Monday the 8th of February saw the much-awaited launch of ‘Coach Connect’. The first edition, entitled ‘I am a coach’, was the first step to creating a nationwide community of coaches in paddlesports throughout Ireland. The overarching objective is simple: “Coaching paddlesports better, together”.

Diverse in disciplines, gender, age, knowledge, level and experience; the launch conference, held via Zoom, featured three panels of incredibly passionate coaches.

The first, led by Sam Curtis, was the ‘Future panel’: three young coaches, Holly Power, Cleo Pitcher-Farrell and Rowan Johnson, who are already taking every opportunity to help others grow their passion for the sport. They all spoke with experience that many might think was beyond their years about what inspired them to take up coaching, and how being a coach brings more joy to their own paddling experience. This panel was inspiring, uplifting and highlighted that age is no barrier to making a difference and being a coach.

The ‘Development Panel’, hosted by Hannah Craig, came next. Again 3 extremely passionate coaches with projects that have made a big impact in their clubs and/or disciplines: Karen Caffrey from Salmon Leap Girls, David McClure from Southeast Freestyle and Michelle Power from Kilcock Canoe Polo CC. It was fascinating to hear how these projects went from a few athletes to high numbers and wide-reaching development in just a few years. A resounding message from this panel was the importance of creating a “safe environment” for the young participants to grow in and tailoring the programme to enable athletes to develop individually at their own rate all while learning from one another.

The Coach Connect launch culminated with a live panel discussion hosted by Canoeing Ireland Performance Director, Jon Mackey. Three highly experienced performance coaches took their virtual seats to offer insight into their thoughts and knowledge:

  • Liam Moggan – the “Coach’s Coach”: a well renowned coach developer with an incredible wealth of experience. Liam has worked at the highest level across a wide range of sports with such passion and knowledge that make him memorable to all. He also has administrative experience through varied organisations from Paralympics Ireland to the Schools International Athletics Board and sits on Canoeing Ireland’s High Performance Unit.
  • Dr Neil Fleming – Director of the Trinity College Human Performance Lab, PhD in Human Physiology, and coach to soon to be 2-time Paralympian Patrick O’Leary. Neil’s drive and understanding of Canoe Sprint is undeniable. Junior World Champion in Canoe Marathon and international athlete in Canoe Sprint for many years; he is impacting many athletes in his discipline by sharing those cumulated athlete experiences along with his professional expertise in physiology to design successful high performance training programmes.
  • Han Bijnen – 3-time Olympic coach to 5 Olympic finalists and one Olympic silver medal. A coach for over 40 years at all levels and with international athletes from different countries, Han’s knowledge and lived experience of high performance are remarkable in both breadth and depth. Originally from the Netherlands, he has been working with athletes from Canoeing Ireland since 2002.

A week would not have been enough time to explore the depths of knowledge these 3 coaches had. The attendees still managed to get snippets of the wealth of coaching knowledge and were able to engage through Q&A. Trust, motivation, coach-athlete relationships, human impact and how we could improve coaching of paddlesports were all subjects covered in this impressive discussion. This panel opened many opportunities for future reflection.

For the closing address, we were privileged with the presence of Sport Irelands newly appointed head of High-performance coaching, Stephen Maguire. Stephen’s concluding piece summarized brilliantly the learnings from the evening. He highlighted the outstanding quality of our panellists and that by coming together, sharing our knowledge, expertise and passion for paddlesports, as coaches we can become so much more.

Canoeing Ireland is extremely fortunate to have such diversity, knowledge and experience among its coaches. We would like to extend its sincere thanks to all the panellists and Stephen Maguire who were very generous with their time, and to all attendees for making the first edition of Coach Connect such a resounding success.

This is the first step in growing our coaching community and inspiring others to become coaches. There will be many more conferences/interactions tailored to meet coaches/clubs/pathway/athletes needs. Our aim at Canoeing Ireland is for everyone engaging in paddlesports at all levels to be given the best possible experience. Coach Connect: “Coaching Paddlesports Better, Together”.