Crew Selection and Bettering Your Chances
Of all the tasks a Coach has, the most difficult and critiqued aspect is in their selection of a crew. Those chosen will thank you for it, while some of those left out, may feel a range of emotions including; humiliation, disappointment, resentment, frustration, confusion and anger to name but a few. Taken from Paddlers Guide to Outrigger Canoeing - The Sport of Kings
A Coach can be as ‘destructive’ as they can be ‘constructive’ and there are many factors at play determining which side of the fence they sit. Above all else, they must excel at communication skills, diplomacy and integrity. Their selection process is therefore central to their success.
Knowing the Selection Criteria
Ultimately crew selection, should be a matter of Agreed Club Policy (due process) not simply the singular machinations of an individual Coach. If it falls only with the Coach, then a benign dictatorship can soon manifest. If the Coach should resign, your blue-print goes with them.
If the Agreed Club Policy is ‘known’ - then Club Coaches are themselves answerable to some scrutiny if they are failing to implement said ‘known’ due process when issues arise.
Caveat 1: In some special circumstances, Coaches within the crews they coach, usually possess some respected pre-existing ability to do so without prejudice or issue from those they paddle with.
Caveat 2: It should be a good thing to have a Coach, but not always if the Coach is not up to the task. The best judges will be the paddlers themselves and of course the resulting outcomes.
Selection must be near watertight, devoid of ambiguity and above all, relevant and exercised with fairness, or it will become a hangman’s noose. The toughest ingredient manifests where Coaches coach his or her partner or closest friend and they have to ‘drop' that person out of the team. Sometimes, it's a gut wrenching, no win situation.
A small portion of what is outlined below is taken from a basic blue print which Offshore California used during the years of their multiple women’s Moloka'i winning years, the balance of which, I have added additional observations, suggestions.
Selecting Race by Race
There’s no escaping the fact, different races require differing crew members of differing skill levels and abilities. Some paddlers perform well in the flat, but not in the rough. Some are better suited to sprints than distance and so the list goes on.
Selecting for an overseas event
In the case of travelling overseas for races, be very sure the crew members make for happy travellers, will muck in and adapt. Travelling with paddlers who are ‘precious’ and high maintenance, should be left at home. Also make sure they are financially viable.
Change crews require paddlers who have multi-faceted levels of athleticism and water skills. Weak swimmers will be a weak link. Nervous nellies another weak leak. Those prone to sea-sickness. Those who struggle to get into the canoe and so on. These are all micro-management considerations when planning your crew.
If you are selected to be part of a 'first' crew, treasure it, for it is always available to others who may would want it more than you do. For the moment, you have earnt it, defend it at all costs. From here there is only one way you can go. The choice is yours. If you are selected to be part of anything less than a 'first' crew member, you too should treasure your seat for there are also others who would want it. Take heart and be optimistic that the opportunity is always open to move upwards. Take this attitude and your seat will be as safe as it can be. Crews should be selected race by race according to distance, conditions, availability and all other factors as listed.
A chart will be kept showing who is considered on the first team and who is considered 1st, 2nd, 3rd in line thereafter. This information will be available to you, so that everyone knows where they stand. You deserve to know.
This sounds reasonable and as it says, 'You deserve to know'. You may be concerned with creating a 'pecking order' or ‘hierarchy’ so as everyone is aware of their 'place'. On the other hand, it’s honest and forthright and canoe paddling is a hard sport, so if you can't deal with it, then perhaps this sport's not for you?
You are Competing for a Specific Seat
Ideally this hierachy chart should be concerned with seat allocation and which paddlers are next in line relative to that seat.
Remember you are not up against six others (9 or 10 for Change Races) - but merely up against one or two others relative to your 'specialist' or 'preferred' seat/s.
There is simply no way around it, some people will just be able to pull a canoe better than others no matter how hard some people try. These people are valuable to the team, but this is not the only deciding factor to being selected.
Some say, ‘There is no substitute for natural ability’.
Ability in this instance, is being presented in broad terms as it simply states 'able to pull a canoe better than others’ which appears somewhat ambiguous. For example, it does not say for how long (endurance) however the implication would seem to imply a multitude of attributes coming together to make he or she of greater overall 'ability' than the next paddler.
Perhaps 'ability' in this case, should be the sum of the whole.
How 'hard' someone can pull the canoe through the water shown in such things as OC1 (V1) OC2 and paddling buckets will be a consideration; resistance work with tyres / buckets / tennis balls etc.
We need be careful when we talk in terms of ‘strength’ when we relate it to canoe paddling, which is a physical sport concerned primarily with endurance. ‘Strength' has a number of definitions when talking in terms of physiology.
