes.

We spent the best part of an hour warming up by playing polo and then went on to work on some three star skills including draw strokes and support strokes. I tried to use the IDEAS framework and I think it worked quite well. We took plenty of time for the activity component and used a game of 'chicken' to practice the hanging draw and draw stroke on the move (still need to find a few more games for other strokes). Some of the group were also keen to refine their forward paddling stroke and we did a little work on this but I found that much harder to coach than the draw and support strokes.

We ended up with a rolling session and I think everyone was able to improve including - very satisfyingly - one student who rolled for the first time. I got him to do a couple of hip flicks against my bow to get used to the cold water and let him know how I would rescue him if it did not work. He then made a couple of tries at a screw roll but it was not working for him as he was not placing the paddle far enough away from the boat to make a good lever. I thought back to when I first learned to roll and remembered the Pawlata, I showed him and he got it first time. A great way to end the session!

(coaching hours: 2)

2 October 2005

Level 2 coach training

I spent last weekend doing this training course with Kayakojacko on the Thames at Chiswick. I was not quite sure what to expect but hoped it would be fun and I was not disappointed.

We spent Saturday morning going over our own technique and getting an introduction to how to teach others the paddle strokes which most of us do without thinking. The instructors gave us some useful tools for breaking down the strokes and for working with novices to pass them on. For example, the 'IDEAS' framework whereby the coach gives an Introduction to the stroke explaining when it is used and why it is important followed by a Demonstration, an Explanation of the components of the stroke, some practice Activity for the students and then a Summary. It sounds obvious but it very quickly gave us a template that helped develop teaching routines for each of the strokes.

Over lunch we talked about some coaching philosophies including the complimentary use of coach centred and student centred learning with an emphasis on the value of the later, for example, by setting up a game that helps to teach the student a technique on their own.

In the afternoon we tried some scenarios involving coming up with ways to teach a stroke to a blind or deaf paddler which gave us some insights about how to use sound and touch in creative ways.

After the obligatory rescue practice, we got warm and dry before sitting down to plan a coaching session for the next day. We had no real novices to coach, so the plan was to split into groups with each group taking responsibility for planning and running an hour's worth of training for the others with the emphasis on safety, fun and learning.

Our group was on first and had the job of getting people kitted out then doing a warm up and safety briefing before getting them on the water and giving some instruction in forward paddling. I think we were all a little nervous but the previous day's planning really helped to give us a structure to work to and the session ran smoothly. After everyone had taken their turn at running a different part of a marathon coaching session we had lunch and a debrief.

The debriefing took the form of a group session followed by individual sessions for each of us with the team of instructors and it proved to be a very valuable part of the course, particularly the peer feedback on our coaching performance. I think we all learned a lot that might otherwise have taken many coaching sessions working on our own to figure out.

Before the course I had wondered how I was going to learn to be a coach in a weekend and was unsure about how I could teach good technique without a lot of technical knowledge. I have come away with a greater confidence in my own technique and a lot of tools to use in my coaching. I can now see how, over the next few months, I can use this experience to become a coach.

Many thanks to Jacko, Julie and Chris for their enthusiasm and commitment to coaching which made for a first class course.

21 September 2005

In at the deep end

I skipped my regular river paddle yesterday to do some coaching on Shadwell Basin. As it was my first time I anticipated tagging along with an experienced coach and offering a bit of support.

I ended up on my own with a group of novices who were trying to master the art of paddling in a straight line. It is a long time since I had to think about how to do that and I struggled to figure out how to help them but by running through a few simple drills and taking a couple of minutes with each of them one to one we made progress. I am not sure how much of it was down to my coaching but it was certainly a satisfying feeling!

Then we joined up with another group and had some fun and games playing bulldogs and polo. I can see that learning some more drills, games and coaching tricks is going to be essential in the coming months as I train for my BCU Level 2 Coach qualification. I start off this weekend with the Level 2 training course and I am really looking forward to it.

(coaching hours: 2)

11 September 2005

Canoe Safety Test

The BCU's Canoe Safety Test is a prerequisite for doing a training course to become a (Level 2) coach. I had some practical difficulties in getting a test organised but was very pleased with the guys at Southwater Watersports who were able to run one for me at very short notice.

Doing the course one on one meant we were able to zip through the training, much of which was quite familiar, and get on to the assessment which involved a few rescues and dealing with an 'emergency' (rescuing a kayaker with a dislocated shoulder).

Despite the familiarity of most of the material I did learn a bit more about safety equipment including the, sometimes tricky, art of using a throwline.