Monday, January 28, 2013

The Hippocratic Oath* of coaching: First, do no harm

Perhaps anyone with the power to help also has the potential to harm. Certainly that's true in paddlesports, where harm can take many forms, from diminishing skill acquisition to squashing enthusiasm to causing physical injury.

We've been paying close attention to the P-P-T-T of coaching lately. Those letters stand for:

They are standard considerations in sports psychology, applied to both preparation for competition and to assessment of obstacles to performance. In paddlesports coaching, they are considered and accommodated for students' long-term paddler development. But it strikes us that they these four elements are also the key to doing no harm.

Physical risks are probably self-evident. Good coaching requires proper biomechanics to prevent physical injuries. For example, shoulder injuries are among the common physical risks in paddlesports. Emphasizing good posture, torso rotation and the "paddler's box" develops habits that help avoid shoulder injuries.

Psychological risks may not be quite as obvious. But think about the number of people who've confessed that they or someone they know had a bad experience and swore off kayaking forever. Or think about people with phobias and anxieties borne of a past bad experience in the water who won't take any risks because they are terrified of capsizing. Being aware of students' existing anxieties, and being careful not to create new ones, helps them progress.

Technical skills learned well set students up for success. For example, learning effective, efficient ruddering strokes enables a paddler to enjoy surfing waves. Learned incorrectly, they set students up to spend endless hours with a different coach unlearning poor ruddering techniques and learning better ones.

Tactical skills are the strategic use of technical skills in context. Edging the wrong way upon entering an eddy may lead to capsize regardless of the student's ability to edge. It's a matter of timing and appropriate application of technique. Again, doing no harm means coaching these skills correctly the first time around to help students avoid frustration and failure.

All four of these are intertwined; to focus on any one of them in isolation is to miss the bigger picture of coaching the whole student. When we worked at Body Boat Blade this past summer, Shawna and Leon reminded us to incorporate P-P-T-T into every lesson plan. We continue to focus on each of these elements every time we plan a course or session, or evaluate our students' progress--not only because doing so will help them progress, but because failing to do so can actually harm them.

Learning to paddle in an intimidating environment requires attention to physical, psychological, technical and tactical factors--and doing so makes it fun, not stressful.

* For the classical scholars among you, we realize that the phrase "First, do no harm" does not actually appear in the Hippocratic Oath itself, but rather is how that oath has been popularized. It's just so much catchier than, "I will follow that system of regimen which, according to my ability and judgment, I consider for the benefit of my patients, and abstain from whatever is deleterious and mischievous."


Lenore said...

I think the psychological side of PPTT is too often overlooked. If a student is scared enough to go into "survival" mode, they aren't going to be learning and are more likely to use improper technique that could result in injury.

bpfamily said...

You're right, Lenore. The damage from neglecting one of the facets can cause damage to more than that one element. Well put.

Geneva Kayak Center said...

Well done Alec and Sharon. In theories of recreation, the concept of "FLOW" is many times the result of the coach/leader's awareness of PPTT. Google Mihály Csíkszentmihályi for more information on this concept.

bpfamily said...

We don't need to Google him; his book "Flow" is on our bookshelf! But we hadn't really connected the two, so thanks!

keith wikle said...

Nice post,

Surf Kayak Skills, (one of my favorite sites) has gotten some of the same info forward. It is a solid approach to coaching.

Geneva Kayak Center said...

Should have known you two would have "Flow" on your bookshelf!

Aisha said...

Hmm, good job! This is really something!