Watching the Olympics over the last fortnight has been another amazing experience and one which comfortably matched London four years ago. Having been at both Lee Valley and Eton Dorney for London 2012 and watched the Team GB paddlers take four podium places across the slalom and sprint events in front of a home crowd I knew it was a big ask to expect the Rio 2016 team to repeat that, but they did, and more, upgrading a Bronze in the Sprint K2 to a Silver this year.
Listening to the post-race interviews with our winning athletes, you couldn’t help being struck not only by the scale of their achievement but also by the importance they attached to the support of their families and of the large teams of coaches, physios, sports scientists, technicians and others behind each success.
Of that list of supporters its more often than not the coaches that are given most prominence, and not only the performance coaches who have guided them through their time as part of the GB squad but very often the first coaches they encountered, the coaches that inspired and encouraged them during their first ventures out onto the water.
We often say that our Level 1 coaches are the most important coaches in our system and its true. Our Level 1s are the coaches who can lead beginners to life-long love of the sport, or put them off for life. It’s pleasing that within the British Canoeing coaching system we don’t hear of the latter. Level 1s form the broad base of our coaching triangle, introducing newcomers and funnelling them on to more experienced and more specialist coaches. The structure would collapse without them.
Being inspirational is not perhaps something that many coaches think comes naturally to them, but being enthusiastic and keen to share skills and experiences with new paddlers is something that does. If just a little of that enthusiasm rubs off on our beginners, they will have been inspired to come back for more. And that, at the end of the day, is what we aiming to achieve.