Is the best paddler the best Coach?

Is the best paddler the best Coach?

22/08/2018 1 By WetandMucky

Why the best paddler on the river may not be the best Coach… Maybe they are a “Nike” Paddler…Nike - Just do it Logo

You know when you rock up to your favourite river and see someone styling every drop and hitting unimaginable eddies or throwing some super-cool moves and you think “That’s what I’d like to do, I could learn from them, I’ll get them to Coach me….” well, you might be wrong, you might find that they can “Just Do It”

I did my UKCC Level 1 Coaching through Scouts around 2009, I was regularly instructing groups of young people on a flat water lake to paddle forwards, backwards, turning strokes etc., essentially working in the 1 star remit.  Around the same time I joined my local Club where I made a point of NOT coaching and just focussed on my own development, over the next couple of years the Scout stuff dwindled and the Club paddling took off.

The result of this is that my “coaching” has been very sporadic and inconsistent over the last few years, whilst my personal paddling has dramatically improved.  Recently it has become increasingly apparent that my coaching skills now leave a lot to be desired from lack of use (it turns out that trying to teach a partner results in lots of, erm… “feedback” lol)


From having my new partner involved in the club and the club having a great year for new members, it turns out that although I am a better paddler than my partner, she is a much better coach.  Part of the reason for this (amongst others) is the phenomenon of Expert Induced Amnesia.  For me, many of the skills and nuances of paddling have become so second nature that I have completely forgotten that I do them, or how I learned them, or how to teach them to others.  Whilst for Laura, who has only recently acquired these skills it is very fresh and easy for her to teach all the steps that have helped her progress.

This rings true when I have been speaking with very new paddlers, who are struggling to go in a straight line, rather than being able to impart a wealth of steps, skills and techniques, my stock response has just become “do it lot’s and develop a FEEL for it, it will come…” and to some extent it does, but maybe this not the most helpful advice from a Coach.  The fact is that I have completely forgotten HOW to paddle in a straight line, because I can “Just Do It…”, I’ve become a ‘Nike’ Paddler.

Why does this happen…

Let’s examine the rationale behind this, I have been doing a little reading into the Dreyfus Model of Skills Acquisition which is a methodology for learning skills which can be applied to everything from computer coding, to driving, to kayaking and beyond.

My interpretation of this is that once we reach the Expert level, the skills become automatic and ingrained, you no longer have to ‘think’ about what to do and when, it becomes intuitive.  Can you recall when you have used an instinctive brace or a little draw stroke to alter your direction? these are not necessarily planned strokes but just a natural response to what you feel the boat or water doing.  Over time it then becomes difficult to explain why we did it, or how we knew to do it at all… this is Expert Induced Amnesia – You are now a Nike Paddler….. you “Just do it”

Of course this only works when we are in our comfort zone, when we are pushing the limit of our skill-set we move back down the model and have to engage our brain a little more in the decision making process.

An alternative view…

Another model that we can use to understand our skill development is the Chimp model (as in The Chimp Paradox, mind management programme).Chimp Paradox logo

The [very simplistic] premise of the model is that we have 3 [main] parts to our brain – Chimp, Human and Computer.  Our Chimp brain is the primitive emotional based animal brain, our Human is where we do our thinking and rationalising, the Computer is the automatic part of our brain.  The Human is the slowest, the Chimp is 5 times faster and the Computer is 20 times faster.  So, very simply we overcome our Chimp (those times when you are panicking and terrified of the nasty boat/water experience) by learning and developing skills to cope with the environment, this happens in our Human brain, we learn, plan and instigate a set of instructions for certain situations.  The more we do that the more it gets stored in our Computer brain until the point where the Computer can deal with the eventualities without needing to involve the Human or the Chimp.  In paddling terms, this is where we are in Expert mode and can just respond to our paddling naturally, instinctively and without stress.

The budding Coach…

What does all this mean for my lack of coaching skills though?  It means I need to go back to school and learn how to teach people again, I need to be able to analyse my own paddling, re-learn how to observe and feedback, I need to find some models to use, I need some skills, steps and processes which I can impart to others to help them on their path, something more useful than “Just Do It”….

So I’ve just booked myself on to the next stage of my Coaching Journey… Watch this space for more insights, coming soon.



Please Note… I do not profess to be an ‘Expert’ or ‘The best paddler’ by any means, all things are relative.  I also have no affiliation to Nike products, any reference to Nike and Just Do It are purely for illustrative purposes for the blog post.



Nike - just do it logo