All Change!

 GB Canoeing have just posted their most recent article, which makes several exciting announcements. The headline is that they now have a purpose built facility at Dorney Lake for the athletes to use as a clubhouse. The next is that the coaching staff has, once more, been rotated and the third, that we have employed another administrator to keep things even more organized than they were previously.


When you consider that the coaching changes were actually announced in early December it almost looks as though GB Canoeing have been holding off on publicizing them until there was some positive news to sandwich them between in order to hide news they are a bit embarrassed by, (or am I just too cynical?)


As ever the coaching changes are painted in a positive light, though if I were Paul Darby-Dowman I may struggle to see it that way, however much they say he remains “hugely valued”. In essence he has been demoted, back down to the U23 men, which is pretty much the role he was promoted from just 2 years ago. Since promotion to the senior Women's role there has been nothing but praise for him. John Anderson himself has described him as being the best coach ever in this role! Results in 2013 were not what they could have been but there was definite improvement last season with some very impressive races during the World Cup series. The season ended with management claiming success and lauding the fact (fiction) that we are now in an even stronger position than we were at the same point in the previous Olympic cycle. It seemed we were on the up, at least according to official sources. So, why the change??


Paul had done incredibly well with the Junior team he worked with before his promotion with 3 Finals at Junior Worlds which is really impressive. Rather than leave him to mature in this role and continue the good work, management opted for the promotion, based on the fact presumably that he had now done his ECAP course. As we mentioned in our piece two years ago the ECAP coaches do not have a great track record when promoted before their time. Steve Harris and Ian Wynne both reached top jobs and were removed within a season having taken this same route. Two years ago our article read….


“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?”


You have to wonder what sort of learning curve the management are on to make this mistake three times, you may even start to question their judgement! I am certain given the right experience and the right mentoring these guys will make very good coaches, in the main they are very bright guys with a lot of background in performance. What they don’t have is experience and a proven track record, both of which take time to build. I doubt if there is another industry that would employ a new graduate as the head of its operation, but this is what GB Canoeing seem to find acceptable. Our management justify their bad choices with hyperbole in their self serving, self written articles on their own website; but the truth is, every time they do this it fails. What kind of learning curve are they on? What does it take before they have to be brought to account for their own bad judgment?


The senior women's squad has now been taken on by Rob Sleeth. Rob was responsible for the ever shrinking men's 1000m squad last season and is not the obvious outsiders choice for this role. In terms of leading the squad last season he did not inspire the men enough to hold the group together, Paul Wycherley and Andy Daniels both opted out to go their own way, which left Rutherford and Boyton as the only two funded senior athletes on the squad. They did not inspire at the Worlds last year. A lackluster C Final place is hardly inspirational. With this in mind it would be great to hear on what rational he was chosen for this job. 


For myself, and many other onlookers, the obvious choice remains Miklos Simon. He has a proven track record at major championships, a silver medal this year at Junior Worlds, a 5th place at Senior Worlds for his junior athlete, (who will be senior for the Rio games), World level finals at every championship he has been to since working in this country and the only sprint distance medal in women's events that we have ever had in Team GB, a 4th place in K4 500 in qualifying year last cycle, and a World Champion producing past, he seems to have a CV destined for the job. There is also the fact that since he left/was demoted, our results have been worse. All in all a strong case. I understand that his social skills may be lacking, but as an athlete I would rather have a good coach with bad social skills than a great guy with poor coaching credentials any day! 


I don’t know what drives the change or the choice of new coaches but surely results at this years qualification event are key to the survival of the whole system? If I wanted results I would look no further than Miklos….he has them….no one else does…..simples!! It may well be that he is not a front runner in the popularity stakes, but then we are not entering a reality TV show, we are entering the toughest year of the Olympic cycle. If it is the women's own choice that he is not their coach then they need to be told to like it or leave. If it is the management who don’t think he is the man for the job then they need to justify this and come up with a better option. For the millions of £’s spent on trying to be “the number one canoeing nation” they surely have to produce results at some stage rather than just spinning an increasingly fragile set of results into a literally unbelievable success story. Their consistent refusal to admit that Miklos is the man for the job is bizarre and frankly insulting. I would suggest they must be pretty close to losing both Miklos and his daughter, who is our brightest prospect for 2020, if not 2016 at current rate of improvement. It seems their dislike for him overcomes all rational thought.


