Coaching the BWD way

Discover what L4 International Performance Coach has to say about coaching the Bourne Water Dragons.

Discover what L4 International Performance Coach has to say about coaching the Bourne Water Dragons.

The great and the good of Dragon Boating periodically award accolades for their member's good works & great endeavours. "Legend" was one such moniker a few years ago.

That is all well and fine. However, I believe only one "Legend" exists in British Dragon Boating. Quiet, unassuming, diligent, tenacious & impeccable in all she does. Most people may not readily recall her name. Her significance in the field of Cancer Survivors paddling and the lives of the members of both Bourne Water Dragons and Pink Champagne is monumental. 

Mary Milne is, for me, the undisputed Queen of the South Coast. This Queen Mary is the inspiration and prime mover in setting up the above Cancer Survivors teams. I have had both the honour and privilege to support her teams over the past ten years. Whilst both teams are based in Christchurch, Dorset, they are quite different in character. Both have a robust culture of safety and paddler welfare. Pink Champagne is more inclined towards racing and competitive events. Bourne Water Dragons, however, is more community focussed. 

For those invested in the British Dragon Boat (Racing) Association, BWD is, perhaps, somewhat of an anomaly; being one of a small number of All Cancer Teams in the UK, BWD does not fit neatly into the "Recreational" or "Non-competitive" categories. 

The team is comprised of people with aspirations and motivations like any other. They do challenges and occasional race events. They spend time doing "mindful paddling" and have a strong culture of support that many "more conventional" teams might envy. 

Personally, coaching such a crew and training their coaches presented some unique challenges. It caused me to reassess and re-apprise my own approach to the topic of crew development. 

When I train coaches, I routinely conduct a discussion session where we identify: 

  • What is the essence or fundamental fabric of a given team? 
  • What makes people attend training and follow the advice, guidance and instructions of the coaches?
  • And in this case, why do people attend BWD sessions when they could partake in a host of alternative activities in the wonderful county of Dorset?

Completing this process with BWD, the result had, interestingly, nothing to do with Dragon Boats. The boat was purely a conveyance where people gathered and spent great quality time together. Paddling efficiently and paddling better is certainly important but not an absolute requirement. 

There are very few team activities where crew members aim to do something in the same way, at the same time. BWD indeed focuses on what I call 'The 4 x Ts of Dragon Boating': Timing, Teamwork, Technique and Power Transmission. However, the unity, fraternity and equality that arise from the act of paddling a crew boat is more critical than paddling the boat itself. So, as an L4 International Performance Coach, how does one solve this conundrum when most of your techniques and processes are focused on making race boats go faster for longer? 

The answer is quite simple; go back to first principles, reassess and redefine your delivery, focusing entirely on what I now refer to as the "Culture of the Paddler" rather than the more prevalent "Culture of the Coach".

It means the Coaching team stays in their lane and advises or guides Trustees and Managers. In doing so, the coaching team focus entirely on progressing the team's welfare. The emphasis, however, is that: "We are all, literally and figuratively, in the same boat". 

Coaches have more knowledge and understanding than the average crew member in order to guide the team correctly. However, BWD coaches spend the time discussing blending and shaping the training to suit the crew and moving them forward as paddlers. This may sound obvious, but it is not as common as it might be in Dragon Boat teams. Often the Coach proposes instruction, and the team follows. This conventional routine does not fit the BWD way. The community and fundamental concepts that Mary and her fellow founders instigated drive the training. At the same time, I suspect most team members are unaware of this process. 

The coaches don't always get it right, of course, so we use a simple and constructive feedback formula to examine, discuss and improve. The "GBH" format focuses on: What is Good, what can be Better, and How can it be made so?

The results are a testament to the fine Coaches I have had the opportunity to work with and help develop since 2018. Coaches have embraced these principles and thus fully understand the real essence of the team.

The Bourne Water Dragons is a great team, and I wish them every success. As the coaching team gets better, I look forward to hearing more about their future adventures and exploits. 

In the words of Rudyard Kipling, for the Bourne Water Dragons, All Cancers Survivors Team:

"The game is more than the player of the game, and the ship is [far more] more than the crew". 

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