Maximum Strength is defined as the maximum amount of force an individual can produce within a given movement of unlimited time ie power lifting.
Explosive Strength is concerned with the maximum amount of force that an individual can produce in a short amount of time i.e. at the very start of a canoe race, within the first few seconds.
Reactive Strength is measured as the bodies ability to absorb heavy impacts or landings and involves the muscles ‘extending' before being ‘contracted' with great force. Paddlers do this each time they rotate and reach forwards (extend) and after the ‘catch' phase of the stroke, they pull (contract) the muscles.
Sustained Strength (Strength Endurance) enables an individual to maintain maximum forces over several repeated contractions or a single contraction over a long duration. Canoe paddlers, must maintain near maximum forces or contractions, often for very long periods of time and therefore this is a vital component to our performance.
The point of defining these facets of strength is so that a Coach and paddler can clearly see the value in each and how it pertains to our sport. Of all these facets of strength, maximum strength would seem to be of least importance and therefore a Coach should be careful to devise specific measures of strength tests which relate to canoe paddling.
These five principal factors relating to fitness, while they can be improved by canoe paddling alone, can be vastly improved if nurtured outside the canoe via additional activities. Improvement in these five areas will ensure you reach your optimum. Paddlers who pursue these ends, by and large out perform those who do not and therefore, it becomes a self governing process, which will make itself obvious as the season progresses. Random tests should be made during the season and paddlers performances documented. Improvement over time will be expected.
The most successful canoe teams on the water the world over, have high levels of ‘Power to Weight Ratios' i.e. relative to their weight, they are extremely powerful. Excellent levels of ‘sustained strength' amounts to a powerful athlete as they can continually repeat a near maximal force for a considerable amount of time.
This has a multiplying effect so as a 75kg individual may be considered more ‘powerful' than a 100kg body-builder. A 75kg paddler who performs 30 chins ups repeatedly 75kg x 30 = 2250Kg as against the body-builders who manages 15, 100kg x 15 = 1500kg as an example.
Pulling buckets or resistance type tests are rarely used these days as the risk of injury fails to justify the purpose of the test and besides, as already pointed out this sort of test falls short of any genuine selection criteria specific to outrigger canoeing.
In physiological terms, our sport is not about who is the strongest, but more about who can maintain ‘sustained strength' relative to their power to weight ratio for the longest period of time.
OC1, V1 and OC2 Tests
Became common place in the late 90s onwards and have increased in validity as a means of crew selection over recent years. For many crews it has become a primary testing factor in crew selection. The Tahitian crews have always been ahead of the curve in respect of using solo craft (V1) as a means for selection.
While the merits of determining 'ability' cannot be denied through solo results, it’s as well to consider the pitfalls of using this as a primary factor in crew selection.
Team Orientated Individuals
It's true to say for example, certain individuals perform better in a ‘team’ situation than they might given an individual pursuit. It may not therefore always be appropriate means of eliminating someone out of the crew. The willingness to avoid letting the team down, the pleasure in being an integral part of a working whole, the sense of responsibility placed upon the individual to excel, are all factors which make it possible for some individuals to perform at much greater levels of intensity when working for and with others, rather than purely for themselves.
OC1/ V1 Competition
For assessing individual paddling abilities. In open ocean conditions, it is an excellent means of determining the paddler’s ocean skills, in handling rough water, identifying ‘runners' and being confident in such a situation. If as Coach you value this highly as a selection criteria, then you must make it clear and encourage all your paddlers to be actively involved in paddling OCl's / V1’s otherwise non solo paddlers will be disadvantaged, no matter how good they are in a team canoe.
OC2 paddling provides a means of pairing off paddlers into their respective seat combinations. Alternatively it can be used as another means of considering blending paddlers and is an excellent means of developing timing and technical skills.
Maverick Non Team Orientated Paddlers
Some successful OC1 / V1 paddlers fail to blend well with canoe crews, having a problem with timing and in dealing with having to work in with others. Perhaps a factor of personality more than anything else.
Make it Compulsory Before Testing
Simply dropping an OC1 / V1 test on paddlers, of which ‘x’ number are proficient, whilst ‘x’ number have never been on one, doesn't seem altogether valid either. If on the other hand, it is the Coaches policy that all paddlers must become proficient on an OC1 / V1, then the test takes on more validity as all paddlers gain proficiency.
Without doubt, all OC6 / V1 paddlers should be spending time paddling OC1s / V1s as it’s simply the single best way to become a more proficient OC6 paddler whilst improving ocean skills.
