Whenever people ask me how I started coaching the first thing I tell them is that I learned to love it. I didn’t have the “born to coach” mentality that one is supposed to have. I was a shy kid, I spent my earliest athletic memories sitting on the outside of the weight room before practice because all of the socializing on the inside of it was too much for me to handle. It took many years before I felt completely confident in what I was doing and even more years trying to figure out why I was doing it.
I started paddling the way most kids do, at a day camp. I avoided war canoe as best I could because it hurt my knees and I always woke up so sore, a feeling I would soon grow to love. I could not carry the kayaks down by myself because my shoulders were not wide enough to support the load and I was too short to carry it by my side. My fondest memories growing up in the camp were the random games that I think are absolutely genius (one day I’ll explain, “Peter, Peter, Paul, Paul” or the “Animal Game”).
My coaches held mini-Olympics and tie-dye days, weekly mini-regattas, water balloon fights and trips to the “landing” where we all binged on McDonald’s ice cream. Aside from these “extras” I learned to love proving myself. The first time I ever felt like I truly accomplished something big was when our C4 beat the boys C4 during a mini-regatta, I was 10. (I am still waiting for that winners T-shirt, Coach Abbey). Like any kid in any sport, you truly feel like you could have something when the Head Coach comes and talks to you about training all year round. As I got older I realized I would be using this tactic too but it is effective no doubt. At the age of 12 I began taking the sport seriously and I committed myself to it everyday of my life.
It did not take long before I found myself dedicated to this sport, although I was not very good at it at first. Never did I imagine at the age of 14 that I would find myself teaching kids how to paddle, I never thought I was good enough. The Head Coach at the club was amazing; he brought a level of dedication that inspires me to this day. He made you feel like this was your home and you owed your energy to it. He got us all, paddlers of all ages, to feel and treat each other like family. It is a feeling that I have not seen in any other club yet.
Along with his dedication was his immense understanding of people and their need to be treated differently to be successful. This was the case for me and apparently at the age of 14 getting me to learn technique by teaching it was the solution. I have been hooked to coaching ever since. What started as a year of voluntarily junior coaching soon became years of working with youth of so many different ages and abilities. I have coached U11, U13, U15, PaddleAll, Masters and school programs. I like to know what I’m doing and have attended courses and programs that teach about the human mind and performance. Just last year, I represented as Canada’s ambassador at the UN Summit for Sport Development and Peace in Florida. It tied it all together, why I was doing what I was doing and the bigger picture that goes along with it.
I spent my first few years coaching at home in Calgary, Alberta. Now I take up post in Bedford, Nova Scotia as a Development Coach. I take my role as a coach very seriously. I think from the outside looking in one would laugh because I do ridiculous things to get kids to enjoy what they are doing and I definitely have a questionable bedside manner at times. I have no interest in being unfair but I do believe that each athlete needs different amounts of different things to be successful. I like going all the way, giving it my best effort even if it means getting nothing in return. Perhaps the biggest thing I try and instill is that you do not always get what you work for but that does not mean that you should not work hard anyways. In the coaching world I am still pretty amateur (I only have 7 years under my belt) but I have coached introductory competitive programs that whole time.
I literally eat, breathe and sleep the program of a developing athlete. Over the years I have softened a bit (believe it or not non-believers!) as I learned that being scary and loud instills fear and desire to perform to the expectations of the coach-not the athlete. 12-year old me would have never continued paddling if I had been coached by younger me. Maybe if I get the chance to coach athletes performing for funding or money my tactics will change but for now, coaching with sternness but kindness is my best weapon. I believe in a process of time and not rushing through things because of age-limits or cut-offs. I think we exclude a large population of late-bloom athletes when we do that.
As a Development coach I see great potential in the athletes who know that passion is a 100% of the time thing and that the work is hard but worth it. There is nothing worse than an athlete distraught because they’ve lost the enjoyment and are so focused on the result. Results fail people all the time but passion is there no matter what. A successful athlete is going to be someone who never forgets where they came from and how they got there. In their future, some may exceed beyond expectation and go to the Olympics and some may leave the sport for different things. As a coach my role is that the journey from either of those fates consists of something they would want to pass onto generations of youth after them.
Bio: “I am a 5’1, ball of fire, passion, curiosity and stubbornness. My love for paddling led me to spewing reps and intervals at youth hoping to make it big in the canoe/kayak world. I am a Youth Development and Masters coach in Bedford, Nova Scotia. The athletes I train are eager minded, bright, thoughtful and ambitious. Each day I ask more from them and they teach me more about what I do and why I do it. The best days are in the sun, sitting in the coach boat, watching my athletes paddle by with gritted teeth and glistening skin. The meaningful days are spent in the pouring rain, cold breath and two different types of coats on, while my athletes steam up with frigid water with their energy and heat. The sacrifices exist everywhere and the days can get long. I would not trade it for anything else. Here I am sharing it all with you, what we do is awesome.”