The coach plays a pivotal role in supporting the athlete towards that ‘Ultimate Run’. However, this is not a short term partnership as the coach and athlete will have spent years working together to hone their performance. Each of the major nations competing at Lee Valley starting on Sunday has strong management and coaching support teams, who have been working for years to develop future paddlers towards podium finishes.
The sport has developed significantly since it reappeared in the Barcelona Olympics. At that time Great Britain had a strong heritage of World Championship medal performances and important developments in the quality of coaching. In 1992, the more affluent nations already had the availability of basic video cameras for video analysis. This is an area that has subsequently developed considerably in the last 20 years together with harnessing sport science to improve top level performance. One technical innovation was the use video analysis. “Dartfish software now helps us analyse and review our video footage” says Nick Smith, Technical Coach C2 Class, Podium Programme at GB Canoeing. Campbell Walsh, Olympic Silver Medallist from Beijing described how he has been using Dartfish for many years in both training and races to help choose the best lines and boat positions on the river. “We heavily use the split screen head-head function and slow motion with different racers to determine which lines are proving to be the most consistently fast. The differences in angle or position are too often too subtle to notice if we didn’t have this ability to watch both simultaneously and at a slower speed. We will use video clips from the demonstration runs before I race and use myself verses rivals in between my 2 competition runs. Then we look at the fastest on each section after the race as part of the review and learning process. In training, when I will complete the same sequence of gates many times with different techniques, I often using the split screen with the option of watching up to 4 clips on head-head to help understand the differences and determine which was faster”. Some examples of this technology can be found on YouTube or through the Sportscene website.
At a more basic coaching level the coach is able to walk the course that has been set and discuss how the water moves through the gatelines and the likely options or key strokes necessary to complete. In training the paddler can then run down the course, with the coach providing them feedback on what they actually did versus the ideal. Split times of different paddlers on one specific sequence of gates can be used to uncover where some paddlers are making up time or to evaluate different options. Again, in training the coaches are able to set a course of gates to challenge and test the paddlers.
At the national team levels, the coaches are invariably ex-elite paddlers themselves. The GB Podium coaches are led by Jurg Gotz, the Swiss national team member 1974-1984 who has coached paddlers at all 5 of the last Olympics. He heads a team of technical coaches: Paul Ratcliffe, Sydney Olympic silver medallist; Mark Delaney, Barcelona & Atlanta C1 paddler who coached David Florence to silver in Beijing and Nick Smith, Sydney & Athens C2 paddler. London2012 will mark the fourth Olympic Games led by GB Canoeing Performance Director, John Anderson MBE. Beyond the technical coaches the team is also supported by an extensive group of performance lifestyle advisor, strength & conditioning specialist, programme manager, physiotherapist, sports psychologist and performance analyst. Nick Smith added; “We gain an uplifting feeling of helping these athletes culminate years of work and preparation for the biggest event in our sport.”
Many of the coaches at a club level are ex-paddlers or parents of paddlers. The UK has an extensive club coaching scheme and network. The role of the coach involves hours standing on cold and wet river banks. Russ Smith, National Competition Development Coach for Canoe England and who himself won a gold medal in the K1M team event at the 1987 ICF Canoe Slalom World Championships in Bourg St Maurice said; “As to the opportunities for coaching slalom I believe that the Olympics being in the UK will open up our sport to a whole new batch of potential paddlers and coaches/parents. The spectacle of whitewater slalom being seen either live or via TV beamed straight into the home is truly a sight to see. For those who would wish to get involved in coaching try the UK Home Nation websites (below) or more information on slalom coaching can be obtained through http://www.canoeslalom.co.uk/info/slalom_coach_ed_programme.htm. Jimmy Jayes, a British National Champion in the 1980’s and a prominent figure in slalom coaching commented; “The technical knowledge of the coaches and athletes is still the deciding factor in performing well. This needs to have been made 100% solid in training and previous races and then carried over to be automatic for the BIG EVENT!” Nick concludes by describing what will make the Olympic medallists; “As usual in our sport, a bit of luck with the water but over and above is a calm head and ability to deliver on the hardest of whitewater courses.”
Tomorrow’s post will look at the role of the Judge in canoe slalom and describe more specifics of the rules of the sport. Please comment here or via @gregiej on Twitter.