Paddler Retention

General slalom chatter...rant about the bad, rave about the good
Arrowcraft
Posts: 53
Joined: Wed Apr 29, 2015 6:46 pm

Paddler Retention

Post by Arrowcraft » Fri Sep 20, 2019 12:07 pm

Why do paddlers stop paddling?

I see a lot of young paddlers getting on quickly in the sport and making it into div 1 and Prem, only to quit after a year in Prem. They seem to invest quite heavily in themselves and achieve very quickly but then just stop. TID and group paddlers seem to do well then most of the southern lot seem to be working at Lee Valley now rather than paddling. In Notts, it's the same. A couple of the lads are coaching HPPCC and feeding back in, which is cool. But lots seem to have just vanished.

In a sport dominated by International pathways, are we creating a system that produces talent and then loses it too easily?

Are we focusing juniors to hard on team as the goal and undermining Prem as a competitive achievement and an aspiration to compete on a national level in arguably the best set up in the World? ( I know there are other ways of running a setup, but that's not what I'm talking about. )

I coach an international paddler and from that perspective Prem races are of less importance as they effectively fall "out of season" during different points in the training cycle...But they are still competitions. Is the focus on making a team a factor in the exodus of talent from our sport and if so, what can we do to keep them? Not everybody can make it onto a team, but a competitive Premier division will certainly make the team stronger. In fact, a more competitive every division will make the team stronger.

Is the problem that paddlers are progressing too quickly into Prem and are not used to putting in their best run and coming 40th? Being seriously challenged for the first time?

I suppose the questions are;

Are we creating a system for developing athletes that is also losing athletes?

Is there something in the coaching process of developing juniors that is turning them off when they get to Prem?

Is it that the developmental pathways are purely about teams and not about our sport?

It it just beer, relationships and Uni? - Rugby, Football, Hockey, Tennis and lots of other sports survive this time.

What can we do to retain athletes in Prem and Div 1?

Is this a problem at all?

Answers on a £20 note sent to...

CeeBee
Posts: 288
Joined: Sun Aug 19, 2007 9:12 pm
Location: Falkirk

Re: Paddler Retention

Post by CeeBee » Mon Sep 23, 2019 11:11 am

So many questions!

If you are part of a training squad and then get dropped, many have no other training group to go back to. It is great to get selected for a training squad but as all your training is done with them, you tend to stop paddling with your club or do very little with your club when you are in the squad. When you are dropped, you feel you have failed (you haven't) and don't have the relationships in the club to go back to and so it is difficult to continue paddling.

We really need to strengthen the training in the clubs and this should be organised hand in hand with the training squads so there is a mixture of club and squad training. This would include clubs who are running entirely on volunteers who are marginalised by all the money in the squad system.

This isn't at all good for the future of the sport and so many of those involved in squads do not contribute back into the sport (there are some notable exceptions like Eilidh Gibson who has gone above and beyond to contribute to slalom).

The costs to compete at Div 1 and Prem are high compared to other sports which are local. You can play tennis, rugby, football at various levels locally but there is no option to compete in slalom locally at Div 1 and Prem level, it is done nationally. Parents pay for most of the costs whilst the children are at school but parents funding kids at university can't fund sport as well. As the Under 23s drop off, there are less of them training and racing and so some of the social aspects of sport are removed as that age group becomes a minority and are surrounded by teenagers at races so don't have the same support network to get to races anymore.

The sport needs to open up its appeal to those who want to compete at any level and not just focus on the ones who are the best. The example needs to be set from the top and objectives need added to the funded program to consider the whole sport and not just international results.

Dee
Posts: 1271
Joined: Sun May 08, 2005 8:34 pm

Re: Paddler Retention

Post by Dee » Mon Sep 23, 2019 11:17 am

But how?

Back in the day, university canoe clubs used to attend slalom races en bloc so lots of 18-23yr olds. That just doesn't happen any more. I think slalom has become much more of an individual competitive sport rather than something you did with friends for fun.
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CeeBee
Posts: 288
Joined: Sun Aug 19, 2007 9:12 pm
Location: Falkirk

Re: Paddler Retention

Post by CeeBee » Mon Sep 23, 2019 11:33 am

University canoe clubs still seem to be very active. Both Glasgow Uni and Strathclyde uni had fresher events at Pinkston last week but they are all in plastic boats. There are so many disciplines within canoeing and most uni clubs do river trips and polo. They have just returned to uni and it is the end of the slalom season. We used to have various uni clubs that ran events in Scotland but all have now stopped.

I think as the top of the sport has got better due to funding, the gap between those racing at slalom who are full time athletes and those that are not discourages the non full time athletes to race. The full time athletes train in a closed group so those on the periphery are not included and can't get access to coaching or water time. If events were held such that you had a good days paddling one day and then racing the next, this might encourage more paddlers to continue paddling but to go to a single event for 2 runs or even a double event for 4 runs only doesn't seem worth it.

