GB Canoeing Musical Chairs


Performance Department Musical Chairs.
So the new cycle is upon us, into the past go the glories of last summer and plans are being drawn up to take our sport on the “Road to Rio”
The PD have just recently announced their new line up which will take us on their chosen path. So here are the basics of what has gone on and possibly why. All written of course by someone who is not party to the decision maker’s reasoning. 
Firstly we need to see what led to a shake up being necessary, on the face of it it seems odd that we need to change anything, surely being the “ most successful ever Olympic Games” and being the 3rd best canoeing nation in the world (according to reports) the need for change would seem questionable. Our success in the 2012 cycle would surely suggest we have it right? Well that probably depends on whether you read the official or the non official reports of the preceding years. Add to this the fact that our ‘head coach’ has resigned his post and moved on to greater glories as the Performance Director of Triathlon (Good luck to them!!) and we need to reshape.
For our sport the departure of the head coach obviously leaves us with a vacancy in this pivotal role which we will come onto later. His departure, without warning, has also meant that a few other roles have had to be shifted around. Brendan has alternated with Miklos over the past couple of years as the Women’s team coach, depending on how the results were going, and which of the women were having a hissy fit at the time. Responsible for taking the women’s K4  from being a medal contender to an also-ran finalist and presiding over the continued demise of our men’s 1000m squad  you may wonder what the attraction was for British Triathlon in taking him on.  So what roles have changed and who are the winners and losers in the new era?
Firstly we have a new post filled by Heather Williams, previously from Triathlon, she has joined us as a ‘Talent Pathway Manager’.  Once you cut through the corporate jargon on the GB Canoeing website it seems her role will be a crucial one, to ensure we develop a system that can provide a reliable and consistent supply of good quality athletes into our elite system through good use of the clubs and the talents that lie within them. Hopefully this new strategy will pay dividends. Without the clubs we will struggle to produce another Brabants or McKeever. My hope is that communication with the clubs, and those working within them becomes much more open and the imposition of plans from above is blended with the knowledge base and experience of those working with the athletes outside the system. Good luck to Heather on this one!!
Back inside the system the coaches have pretty much played a quick game of musical chairs, so here goes.......
Medal winning Mens 200m coach Alex Nikonorov has, not surprisingly, kept his job at the top of this, our most successful department. What may come as a bit of a surprise if you have been following the comings and goings of the 1000m team is that he has now been put in charge of the remnants of this group as well. I have no doubt he will do a great job with them, he has the respect of all our athletes and the knowledge and experience to back up his methods. Remember though that he once held this post before. This was a good few years ago now, at that time he was ousted by the newly qualified ( UK ECAP) coach Steve Harris and we all know how that went! My question would be then, what has changed? The same people who were happy to move him aside for a complete novice coach have now decided he is, after all, the man for the job, you have to wonder if their previous decision was based on something other than coaching qualities. Perhaps a bias toward those who they have put through UK ECAP? 
Alex’s appointment obviously moves ECAP trained Ian Wynne aside, Ian, like Steve Harris before him, rose rapidly to the top job with virtually no coaching experience. He has worked through some difficult times and now sees himself moved to Junior Mens coach. From top to bottom it seems. At least Steve Harris was allowed to move down to the U23 coach before ruining them and being moved out of coaching into an admin role! Ian has a tough job at junior level.  Our supply of quality junior athletes has dwindled over the past 10 years, our results are on the decline at an international level, and, with his athletes dispersed countrywide rather than working from a centralised base there will be plenty of adjustments to be made for Ian.  
It has to be said though with our recent results and decline in overall numbers at top level in 1000m I guess Ian had to move aside, hopefully he will reignite our junior programme.
Stepping into the U23 men’s role between Ian and Alex will be Trevor Hunter. Trevor has been the understudy to the top Women’s coaches for a long time now so the natural progression would be to move up to take the top job with the women. Not so it seems! Despite several years of involvement he does not have the support of all the women and has instead been moved into U23 ‘no mans land’. A sideways move or a demotion? Only you can decide!
The assumption would be that with Brendan leaving and Trevor being moved to U23 men that the other Women’s coach Miklos Simon who many see as being the most successful coach we have ever had for this group, would naturally move up to fill the Senior Women’s role unopposed. Not so! The head women’s coach is now Paul Darby Dowman, another ECAP trained coach gets a top job within a year of getting into coaching! Is there a pattern emerging? 
Paul spent his first year in coaching with the junior men having never even coached at club level before that and made a pretty good job of motivating the boys. Does this qualify him to take on what could be seen as the jewel in the GB Canoeing crown? Our women have come so far in the past few years they have to be seen as one of our most envied assets. It is after all the only department in which we have more world class athletes than places in the team. Has Paul got enough experience and background to take them to the next level, which has to be medals if we are, in corporate speak, “moving forward”? It is a very big ask for a very new coach. You do have to wonder if the political gain from having internally educated ECAP coaches taking top jobs outweighs the potential downside of having such new coaches in such major roles. Paul would be our third newbie coach to take on a major senior role, the other two have not performed, will history repeat?
Where does that leave Miklos Simon? Well, despite the entire outside world seeing Miklos as the saviour of British Women’s kayaking it seems our leaders feel differently. He has been moved down to work with the Junior Women, though this is great for those concerned I personally would have put my faith in him to bring in the medals from our top team in 2016. Miklos will coach, among others,  his own daughter in this junior team for the next two years ,after which she will turn senior, he will then have to pass her up to Paul Darby Dowman this really going to happen? Does this really make sense to anyone ?? Will it not just end up in two years time with another divided womens team which will be an exact repeat of the mistake we made in the last two years of the 2012 cycle that led to the loss of a potential medal?
So that is the kayaking side, moving on to the canoes nothing has really changed. Steve Train remains in his job as Canoe coach. Results and progression in the canoe classes do not back up this appointment. The Canoe programme has had a LOT of money spent on it in recent years and no results as yet. To be fair we do not have hundreds of canoe coaches fighting for this job but perhaps looking for some additional/new talent in this area would be beneficial. Steve has been coaching now for pretty much as long as anyone can remember but despite his undoubted depth of technical knowledge the results are still proving elusive. Perhaps his recent inclusion on this year’s intake of the ECAP coaching education course will be the final piece of the puzzle. Or perhaps it is just another box ticked to make it look like we are “moving forward!”?
So the only role that remains empty in the coaching structure is that of Head Coach. Brendan has left an uncomfortable vacuum that needs to be filled. There will be plenty of rumours about who will get the role, I have already heard from one source that Alan Williams will move across to take this one but I have also heard that Tim Foster, of rowing fame, has expressed an interest and for me that looks like job done. He will tick a number of boxes and from experience it seems most GB Canoeing roles are filled prior to the application process. Applications are still open though until the 20th of February so don’t hold back on applying if you think you have something to offer!
I have decided to throw my hat into the ring and apply for the job, despite my lack of experience in some of the areas required by the job description. Not meeting requirements has not stopped successful applicants in the past though so my fingers are crossed! 
The new structure and direction of the sport will be announced in March. Lets all hope we can improve in the areas that have been weak for the past few years and leave well alone the areas in which we have had some outstanding successes.

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