The value of being coached
Words: Matt Pearce
Intro: KW Associate Editor Matt Pearce has been either doing or coaching competitive sport most of his life. This issue, he looks at how getting coached can help you unlock levels of performance that you never knew were there.
I had my first coach when I was just seven. He was a grizzly, bearded former US Marine, a veteran of the Vietnam war and a man not to be trifled with. Frankly, I have no idea what he was doing coaching a kid’s swim team in northeast England in the mid-90s but there he was and he was no joke.
I was a bit scared of him, but he was a straight talker. Sometimes I felt he could have sugared the pill when detailing just how flawed my butterfly stroke was (I was only seven and what is the point of that stroke anyway?) but he was relentlessly committed to pointing out the holes in our game and his advice stuck. As I got older, and as more coaches came and went, his pointers about technique remained engrained in my memory and I was a better swimmer for it.
Flash forward 22 years and I’ve been extensively coached in various sporting and professional endeavours ever since. From marking my opposite number in rugby to marksmanship with a rifle, a steady stream of instructors have picked apart my failings as a sportsman, a rifleman and, indeed, even as a human.
Their coaching styles have varied, but they’ve all had the aim of making me better than I was the day before. That’s what coaches do.
The irony is that since I became a kite instructor at 21, and having gone on to do other coaching jobs after that in the fitness world, the value of having a kite coach never really sunk in until recently. I’d been under their pupilage of most of my coaches because I felt I had to be – not because I really understood the value of it.
However, that all changed at the tail end of last year. You see, my other passion, besides kitesurfing, is long distance running. I take part in mountain races and ‘ultramarathons’ of up to 100 miles (plus a bit) and have found I have a basic aptitude for it. The longer the distance, the more it comes down to stubborn doggedness than athletic ability or talent, and that plays to my strengths.
Although I’d been running for several years and had had some modest successes in races, and even though it’s hardly the most complex of sports, I began to realise there was something I was missing in my training.
I would go out and run, covering many miles, but was I doing it properly? Was I running fast when I should have run slowly and was I running on hills when I should have run on the flats? With another (tougher) 100 miler coming up, I decided it was time to outsource that decision making to somebody who knew better. I reached out to a well-known running coach in the Lake District, a man with far more experience of hill-bound misery than I, and he agreed to knock me into shape.
Within a few weeks, I’d quite drastically overhauled the way I’d been training and was making progress. I’m not a total rookie and had a reasonable grasp on what I was doing but, the key point is that I didn’t know what I didn’t know about my chosen sport and THAT was where the performance gains came from.
So how does this relate to the kiting realm? Most of us were coached in the early stages of our kiting career and a recent poll carried out by the guys at Progression found that 72% of kiters learnt to kite with an instructor. However, once up and riding, many of us prefer to learn new tricks and moves on our own (perhaps with a little bit of YouTube tutoring along the way) instead of getting the help of a coach.
I’ve personally never been coached as a kiter in any way. I taught myself all I know (for what it’s worth) so I know why you might have dismissed, or perhaps never even considered, getting some tuition to further your riding. I also think I may have ripostes to any objections you may have to the idea, too!
Here’s how you might be thinking..
1: You’re already doing okay. You kite on weekends and whenever you have free time, you’re making progress from session to session and you don’t feel the need to spend money on somebody teaching you when you can learn yourself.
Of course you’re doing okay! If you’re out kiting then you’re already winning. But what if you could be doing even better? Even though you’re progressing now, perhaps learning new tricks or riding harder in bigger waves, there will still be elements of your riding that you’ve not yet considered that an experienced coach will pick up on straight away. It can be something as innocuous as foot positioning in your bottom turn, but the difference it can make to your riding when somebody points it out is undeniable.
2: You’re learning enough as it is anyway. Why hurry the process?