JimW
Posts: 433
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Location: Pinkston

Re: Paddler Retention

Post by JimW » Mon Sep 23, 2019 2:45 pm

I wonder if part of the problem is the expectation to always be going forwards in the divisional system?

Paddlers progress from 3 to 2 ,and 2 to 1 and 1 to prem and then the only way to progress is to hit the international scene and hope to linger there for a few years, or for many years. Each year we demote a few paddlers at the bottom of each division, but in many cases these paddlers already stopped racing mid-season, or before it started, for some reason. A few determined paddlers carry on and try to get re-promoted but others take this 'failure' to stay in the higher division as a cue to give up, or at least to give up slalom. It doesn't help that if you get demoted from 1-2 you suddenly lose access to most of the fun races and are back to mostly racing on relatively flat water where some of the advanced techniques you have learned don't work, or aren't appropriate for some reason, and where you probably don't have as much fun.

I can't help thinking that there are a couple of things that would be needed to try to retain paddlers, but in the short term they are measures which may lose more:
a) Demote something like 40-50% of paddlers from divisions P through 2 at the end of each year
b) Come up with better demarkation for the venues/water/courses used for each division so that there is an obvious step up from div 3 to div 2 and from div 1 to Prem (currently ony 2-1 has an obvious step up, and arguably it needs to be reduced)

My reasoning:
a) if around 50% of the division are demoted each year, it is less of a sign of failure. Most people will get block demoted alongside all the people they were racing close with over the season, so at the start of the new season they are going back up against the same quality of competition just on a slightly easier course, until they get re-promoted and have the same quality of competition on the harder course again. Also the quality of competition in the lower division is boosted, so those who had become big fish in a small pond towards the end of the season (which can retard personal development) have fresh incentive to keep on improving rather than cruise for a while. More than the incentive, they also have more opportunity to mix with paddlers that have been in the higher division and will learn from them in addition to learning from their coaches/peers.

b) if demoted paddlers are going to enjoy racing in the lower division again, the courses need to still be suitably challenging and fun for them. Arguably this is the case between prem and 1 at present but whilst it is possible to run div 2 and 3 on the same course, and worse still 2/3/4 on the same course there are going to be times where demotees from div 1 feel as though they have been kicked right back to div 4 level courses in one go.

Short season protection would also need to be reviewed, as would promotion point scores because the above requires lots of promotions and demotions to work properly and at the moment we are in a cycle of increasing points requirements to reduce the number of promotions to stabilise division sizes, so that is incompatible.

Another possible issue is that we recruit young and then try to keep hold of paddlers, rather than actively recruiting to all ages (noting that pretty much every club will accept new members at any age, just that we dont target all ages) so that we can replace say 20 year olds who stop with other new 20 year olds rather than waiting for the 19 year olds to turn 20.
We need to grow in the older teens, early twenties age range. These are increasingly independant people with low incomes who are already involved in river running at quite difficult/technical levels and/or freestlye and/or extreme racing so we need to be able to compete with that level of obvious adrenaline rush to attract them, without them needing to invest in new equipment. Currently they can do the special open event at a div 2, but most div 2s are not on exciting enough water to attract them so there are only a handful of events that could potentially do this, maybe a start would be to promote them more to those groups? Extreme slalom is not attracting them, for one thing it is not extreme, and for another they see it as 'slalom' trying to take over what they have always called BoaterX (boatercross), we need to attract them into traditional slalom (i.e. something different to what they already do), but at a level where they can get stuck straight in.

JoS
Posts: 61
Joined: Thu Mar 03, 2016 2:30 pm

Re: Paddler Retention

Post by JoS » Tue Sep 24, 2019 10:25 am

I also wonder if, on becoming an adult and having to do all the driving, kit cleaning, cooking, camping stuff, laundry, dishes, housework, and having a job, they just don't have the energy to train hard enough to stay in Prem, and when they find themselves slipping down the rankings, feel like they've met their competition expiry date and might as well give up now. As somebody who's knackered all the time and in Div 3 because I can train once a week max, it takes me a lot of guts to keep showing up and getting beaten by a bunch of kids, it must be much harder for somebody who's thought of themselves as The Awesomest Paddler Ever and suddenly finds they can't be.

