Ieuan James has benefited from the new performance coaching approach at Scottish Canoeing

Focus on... Canoeing

New approach to performance coach development has positive impact

Remi Gaspard joined the Scottish Canoe Association (SCA) staff in March 2012 as performance director, with a remit to run and evolve the Scottish Performance Programme in the Olympic disciplines of canoe slalom and sprint racing.

The programme has delivered unprecedented success including gold medals for Ieuan James at Junior European and World Championships in the 200m Olympic kayak sprint (K1).

Ieuan’s progression was recognised when he was named Young Athlete of the Year at the 2017 Team Scotland Scottish Sports Awards. A number of other young Scottish paddlers are now progressing towards similar goals.

So what changed?

During the Rio 2016 Olympic Games cycle, with input from sportscotland, Remi led on the strategic development of pathways and performance coaching across Scottish canoeing, including an innovative, new approach to the development of performance coaching.

Since 2016 this approach has produced clear evidence of impact in performance progression.

In this Sport First exclusive, Remi, now head of performance and pathways, reflects on the evolution of his role and explains how the change of approach has benefited coaches in Scotland such as Stuart Gerrie and Natasha Lawton.

Remi Gaspard

“It all started with the acknowledgement of a shortage of home-grown Scottish performance coaches and the fact that traditional coach education and development approaches which appeared effective on the surface, with lots of quality reflective practice and stimulating conversations, were not having the intended impact in local performance environments," Remi explains.

“In November 2015 this led to a brainstorming exercise with our partners from sportscotland, sportscotland National Outdoor Training Centre Glenmore Lodge (where a lot of our performance and leadership courses are carried out) and British Canoeing (BC). We agreed to work towards the enhancement of our Performance Coach Development system.

“Our agreed vision at that time was ‘Developing world class performance coaches who will provide effective performance environments and coaching support to enable Scottish paddlers to achieve excellence and integration into UK Sport world-class performance programmes in our Olympic disciplines’.

“The reality is that this approach works for any discipline, employed or volunteer coaches and participants willing to progress to be the best they can be.”

Coach profiling

“We created a global coach development system using our profiling mechanisms. It was important to align this with the coach education programme overseen by BC and the SCA, but it also reinforced my vision of the need to create a paradigm shift," adds Remi.

“Our approach starts with ‘what athlete transformation is needed in this particular context?’ rather than ‘what makes a good coach?’

“We had some invaluable strategic input from sportscotland which enabled us to create a stronger partnership with them to take this new approach forward. The SCA board has also been instrumental in the development of this approach, buying into this vision and the refined system. 

“It also influenced strategic thinking in the areas of pathways, workforce and club development, which we embedded in our 2017-2021 SCA Strategic Plan.”

How it works

“Doug MacDonald is our coach and pathway developer and his job is to analyse athletes development needs with their coaches, translate this into coach development needs and then work with the coaches to prioritise learning solutions. The key is to make sure the learning is implemented on a daily basis," explains Remi.

“The idea is to have a network of quality performance coaches working in hubs across the country.”


Evolution never ends

Stuart Gerrie, SCA technical coach (slalom) 

“Stuart is a slalom coach and when he started working with us he was at the level of technical coach," says Remi. "In his role, Stuart is part of an integrated performance support team, working with sportscotland institute of sport experts.

"When looking at the physiological development needs of his athletes, Stuart recognised had the technical understanding to make a boat fast but recognised his limitation in designing an impactful training plan.

“He had a three-hour session with the SIS performance physiology team that enabled him to reflect on the traditional way of preparing an athlete and look at more effective ways.

“In this case the training design has changed but so has the behaviour. In terms of applying learning to the coaching of a particular athlete, I feel like Stuart’s training approach evolved more in those three hours than it might have done in six months of a degree course.

“Stuart has been able to take on so much learning in one year, enabling him to accelerate the progression of talented Scottish athletes that he coaches.

“He is now really working at a performance coach level with the understanding that it is a never-ending learning process. A good coach needs to develop at least as fast as his or her athletes.”


Bespoke coach education

Natasha Lawton, Glasgow Kayak Club (sprint)

Natasha Lawton“Glasgow Kayak Club are doing some really exceptional work in the local community and there are a lot of young paddlers coming through," says Remi.

“Natasha was already doing some great work getting the younger paddlers engaged and making sure they go into the sport with no fear. She is the kind of person that makes this look easy but don't be fooled, it isn't.

“In terms of her learning needs, it wasn’t about coaching behaviour because she was already showing great skills.

"If we had put her in a traditional coach education programme, this would have been the first thing she would have been taught, and it would not have been necessary.

“Instead, her coaching need was more about quality assurance – how to help top paddlers to progress with sport-specific drills.

“Now Doug goes regularly into that environment to make sure everything that has been learnt with Anton Vazquez (SCA performance coach) is practised and tailored to the local environment. It has to become second nature in practice.

“From this coach development work, we have seen the progress made by the paddlers Natasha is coaching at regional level. By helping them to accelerate their development they are more likely to stay in the sport and work towards fulfilling their potential. 

“Are they future Olympic champions? Time will tell, but more important is the positive holistic development they get from engaging in paddle sport.”


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