Coaching isn’t about hurrying the process, it’s about streamlining it. If I look back to eight years ago when I was trying to stick my first low mobes (they were fashionable then) I didn’t really know what I was doing wrong. Imagine if I’d had Tom Court or a similarly experienced freestyle coach on hand to tell me to hold on to that bar just that bit longer. I’d have saved myself hours of frustration and would have spared my poor kites from being slammed into the water / beach time after time.
3: You’re already having fun. Is it possible to have more fun? And could a coach really make that happen or would it all be a bit serious?
This comes down to the person coaching you. If my old swim trainer is running your clinic (I’ve not seen him in over 20 years – he may have since branched out into other sports) then you’re in for a hard time, but what could be more fun than a cool, happening pro shredder giving you pointers on how to improve and, in the process, making you a better rider?
4: Coaching costs money and you’d rather not spend it.
The financial issue is a fair one. This old kiting habit of ours isn’t necessarily a cheap one after all. If you do have expendable cash though, then I suppose it comes down to how highly you prioritise kiting in your life. I’m not about to suggest you should put going to a coaching clinic ahead of your mortgage repayments, but if you’re able to spend money on some coaching then I guess it’s one way of ensuring you’ll get the absolute most out of your time on the water.
One way you could look at this is that every session costs you something in terms of money or effort. That includes the cost of getting to the beach, the wear and tear on your gear or the amount of flack you’re about to get from your boss for turning on your out-of-office email reply and slyly going kiting. You want to get the greatest return on that investment possible, and you’ll get that when you’re hitting each session with the heightened awareness of your own riding that you’ll get after a professional coach has helped you break down and rebuild your kite-game.
YEARNING FOR SOME LEARNING?
Get in touch with your local school / shop who may also specialise in higher level coaching and will certainly have some valuable advice for intermediate improvers. If, however, you want the glamour of pro-rider tuition, here are a few examples of international coaching clinics that you can get stuck in to:
PROGRESSION have been at the forefront of the digital kite-tuition experience since the start. They’re now also running foil coaching clinics for total beginner to advanced foilers. This summer they’ll be doing clinics throughout Europe and the UK and they’re actively involved in developing the first ever BKSA foil coaching program in conjunction with the BKSA. Find their full 2018 schedule on their site:
REO STEVENS is one of the original strapless chargers and this Patagonia Ambassador and Hawaii native now offers bespoke coaching courses in the wave paradise of the Marshall Islands in the South Pacific. He’ll help you fine-tune your wave riding (and surfing if the wind’s light) and coach you up to bonafide strapless-shredder status:
TOM COURT runs his Slice of Life clinics in conjunction with KiteWorldWide. You’ll experience the life of a pro rider and everything that entails! You’ll kite all day while Tom coaches and films you in group or private sessions and then you’ll be able to watch your performances on video to see how you’ve improved! There’s usually some pretty solid parties along the way and Tom and KWW have clinics coming up this year in Morocco, Sri Lanka and Brazil:
PLANET KITESURF have a range of clinics for all levels, ranging from twin-tip progression and wave technique through to hydrofoiling. Destinations include Portugal, Dakhla, the Maldives, Tarifa, Turkey, Sri Lanka and Brazil. A particular highlight is that Planet have also teamed up with the Progression Live team to run a unique intermediate foiling camp at Viana do Castelo in Portugal from 8 – 15th September.
ION CLUB run coaching clinics throughout the year. This year, 3 x Wave World Champion Kirsty Jones will be running the KJ Experience wave riding and yoga clinics in Dakhla, Morocco with dates available right through until October.
JALOU LANGEREE AND MOONA WHYTE the top two ranked female wave riders in the world, are running their Ladies Only Surf Camp this summer in Cabarete from 23rd – 25th July. If you’re a lady who wants to rip the waves harder and you’d like to do just that with other likeminded women, then this could be for you!
SURFIN SEM FIM run a seemingly endless number of coached clinics and downwind adventures throughout the year. They offer wave coaching clinics for all levels of riders in Brazil, South America, South Africa and Hawaii and they’re led by some of the top wave riders in the world, including Mitu Monteiro and Willow-River Tonkin!