Steve Holmes
Posts: 33
Joined: Mon May 21, 2018 11:05 am

Re: Paddler Retention

Post by Steve Holmes » Wed Sep 25, 2019 1:15 pm

Jo, you’re high on my list for awesomest paddler ever, you inspire at every event you are at! The sport needs more people like you. Not sure about the retention though, will have a think!
Personally I stopped when I was 20 as I was finding it really hard to train over the summer months, and so after 4 really good results I couldn’t see myself getting the same at the end of the season, and wanted to embrace beer and play boating more. Other things like depression and struggling at uni both academically and socially played a part. In hindsight I could have made different choices in the jobs I did over the summer to allow me to train over the summer, but hindsight is a great thing.

alan1nckc
Posts: 22
Joined: Thu Jun 28, 2012 6:19 pm

Re: Paddler Retention

Post by alan1nckc » Wed Sep 25, 2019 2:52 pm

It would perhaps be instructive to find out the ages at which paddlers drop out. There are several boundaries which might have a significant effect i.e.:
GCSE at 15/16
Driving license at 17, (hence no taxi service)
A level at 18
Uni at 19 (other interests)
Work at 17 or 19 (low income, more time commitment)
Leaving Uni at 21 (relocating for work)
Gap years

Steve Holmes
Posts: 33
Joined: Mon May 21, 2018 11:05 am

Re: Paddler Retention

Post by Steve Holmes » Wed Sep 25, 2019 8:22 pm

Brain dump number one (number 2 may follow once I've done the housework!):
I know we've lost some girls who struggle with the move from div 3 to div 2 (I know that there are a lot of div 2/3, but still you can get promoted to div 2 just paddling at Stone, Wagon Lane, Oughtibridge etc) and getting scared by the bigger water and more challenging courses. Chloe has struggled with this, but she has the advantage that during practice (and runs if she wants) I'm right there with her - a lot of girls don't have that option. She also has the advantage of being young so she doesn't feel the pressure of needing to hit targets to stay on training schemes.
Presumably there are girls (and boys as well) who have the same problem moving from div 2 to div 1, probably more so because there are no Howshams or Cardingtons (ie quite easy for the division) at div 1.
I'm not sure what to do here. I sort of think John Sturgess has an idea when he wants to get rid of divisions. Events would be worth points, so an HPP prem standard course would be worth 2000 points and Stone worth 250, as they are now, but the system would work like the C2 system does now. One advantage is that those who are happy on big water and want to do the occasional slalom could just rock up to Tully once a year and challenge themselves. Another is that if someone wasn't ready for paddling on bigger water they wouldn't feel the pressure to as they could keep on competing at events they are happy at until they feel ready for the step up.
There are disadvantages - someone could go trophy bagging, there would potentially be less uptake on judging, especially at the harder events, and probably lots more that I can't think of at the moment.

Steve Holmes
Posts: 33
Joined: Mon May 21, 2018 11:05 am

Re: Paddler Retention

Post by Steve Holmes » Wed Sep 25, 2019 10:07 pm

OK, brain dump number 2

Things seem to be happening a lot younger than they used to. My wife tells me I can't compare the sport now to when I competed as a kid (1988-1996) as it's a completely different sport. But I'll try!
I started paddling slalom at 12, and it took me 18 months (about 12 weekend events - no doubles then - team events Saturday, individual race Sunday) to get out of Novice (for those not in the know, novice became division 5, not sure when it was lost in the ether). On the day I got promoted I finished 12th - 17 K1M got promoted out of the 85 paddlers.
It then took me a further 16 months to get to division 3, by which time I had finished my biggest growth spurt (just) and was ready for bigger water.
I was a slow progressor, but not entirely unusual.
It was usual for paddlers to get to div1, or the bottom of prem, by the time they went to university, then if they were serious about slalom they looked at a university where they could paddle, and some paddlers made huge gains at this point - Campbell Walsh for instance.

Nowadays with the pressure the kids are under to get on and stay on the talent schemes - by the time they reach university age (let's say J19 for anyone born September-December) - they need to be essentially on the GB team to get a look in. They can't afford to wait until they get to university and can train regularly at HPP or Lee Valley, they need regular access to these venues from the age of 14 or 15. So we're potentially losing those kids who don't have the parents, money and/or time to get to train on div 1 and prem standard water regularly.

The talent scheme seems flawed to me, not that I could do a better one. We could have the paddler with the most potential in the world start at 16, but take years to get top coaching, if at all.

I'm not meaning to criticise a scheme that is obviously working to produce top international athletes, but the question was one of retention, not producing the elite. I don't think the two are mutually exclusive, but I don't think the two are necessarily working together now.

JimW
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Location: Pinkston

Re: Paddler Retention

Post by JimW » Thu Sep 26, 2019 12:21 am

Steve Holmes wrote:
Wed Sep 25, 2019 8:22 pm
I sort of think John Sturgess has an idea when he wants to get rid of divisions.
John doesn't necessarily want to get rid of divisions, more to do away with using a paddlers divisions to control which races they may attend.
Paddlers could still be ranked into divisions based on the points they score over the year, but div 3 and prem paddlers would be able to race at the event over the same course, with the points available depending on how difficult the course is. Naturally prem paddlers racing easy events are unlikley to score enough to improve their ranking due to the low maximum points available (but might have other reasons to race), whilst div 3 paddlers racing in hard event are likely to finish too low down to make much impact on their ranking. Of course those paddlers who start out in a division below their true ability do have a good chance to improve their ranking at more difficult competitions.

