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  • Writer's pictureTom Botterill

Keeping (in the) Current

A few days in and Lockdown 3: Rise of the Vaccine is really starting to drag. I’d actually already done most of the paperwork and the legally required filing of stuff that I normally ignore until the last possible moment during the winter because about a week before Christmas I was supposed to fly back to Chile for a month or so, a trip that amazingly looked like it may go ahead. Until a day before.

So all my work done, no paddling allowed, confined to England and rubbish weather, I had completed Vikings in Lockdown 1: The Revenge of the Toilet Paper and Netflix in Lockdown 2: Return of the Peak. So my mind turns to the book that I had every intention to be reading at that moment in time, though, I had envisioned it being read wearing boardies, in a hammock, post upper Palguin laps: Coaching Adventure sports.

This book is brilliant, there’s been quite a lot of hype about it since it came out, with rave reviews about how easy it is to read, the excellently relatable anecdotes from a range of big (and small) names from the adventure sport industry and in the rare case an idea/method it pitched wasn't as clearly explained as you’d like; bam! Here’s an example of it being used in climbing or canoeing or mountain biking or in the mountains. Try not understanding that now!

When It first arrived I had a flick through to find the entries from my friends (and me!) and then closed it and left it in preparation for the hammock. So now, with all hope of that lost and all other procrastination explored, I decided I could safely start reading it.

A good book despite the limited scenery.

As I started reading I was intrigued by the tasks associated with each section “I’ll have a go at those someday”, I thought. A few days of lockdown later and I’m starting to try a few of the tasks, often with phone calls to Josh when I get stuck or to discuss how I can totally steal it for use in my/our own delivery.

Some of the thoughts that the tasks provoked were quite deep and meaningful. It was interesting to realise while 'considering what skillset an independent kayaker needed', in my list the proportion of off water skills outweighed the on water skills, from reading forecasts, carrying suitable kit, loading and unloading boats, it shocked me as a coach which skills I get paid to teach.

Around this point Ant Morgan messaged me about having some coaching chats to share ideas and practices, the same day Josh suggested expanding our phone calls to get other opinions and that was it, I was stuck, no option but to learn stuff and improve as part of an accidental community of practice, an important way of developing as a coach. (Page 343)... Dan and Paul would be proud...

We started some weekly zoom calls ending up with the book mostly forming the basis of the conversations. “I get what’s being said here but really is that the message we want to give to aspirant coaches?”, “...but I think this works as a far better framework for a new coach than anything else that’s currently being used”, active arguments back and forth depending on section or idea, all round agreements that (president?) Tom Parker’s story was a highlight and then we got to Paul’s Triangles.... (Page 45 - I literally knew that off the top of my head)

A comparison between the Triangle exercise completed by a group of inexperienced leaders and very experienced leaders. Taken from Coaching Adventure Sports - Paul Smith & Dan Wilkinson

I had participated in a few excited conversations with Paul while sat in a van going places and thoroughly liked the idea in principal but was a way off understanding it enough to use it in my own delivery, Josh however had actually worked with Paul when he had pulled them out and used it with a group.

After a discussion in our new ‘book club’ around what was written in the book, Josh's views of the practical application, my weaker understanding (but said louder) combined with how devastatingly stark the pictures of the same task completed by three different levels of experienced leaders meant we were all keen to understand it more. Josh set us all homework: to complete the task as if for a D of E gold canoe group, something all four of us on the call had experience in.

A week later and we were back on zoom arguing again but resulting in a thoroughly informative evening, a deep enough understanding on my part to be able to start fitting it into delivery and a communal google doc with what we all* feel are important considerations for each element.

Without this book and these calls I would be concerned where my coaching would be post lockdown, this was illustrated perfectly when, half way through talking about how something fitted brilliantly with a constraints led approach I realised that in the moment I had totally forgotten what one of the elements was and had to pause and sheepishly ask my peers what the third constraint was.

If you haven’t already - go and buy this book and then do your best to convince your friends, enemies or canoe club to argue with you about it on a weekly basis. It’s been great fun.

*Full disclosure - when I say "we all", I haven’t actually added anything yet.

Words by Tom Botterill

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