It’s that great feeling when you set out to accomplish something and through a combination of blood, sweat, and tears that you see that goal met. Being a coach is being a leader. This is somebody who formulates a strong plan and sets goals and methods to lead the team to success by the season’s end. I previously wrote this article on goal setting and, over my later years of coaching, have found several key points that I’ve found essential to include.
1. Know what the team wants
I came to a point in my coaching career where I thought I knew myself and where I wanted to be, but that place was not necessarily where the team wanted to go. As a leader, I made the mistake of assuming that the goals I set were shared among everybody. Of course, those goals failed and it’s no mystery why! The saying “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” sums up the need for a coach to fit themselves into the team’s unified goal. In elite sports, what team plans to NOT make it to the championship? None. On recreational teams, such as with dragon boat, the team’s vision of meeting a goal may not be to win, but merely to participate and spend time with other teammates. Trying to push a recreational team towards a singular goal of winning a championship is as inappropriate as setting a competitive team towards a specific goal of finishing last. A coach can suggest goals but cannot force a team to adopt them.
2. Know what to do
After a team accepts the goals a coach suggests, a plan must be established. Imagine an olympic weight lifter whose training for the games was decided randomly by rolling a die of random activities. One day, the athlete lifts heavy weights and the next day lifts weights as quickly as possible. The next day the athlete tries to lift half the weight, twice as many times and then doubles the weight to lift half the reps, etc. Without a logical progression in specific training or a rationale as to why to choose certain activities, there can be no consistent progress towards any goal. Random practice results in random results and is not a good way to meet a specific goal. I recommend writing out a specific plan to get your team from where it starts the season to where it needs to be.
3. Know what you want
As a coach, you are a person with a certain background and certain biases. You have feelings and desires, strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself, what do you want to accomplish for yourself as a coach and why are you coaching in the first place? Knowing yourself and understanding your reasons for making decisions is essential for your personal longevity as coach and success in leading the team effectively.
4. Know how you are doing
The ability to test and re-test is a critical skill to use mid-season. As you follow your plan, you need to know one thing: is it working? What lets you know you are headed in the right direction? Finding a reliable test, be it team fitness challenges, time trials, mid-season race results, etc, provides you with a compass throughout the season that can guide you to sticking to the plan or modifying it along the way.
5. Put it all together
A team is a collection of individuals. Get each individual to accept the goal and the path to meeting that goal. Have them commit to what you say it will take to meet that goal. Follow the plan to get where you need to be. Adapt your plan as needed to address unforeseen challenges. Make sure YOU are not contributing to the team falling short of its goal. Don’t forget, have fun!
Whether you’ve seen and replayed dragon boat videos online a million times, have had somebody else film your technique, or have collected footage of other paddlers to analyze, you may be sitting at your computer screen saying, “Something could be better, but I’m not sure what.” If you’re like most people, your eyes will flick around to various areas that catch your brain’s attention. You see something happen in your periphery but by the time you look, the moment has passed.
In physical therapy, watching people and analyzing their movements for abnormal patterns or issues is a significant part of the practice. It also takes just that…a lot of practice. Whether you’re new or experienced at analyzing paddling footage, here are some tips that may improve your flow and consistency in watching technique.
1. Stick to a System
Give yourself a step by step protocol to watching somebody paddle. If you were looking at a photograph, your eyes will flick around the scene to areas of interest. Now, if that picture is a movie, your eyes will move and follow many different areas without order…unless you take control. Try starting somewhere specific, anywhere. I usually start from the water and watch upwards. I look at how the water moves, how the paddle interacts with the water, what the paddle is doing through the stroke(s), how the person interacts with the paddle, and finally how the person moves. I don’t move my eyes to the next portion of the image or video clip until I am satisfied with the information I have observed. I will also do multiple passes (more on this later).
Your system can be totally different but I highly recommend using one consistently.
2. Get General Before Specific
Take notes on paper or get mental about things you see. Don’t get hung up on tiny details until you get a good sense of the Big Picture. Paddling technique is a sum of all parts and ultimately you are interested in that sum. Complex movements are also, well, complex. It helps to make things as simple as possible.
