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!
Reading through an edition of PTinMotion Magazine, I stumbled upon a quick article citing the findings and recommendations of a Dr. Neeru Jayanthi, MD of Loyola University Medical Center and his efforts to study risk factors of overuse injuries in young athletes ages 8-18. I haven’t read his actual study, but I’m assuming most of the subjects of the study were not participants of dragon boat paddling. Even if this were true, the repetitive and strenuous nature of paddling does present a risk for developing overuse injuries in youth and adult paddlers alike.
Dr. Jayanthi’s recommendations were as follows:
(Keep in mind these are angled towards athletes age 8-18)
– Athletes should not spend more hours per week than their age playing sports
– Athletes should not spend more than twice as much time playing organized sports as they spend in gym and unorganized play
– Athletes should not specialize in 1 sport before late adolescence
– Athletes should not play sports competitively year-round
– Athletes should take at least 1 day off per week from sports training
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Take Home Message for Paddlers
Youth paddling in the Bay Area and many other places around the world is fast becoming a popular practice. The teamwork, leadership, and athletic benefits of dragon boat as a sport are undeniable in promoting the present and future well being of young people. What generally concerns me is how far behind dragon boat coaching and training are to more established sports such as basketball, running, or crew just to name a few. Many coaches are qualified only by their passion and first-hand experience in the sport but not by their education in physical or sport training. There is also a lack of specific studies regarding the impact of long-term dragon boat paddling on developing and mature athletes. As a result, dragon boat paddlers and coaches will need to rely on the generalization of information found in studies like Dr. Jayanthi’s to help promote the longevity of their athletes in the sport.
Point by point, here are my recommendations based upon those from the study:
– Athletes should avoid paddling more than 18 hours per week.
Yeah, I know extrapolating the study recommendations would mean if you’re 40 years old you should be able to paddle up to 40 hours per week, but that’s literally like a full-time job! Paddling is not your job. 18 hours of paddling would be 2.5 hours per day, longer if you take a rest day (see below). I am not aware of any top team on the west coast that practices anywhere close to this amount and not still perform well on an international level. I believe teams can do more good for performance in far less amount of water time than this number.
– On-water training should not exceed twice the amount of time spent cross-training
This would often prove to be the strongest cap to on-water paddling time. For example, if you work out in the gym 1 hour daily, that’s 7 hours per week and your on-water time should not exceed 14 hours per week. What this allows paddlers to do is stay well-rounded. Varying activities helps to balance your strengths/weaknesses, rest your affected paddling anatomy, and give you a mental break as well to minimize overuse injuries and mental burnout.
– For young paddlers, stay active in at least one other sport or athletic endeavor
Again, varying activities not only reduces the risk of overuse injuries in the primary sport, but in growing athletes, helps to develop better kinesthetic skill and diverse interests for future health. I’m sure you’ve all known at least one person who was injured playing a sport growing up and has become a generally sedentary person ever since. Having other interests can help avoid this. There is also such a push to get kids “serious” about sports earlier and earlier that it’s really quite ridiculous. The promise of college scholarships, parent bragging rights, and shiny trophies are only part of the hysteria. This mentality has also lead to progressive rates in sport injuries among young athletes. With ZERO scholarships available for dragon boat paddlers, the danger of getting too serious, too fast still exists and is preventable.
– Paddlers, take some time off after the big race
Coaches, set your season goals and training plan around your chosen event and make sure the team gradually progresses towards peaking at that point. After the main event is completed, give yourself and your paddlers a break. Organizing long term training into progressive peaks and valleys helps reduce injury and allows for long term improvements to be made.
– Paddlers should avoid paddling more than 6 days per week
What more can I say about the importance of taking a break?
Use these tips to be a more well-rounded, healthier, and happier athlete!