Sean shares the highs and lows on the journey to becoming a UKCC Level 2 coach…

The portfolio

At first glance, it seems quite straight forward – just complete a workbook and pull together a portfolio that includes a structured series of six progressive coached sessions. Simple. Not!

The workbook requires a lot of cross reading, reviewing and summarising. At times whilst completing it I felt like pulling out what little hair I have left on my head! It was however, beneficial in ensuring that I understand the differing styles of coaching and developmental needs of participants and students.

The six progressive coached sessions I thought would be pretty easy. I had arranged my students and surveyed them for what they wanted to work on. Dates lined up, session plans at the ready and my observer (Claire T) sorted. But things never go according to plan do they? My open boat session had to get moved as I had chosen the windiest and wettest day the canal had ever experienced and then two students had to drop out of the latter sessions (one because she had a little bump on the way). Anyway – it wasn’t over yet! More paperwork jumped out later to bite me!

I took the opportunity on the Alps trip last year to try out some different coaching techniques and tools. As a whole they were greatly received and I really enjoyed coaching boofing on Le Fournel with a group of people who were at first unsure then tried their hands at it and finally took on the big drop – a great day had by me and by the smiles on everyone else, I can only assume by them too.

Boofing the big drop on Le Fournel

Getting to grips with all the paperwork and add ons!

In October of 2014 I bumped into Rob who I did my L2 coach training with – he had spoken to Dan (Head Paddlesport Instructor at Lee Valley White Water Centre) and managed to wangle me a part time job! I wangled an extension to my L2 training validity and took on some great coaching opportunities and in addition had Dan mentor me on a lot of my portfolio and my actual coaching.

Dan convinced me not to wait for my L2 assessment before doing my 4 Star and 5 Star. So in December, I undertook my 4* training along with Steffi, Olga, Gemma, Clarissa & Ian. We had a blast – I somehow managed to get by with a cracked rib which I picked up two weeks earlier whilst paddling on the Olympic – even with a capsize that Ian came to give me a hand of god rescue and managed to push me back over cause I was actually rolling up at the time! All fun and games (and a little bit of pain). A brilliant couple of days on the Dart with some great friends and a few techniques I hadn’t practiced in ages.

Christmas came and went along with my fourth trip to Uganda. Lots more coaching and personal paddling. I then decided to actually go for my 4* assessment. I went with Jesse from work and it was brilliant working alongside her and being assessed together – we work really well together as a team and having Lowri & Chris Brain as our assessors meant it felt less like an assessment and more like paddling with friends. I did have one slight issue on the first day of the assessment with one of the students bringing a boat without a central pillar – I took the decision to say no to him paddling that boat on the assessment. It meant that I had to do my first day of assessment coaching from my playboat – which I’m used to but the award isn’t about freestyle! Anyway – managed to get my 4* with flying colours which was fantastic.

And on with the training – I went on my 5* training in Scotland in mid April of this year. We spent more time in the car than on rivers with two days paddling and about 18 hours of driving!

There were definitely moments of gritted teeth and slight panic. Leading a group of friends who I’ve worked with at Lee Valley but never been on a river with was a different experience. It challenged us all but it was absolutely great fun – I got to paddle the Coe Gorge a couple of times and the Middle Orchy on high! I can’t wait to run them again now!

Awesome time had by all – here’s Joey’s quick edit of the trip

The sucker punch

I thought breaking a rib when someone else paddles their boat into you at high speed was painful. It was nothing compared to failing my L2 assessment at the end of April. My feedback was that my coaching was fine but that I failed to tick a box on the safety brief. I was utterly gutted and contemplated giving up on the whole coaching path. Thankfully my coaching pals knocked some sense into me and convinced me not to give up because of one setback.

Since then, I was determined not to fail again and made sure I got as much coaching experience as possible in. I ran the first RCC Intro to White Water Kayaking course this year, I more than doubled my hours at Lee Valley and got the opportunity for two brilliant activities – I got to paddle with Olympic Gold medallist Etienne Stott in a hot dog for a charity event and was asked to test drive some action cameras (which will come out in an eight page magazine spread later this year).

Next steps

So with much trepidation, I undertook my UKCC Level 2 Coaching Assessment again and passed in both Kayak and Canoe. Admittedly with a fair few action points on my personal canoe skills – BUT…. I made it. The sense of relief didn’t hit me for a couple of days. Next steps are to take my Moderate Water Endorsement training, do the Advanced White Water Safety & Rescue training and complete the Five Star Assessment. Preferably all before the end of this year.

If you’ve been one of my students over the past few months – THANK YOU! If you’ve been a mentor or friend through it all – thank you and sorry – for being such a miserable git at times. It’s been a rollercoaster but there’s no way I’d want to change any of it.

Images by Sean & Matt D