Coaching and Leadership

Once you've mastered the fundemantals of paddlesports, the natural next step is to become a coach and pass on your knowledge. British Canoeing offer a wide spectrum of qualifications and awards for all levels of paddler which we can help you to achieve.

British Canoeing Coaching Awards

Sheltered water

British canoeing offer the Paddlesport Instructor and Paddlesport Leader awards for sheltered water.

Paddlesport Instructor qualifies individuals to help run group coaching sessions and assess beginner awards such as the Start award. The club has a strong history qualifiying paddlesport instructors so get in touch if you are interested in this award.

The Paddlesport leader awards qualifies individuals for safely running sessions and trips.

Moderate water

Formerly 4* Leader Training, the White Water Kayak Leader award equips individuals with the skills needed to safely lead other paddlers down water up to grade 3, in tandem with WWSR.

The club runs whitewater leader training most years with numerous members gaining confidence and valuable skills from undertaking it.

Advanced water

Beyond White Water Kayak Leader is the Advanced White Water Kayak Leader award, aimed at advanced paddlers looking to lead trips on very challenging whitewater.

Coaching Tools

IDEAS Structure

When running a coaching session, it's good to have some structure so that paddlers know what they're supposed to be doing and when. The IDEAS structure is a model to base all sessions (loosely) around.

Introduction - let everyone know what's going to be accomplished in the session, eg what technique is to be learnt

Demonstration - show everyone the technique to they can see what they're supposed to do

Explanation - describe the technique, pointing out important parts.

Activity - develop an activity so paddlers can practice the technique and commit it to memory

Summary - finish the session with a summary of what was learnt, using the opportunity to get/give feedback

Paddlesport Fundamentals

These are the four concepts that underpin quality paddlesport skills. Consideration of them by paddlers when learning and practicing skills aids development.

Active Posture - allows freedom and sensitivity of movement

Connectivity - allows the paddler to react to the movement of the boat, paddles and water

Feel - the connectivity allows the paddler to feel and anticipate the movement of the boat in the water

Power transfer - how to get the most efficient transfer of power for the desired outcome

A lot more details about these fundamentals can be found here (link).

Target Setting

Setting goals for yourself, or for the paddlers you are coaching means you have something to aim for and know where you are headed. This means you're more productive in your practice time and are able to enjoy a sense of achievement when targets are reached. Goals should be SMARTER. There are a few versions of the acronym, but one of them is outlined below, describing an example target:

I will be a qualified Level 2 Coach by October 2010.

Specific: it says exactly what I'm going to do in a concise and clear manner

Measurable: once I have successfully passed a Level 2 Coach assessment, I know I've achieved my goal

Agreed: the target must be agreed by both the coach (my mentor) and the paddler (me)

Realistic: this is perfectly realistic for me to achieve. I have already done my Level 2 training, so it requires me to tick off the pre-requisites, practice my coaching and attend an assessment day

Timed: I have a clear deadline in my target before which I want to achieve it

Exciting: these kind of goals are met far sooner than boring goals. I love coaching, so this is exciting for me!

Recorded: goals should be recorded so they can be reviewed often

How do we learn?

Every paddler has skills at different stages of learning. As coaches, our aim is to develop a paddler's skills as quickly as possible, to a higher level of standard. This relies on ingraining the skill into the paddler's brain. Read a bit on how the brain takes up the details we're throwing at it in this book. Start from page 120 on "how do we learn" up to "making a start" on page 123. Then check out "Types of Practice" on page 129. Feel free to read the rest of the author (how about supporting the author and buying it?!)

Some of the important points you should gain from it are:

- Short Term Memory (STM) can only hold about 7 bits of information, so remove distractions and don't overload a paddler with information that hasn't been converted into LTM already.

- Although a paddler may be an expert (autonomous) learner in a particular skill, if you introduce them to a new skill, they will be a novice (cognitive) learner with that skill.

- Adjust the type of practice to the stage of learning that the paddlers you are coaching are at

River Trips

Whether you're leading, being led or paddling with peers with no defined leader, there are four things to keep in mind on a paddling trip, so put your hands together for the next acronym (CLAP):

Communication: whether through speech, hand signals or mysterious clicking sounds, make sure communication is clear and everyone knows what they're doing. Setting up a communication system before beginning is advised.

Line of sight: maintaining line of sight with your whole group (directly or indirectly) so that sections of the group are not cut-off

Avoidance is better than cure: if your group has got into a sticky situation, in hindsight it could nearly always have been avoided by better decisions beforehand (before the trip or on the trip)

Position of maximum usefulness: be in a position to be most useful as if a situation was about to turn sour. This is applicable throughout a trip, whether protecting spontaneous capsize on a seemingly flat stretch of river, or setting up safety on a rapid

There is a bit more explanation on the WWSR training notes (linky) on page 7. This page is very specific though, and you should really be thinking of them being around in the background for every situation. Another guy has written up a bit about CLAP in sea-kayaking situations here.


When leading a group on whitewater it is important to give a briefing beforehand to everyone in the group. A useful acroynm to remember what to cover is MY ABCDEF

Me - tell everyone who you are and your background. Helps communication and generates confidence

You - Get everyone in the group to introduce themselves

Area and Access - Where are we paddling? Where is the road? What is the weather like? Any hazards to be aware of? What is the river like? How long will it take? 

Boats and equipment - Does everyone have a fitted boat and paddle? Is everyone wearing their BAs and helmets correctly?

Communication - River signals. Quick test to check people remember them. Mirror them back! Remind fresh that 'stop' means stop sensibly in an eddy, rather than in the middle of the river/paddling into the nearest bank etc

Doctors - Any medical issues. Important - make it clear people can do this confidentially afterwards

Emergency - What to do. Safe lining, defensive swimming. Love rocks, hate trees. 

Fun! - The briefing can be a little serious or intimidating. Kayaking is about having fun!

This is a good point to cover what skills we are going to focus on - hitting eddys, surfing, picking lines. 


Both in the briefing and on the river, remember KISS. (Keep It Simple, Stupid). People can only remember a few bits of information so if you tell people too much they'll forget most of it. Try and keep any instruction to at most 3 or 4 bits of information. 

Safety Training

A critical part of being a coach or leader is being able to keep the people you are leading safe.

These courses are designed to develop an individual's safety awareness during paddlesport. Some are pre-requisites for coaching and star leader awards.

Foundation Safety and Rescue Training (FSRT) is a course designed for all paddlers (irrespective of craft) to teach simple and safe skills that can be applied appropriately.

White Water Safety and Rescue (WWSR) and Advanced White Water Safety and Rescue (AWWSR) are training courses to provide the underpinning knowledge and teach simple and safe practical skills that can be applied appropriately in the moderate to advanced white water environment

Rescuing Swimmers

Before 'diving' into a rescue to help the swimmer, prioritise the people you look after in the following order:

Self Group Victim

Keeping these priorities in mind, consider enacting types of rescues that minimise the danger for you and your group first. Consider the following ways of rescuing:

Shout: Shout at a disorientated swimmer with clear directions (and hand gestures) to swim to a point of safety

Reach: From the bank, use a paddle or tape to reach towards the victim so they can grab it and can be guided into an eddy

Throw: Use a throwline to reach the swimmer

Row: In your boat, paddle to the swimmer and help them to safety

Go: Live-bait to the swimmer. This is a last resort, usually only for unconscious swimmers