Anyway, moving on….in addition to his role with the women Rob Sleeth still oversees the men's team who have as their main coach the ever-present Trevor Hunter. The outlook for this group is not rosy, we are a long way off the pace and in need of change. We are so far behind now in the 1000m events that we need both inspiration and seriously top class coaching. I don’t see this happening under a consistently mediocre coach. Sadly we have now got such a bad reputation internationally that there are very few, if any, elite level coaches willing to take us on. There are home grown options but none that will toe the party line.


I have heard (unofficially/allegedly) that the 1000m team has already been written off for 2016 and we are focusing on 2020. Now, that would seem sensible if we had only just started our programme but we haven’t, it has been going for 15+ years and we don’t even have a squad, let alone a team in this section!!! But there is some logic in pushing the goal 4 years further into the future, not of course for the athletes who would like to be going to Rio, but for the staff. By moving the day of judgment forward to 2020 you guarantee yourself five years wages instead of just the one, so maybe they are not quite as stupid as they seem!!


The changes mean we must also have a new coach for the Junior Women's squad as Miklos has now moved up to U23 with his daughter but no official announcements as yet….


So there we have it, the usual mishmash of musical chairs, we will no doubt have to read how exciting this new coaching team is as it takes us on the final part of the “Road to Rio”, we will hear about how excited the athletes are to have their respective new coaches and how positive we are that the Rio team will be our best team ever. We will reiterate our desire to be “The number one canoeing nation in the world”. We won’t of course hear any dissent from athletes, not because they are all extremely happy, but because they must sign a contract that expressly forbids them to say anything negative about the people who control their destiny. It is a nice little safeguard they have to keep things looking rosy, which is something they certainly do excel in.!!


Our team has gone from being 5th in the World in 2010 to 13th in the World in 2014 with results getting worse year on year in the intervening years. Despite this, management still claim better results than ever in a desperate attempt to keep the wolf from the door and the gravy train on the tracks, but it cannot go on forever.


What we are good at however, is employing people. A new role (which sounds very similar to the role Alan Williams has been in for many years) has recently been filled with a new person capable of corporate speak.However, with over 100 support personnel already in place does it really seem plausible that filling yet another admin seat will be the missing part of our puzzle? If the other 100 plus cant organize an Olympic Team of 12(ish) athletes then what hope do we have??


You may notice also that we are no longer talking about “strength and depth at every level” which was our mission statement in the beginning. This is now watered down in this latest article to, “British Canoeing continues to improve its performances in the key events targeted for Rio”, this will conveniently allow them to skim over the vast majority of events that, not only will we not qualify for, but probably won’t even contest. Is there any other nation with equivalent funding who contests so few events?

When athletes are judged on their performance and coaches judged on theirs, when will the management finally be judged and more importantly by whom?? 


The facts from last year alone should be cause for concern. In the senior men's racing last year there were only two guys who stood out as having improved beyond what you could naturally expect. One was Mark Ressel, a 40+ year old surfski paddler and the other was Keith Moule also pushing 40 and racing marathons. Both these athletes did what they did without the system, the funding, the science and the admin, instead relying on personal ambition and an abundance of enthusiasm for the sport which is so lacking from the system itself. Both these guys outperformed the up and coming within the system and showed just what potential there is out there for improvement should we only get the culture right. 


On the plus side though, the new facility at Dorney is nice. You could of course question why it has taken so long to get the athletes some decent surroundings when the management have had several upgrades in accommodation over the last 10 years but that might be too cynical!


I do understand and support Scott Gardners appeal for positivity, and I think we all support the athletes wholeheartedly in their quest for Olympic qualification this year. It is a huge task and you have to admire those who put themselves on the line to the extent the athletes do. Moral and emotional support only goes so far though, it would be nice to see decisions being made at the top level to give them all the best chance possible. 


The Emporers new clothes are looking as smart as ever, especially with the new logo now emblazoned on them!!











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