I will follow my system of watching a paddler from water to paddle to body in several “passes.” With each pass I make note of more specific findings, observations, and hypotheses. The Scientific Method. To put it vaguely, I may look for “what” I see, then look for “how” things are happening to cause what I see, and then finally think about “why” things are happening in a certain way. I take things from simple to complex because it’s very easy to get hung up on the details but not be able to see their relevance towards the Big Picture. A paddler may drop their head through early to mid-pull. So what? What are the qualities of their overall stroke and how does this head bob possibly affect it?
It also helps to slow things down so see specifics. Use a simple video editing program to slo-mo your stuff as best you can.
3. Imagine Change
You’ve made a list of observations and hypotheses. Now to test things out. If you’re really good (or just experimental by nature) you may have several video clips of paddlers on the same day trying different techniques or changes on-the-fly to compare later on. Ask yourself what makes sense to try and change in a paddler’s technique? What are the costs and benefits of making such a change? Is the change dependent on something fairly quick to change like paddler awareness or knowledge of results? Does the change require something that takes longer to develop like “feel” for a solid catch at entry or plain physical power? How will a change made in one part of the stroke affect other aspects?
4. Make Change
Pick your battles and make a plan of attack that prioritizes your findings and interventions to yield the best results soonest while all good things come to those who wait (and work their @sses off). Get more data so you can retest your changes and see if your approach had the intended effect.
Try out your System in analyzing this paddler’s technique!
“Hey coach! Gimme a break!”
I’m sure it’s a thought that many competitive paddlers have had at some point during a hard practice. But who wants to be the whining wimp who complains that a set or drill is “too hard?” Part of being able to push yourself physically is being able to work through the agony of 100% sustained effort. With that kind of mentality, it’s no wonder most coaches won’t hear that kind of comment from their crews, but is that necessarily a good thing?
What is perfect performance?
Quite simply, performing optimally is a combination of elements essential to the sport. If a paddler has great conditioning, technique, concentration, and determination, then it should be expected that a melding of high amounts of each will result in great performance. Call it the best-case-scenario.
If a paddler falls short in any of those elements, performance will likely drop. It makes sense to want high marks of each element of performance at all times.
Practice makes perfect but perfect practice takes priority
Say that ten times fast without losing a letter and you’ll know what it means. Practice is about enhancing an athlete’s ability to perform by developing each element of performance either individually or as a group. The challenge for a coach comes from designing workouts that enhance these skill sets without being detrimental to others at the same time. For example, why train to paddle at 120 spm if your paddler technique falls apart and timing becomes garbage? You are training folks to move quickly but at the expense of 2 very important performance skills.
A team wiped out after hard racing. This kind of fatigue didn’t happen after crossing the finish line.
In the novice to recreational world of dragon boat, I see so many teams train to fail. Training to fail at this level is running a set or interval at a difficulty (either duration or intensity) that exceeds the athlete’s ability to keep good performance throughout. Anytime we practice with sloppy technique, our bodies adapt to make sloppy technique more natural. Just imagine if every stroke you took was perfect in delivery throughout practice! You’re training to paddle perfectly.
Michael Phelps with the energy to celebrate AFTER setting a world record. Perfect practice = perfect performance.
While encouraging good performance habits is a no-brainer, noticing form failure during a practice is essential information for any coach. Investigating where and why performance failure occurs during practice allows a coach to determine “the weakest link” in a crew or athlete’s training. Using this approach, a coach can gather vital information about their crew and areas needed to improve to address overall performance. There’s no reason to avoid failure while training, but it’s a mistake to train failure.
The Problem: a paddler’s timing degrades through a 250m sprint piece
Your Observation: Their head is dropping and they are out of breath
Potential Weakness: Inadequate endurance, inefficient stroke technique
Possible Solution(s): Allow for more rest between sets, decrease paddling intensity/effort pacing,
encourage paddler to improve attendance, address technique
So, the next time you run a practice, recognize when different aspects of performance are failing and adjust the workout as needed to keep your practices perfect!