Unwillingness to spend time on such a craft, perhaps shows an unwillingness to go the extra distance, but it must be said that OC1s / V1s must then be made available through the Club as not all can afford to purchase! Don’t make it elitist.
Whilst there are crews winning with non-OC1 / V1 paddlers, you have to ask how much faster and more skilled could they be if they were?
Where possible, forge a relationship with the ocean and the waters you paddle in. At its highest levels, outrigger canoe paddling is an ocean sport. Learn how the ocean moves and learn to use it to your advantage. Whilst talking with those highly skilled in ocean knowledge is helpful, true understanding comes only through 'feeling' and experiencing what it is they speak of. Paddling OCl's / V1’s is the single best sports specific learning tool.
Develop Your Paddling Skills
Develop a willingness to become a highly skilled paddler. Recognize that even after a lifetime of paddling, you will still be left with many questions unanswered. Outrigger canoe paddling is an artform, not just a sport. Your willingness to develop, nurture, investigate and constantly improve, via training on other available forms of paddle and surfing craft will reinforce that willingness. An true outrigger canoeists in the purest sense, should be able to rig, steer, paddle both OC6 and OC1 and ultimately V1. Ticking these boxes will gain you recognition and respect.
No matter how many good OC1 and V1 paddlers you fill up your OC6 / V6 with, each seat is specialist to greater and lesser degrees. You need a steerer - and if they are the slowest solo paddler, but the best (only) steerer you have, what are you going to do?
How long can you keep a high level of effort will be a consideration. No matter how strong you are, you have to put out effort for the entire race.
This encapsulates a canoe paddler’s essence and relates back to 'Sustained Strength’ issues. This must be near the top of our selection process. The use of a Concept 2 Ergo' with paddling adaptor, will certainly answer some questions a Coach may have about paddlers endurance levels.
Use of the Concept Ergo can be excellent in determining over 20 minutes sets, peaks and troughs of a paddlers paddling physiology and psychology for crew selection for change races. A good way to find out your sprinters and your marathoners . . . another article.
Timing and Technique
How well you follow others in the canoe with good form, so that others following you will be more effective, will be a consideration. No matter how strong you are, nor how well conditioned, if you're timing is off, you are not contributing effectively to the effort.
Timing and the lack thereof can emanate from any number of factors:
a lack of discipline
a lack of natural rhythm and cadence
pushing too far back in the stroke
entering too early
a mismatch of fast and slow twitch paddlers
poor technique affecting your timing
incorrect paddle / paddle length . . .
While poor timing is frustrating it is generally cured with guidance from the Coach.
Technique, is the shared responsibility of the Coach and paddler. The Coach must teach, demonstrate and advocate a particular technique and strive to have all his / her paddlers as uniform as possible.
Some paddlers will naturally have greater degrees of natural biomechanical ability than others.
Idiosyncratic 'Styles' need also be considered, as 'ideal' technique is often modified through variations of individual style, which often provse to be just as effective.
A person can have a bad attitude and still paddle well, but that negative attitude will carry through the canoe. Some will feel intimidated, some mad and the crew won't feel like pulling the canoe for you. A team who likes each other, will work harder for each other.
Attitude is an extremely vital factor in selection. From the Coaches perspective this often makes the difference between making the task an easy or painful one. Some individuals object to being coached as bazaar as it may sound. You pick them up on points, you make suggestions, you try to reinforce issues and the paddler seems to almost resent you for it. It’s possible they may not ‘respect’ the Coach for some reason.
Overly sensitive individuals are often difficult to make part of a team. They may be low on self esteem or perhaps their is a clash of personality. Perhaps the Coaches, bedside manner leaves something to be desired? Either way, it's a no win situation, which needs to be talked out and resolved, face to face on neutral territory.
Paddlers who respond well to coaching, listen and appear willing to learn at all times and put ideas into practice make for ideal students. A happy go lucky, easy going nature is a blessing in a highly competitive person.
To be truly 'liked' by all, to be a motivating individual, ensures this paddler will always have a positive effect on those around them. 'Potentially' speaking, a happy crew is always going to have a greater chance of achieving its absolute best as it won’t be weighed down by negative ballast.
All of the above are sound considerations of securing a seat in the canoe, but realise if one seat is open and two paddlers of equal ability and attitude are available, there almost always will be more consideration given to that person who gives more of themselves to the Club's effort, not that whoever is the nicest to coach get's the seat!
If push comes to shove and you need a deciding factor, this may as well be it. Let’s face it, Coaches are human beings and thereby fundamentally flawed. Chances are, nine times out of ten, they will pick their personal favourite, because all other available selection criteria have been apparently exhausted. Or have they?
At the end of the day, what is wrong with the Coach having the final say, after all, all other criteria are essentially external forces, tangible and documentable to a greater or larger extent, so why shouldn't they be able to give the final nod to Bill or Beth based on the sum of the whole?
One of the most critical elements of crew selection . . .
'Blending' involves moving paddlers between canoes, within canoes between different seats, to arrive at the most effective blend of crew and to see where any one paddler best fits with the crew or with any particular ‘mix’ of paddlers.
The blending of paddlers within a canoe, so as to create an optimum hull speed over a defined distance, will be established by interchanging paddlers seating positions, within and between canoes on the basis of abilities, technical merits, fitness levels, attitudes and how that paddler ultimately ‘blends' as a whole within the crew.
Rise to the challenge and recognise your opportunity to make a difference.
Such exercises will be carefully monitored and feedback gained from other paddlers and coaches if needs be. The process can take quite some time and should be continued throughout the season as paddlers continually 'evolve' during a season, some improving and some simply not making any progress at all and some going backwards through over-training, personal issues or injury which the coach need recognise.
What paddlers need understand, is that when they are being moved around, they are being 'tested'. Everyone's seat is up for grabs, or at least that's how it should appear, otherwise where's the incentive to improve or keep performing?
Seat swapping is essential when developing a Change Chart for a Change Race . . .
Time trials can be done in combination with this process, but generally speaking, over any distance, increases or decreases in canoe speed can be observed, especially with more than one canoe on the water.
Good blending is vital. It brings together many vital aspects in making for a fast and efficient canoe.
Coaches must isolate individual abilities, physical attributes and suitability of each paddler to each seat.
At the higher levels of canoe paddling, each seat becomes increasingly specialised, so as we can ultimately look at blending in variety of ways; in sixths; the individual paddlers themselves, in thirds; separating the canoe into the front section, seats 1 /2, mid section, seats 3 /4, seats 5 /6.
We can consider how seats 1, 3 and 5 and seats 2 and 4 blend as they will be paddling on the same sides as each other and finally we can consider the entire six paddlers and how they all come together to make up the entire crew.
Individual Effort at Training
A paddler’s willingness to push hard for every session goes a long way. Some paddlers run hot and cold which does not inspire confidence in a Coach.
Feedback From Team Members
Asking paddlers you have confidence in can certainly help you make hard decisions, but be careful of their own bias. It pays to consider their feedback carefully before acting on it, if at all.
Feedback From Other Coaches
Some input from other Coaches may be of value, but once again be careful who you speak to and how you interpret their viewpoints.
We will not make attendance a factor by itself. A person can show up for every practice, but never put out an effort. But it will be hard to apply the other factors if you are not there!
Attendance is a big issue. Supposing a hardcore, surf lifesaving competitor cannot make it until mid outrigger season, should they be allowed to arrive one day and expect to take over someone’s seat who has been their from the start of the season and attended every session?
Once again, if you allow this, you need to make it clear to your paddlers that this is the scenario later in the year, so as you cushion the impact. Otherwise you will definitely not influence people and win friends.
No paddler, if otherwise available, should only turn up to sessions they desire to. This comes under 'Bad Attitude'.
Be mindful of your attitude towards others, yourself, the canoe, your sport and your outlook on life. Never be too proud to ask for advice nor offended when it is given voluntarily. Your positive, bright outlook will always make a canoe feel lighter and more buoyant.
Strength of Mind and Body
Know that outrigger canoe paddling is a tough sport. It takes great strength of mind and body to excel. Nurture this strength so as it is visible to others and to yourself. Become an inspiration. These qualities will be a valuable asset to yourself and others and will be highly regarded.
Make a Difference
Make a difference each and everytime in the canoe, so as to gain recognition for your ability. This ability will not go unrecognized. Be courageous enough to graciously challenge another for their seat; actively or passively. Honour and respect are at stake, tread carefully and challenge only when the moment seems right. Such challenges must first be discussed with the acting Coach who shall have the final say on determining such a situation. Your intentions must be made known.
Pay Your Dues
Make sure you are a paid up member. 'The Club’ takes a dim view of those who 'Freeload' and shun their financial responsibilities. Only paid up members will be considered.
Conclusion: Coaches and Clubs, whatever you decide upon, it must be fair and reasonable and be shown to bring you and your crews success. The thoughts and concerns of your paddlers will be many and varied. Your concerns should be on being the best you can be for all of your paddlers. Work hard to earn respect rather than demanding it.