Once the venues are properly ranked and assigned points commensurate with their true difficulty, we could take each paddlers top 5 scores (as at present) and use the current promotion targets to determine if a paddler has done enough to get promoted to the next division, and at the end of the year if they scored less than the target for promotion into thier current division they get demoted, but this has no impact on a paddlers right to enter any race no matter how many points are available from it.

Without getting into the details, WWR in the UK has races on a range of different grades of water, and all races are open to anyone, it is left for the individual to determine if a race is suitable for them. This mostly seems to work.

djberriman
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Re: Paddler Retention

Post by djberriman » Thu Sep 26, 2019 3:38 pm

Every paddler has progressed from div 4 to 3 to 2 to 1 and at many points will have had to put in their best run and achieved little. They will have been challenged many times during those years, the stress of trying to get that final point, the fear of harder courses, bigger water etc etc. They will also have experienced failure which is obvious if you coach youngsters as when they get promoted having been in say the top 10 for many months before promotion they are often shocked to suddenly realise they will be at the bottom, this is particularly evident from div 3 to div 2 in my experience when even the 'J' prizes dry up never mind the real 1st,2nd,3rd prizes so I can't see that we promote to early and that paddlers can't deal with failure.

I assume we lose many in their early teens so they can concentrate on their school work (I've certainly seen that a lot), this is probably particularly the case for those who have to travel some distance to train and race. Those on squad often have to choose between a future career and squad, when its clear they aren't going to make it they like others concentrate on their exams and their future.

I assume we then lose more paddlers in late teens once they go to uni. There will be many reasons for this many of which I've no doubt are due to the costs and time required to run themselves all over the country to events (or even having somewhere to store a boat!), many won't have cars, they may be the only slalom paddler. Other popular sports can be done locally at uni, perhaps that is the difference, there will be more people from the uni competing making it more sociable, training will be done locally and transport will be shared or perhaps provided.

I guess many may return one day, once they have left uni, worked a few years and then found time to return.

There is however a clear issue when paddlers go to uni to be told that they can not then move from their 'home' squad to the 'local' squad!

djberriman
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Re: Paddler Retention

Post by djberriman » Thu Sep 26, 2019 3:57 pm

PS. Steve Holmes is right

Many paddlers over the years have stated they don't want to be promoted and either drop out totally or drop out for a year, many enjoy racing but don't want to challenge themselves further, they might given time but not at the moment. I guess much of that comes from the push from parents/coaches/squads to get promoted, rather than focus on racing the hard races in the division, they go for the easy ones to meet expectations. Parents/Coaches etc need to ensure they focus on gaining experience rather than getting promoted.

Perhaps paddlers need to do more white water trips at the expense of some slalom races to gain experience, not just paddling gates on the same 300m sections of water they always paddle and they feel at home/safe on.

Perhaps all events (certainly all 2,3 events) should have an open so paddlers who won't want to paddle their new division can continue. All division 2's already should to allow for direct entry as per the rule book. On this point I also think that div 1,2 and 3 should have direct entry, rather than just div 2, allowing paddlers to join our sport at a suitable level if already experienced.

I'm not sure whether they would race an open however as they don't appear to want to enter as an official.

Many paddlers feel pressure of hitting squad targets, I know when racing div 2 I was asked if I could let them win as they needed the points and I didn't. At least that problem has probably reduced as many of us Masters have gone Vet.

I guess what we really need to do is stop guessing and get in touch with paddlers who drop out and find out why? Surely that would be worth the time and energy of a volunteer each year?

Steve Agar
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Joined: Wed Jun 17, 2015 9:30 am

Re: Paddler Retention

Post by Steve Agar » Thu Sep 26, 2019 6:54 pm

I'll be blunt. Whilst there are many valid points raised, I think the elephant in the room is that most paddlers leave slalom because they don't find it fun anymore. When many slalom paddlers become more independent from their parents, whether at uni or at work, they meet a different group of paddlers and suddenly find that instead of 12 minutes on the water over a weekend they can have hours (at much less cost) with like-minded people enjoying white water, playboating, surfing, open boating, playing polo and generally enjoying themselves in a boat. Slalom, unsurprisingly, loses its appeal. The competitive spirit doesn't necessarily disappear, but the pressures of having to perform and progress to meet the expectations and investment of others are removed. Many will still dip in and out of slalom to test themselves against their peers (and the water), but they no longer feel they need to be part of the system that is driven by the goal of winning at (nearly) all costs. We debate why we have so many protests and that judges should be better and how courses should be different, but how much of that is what would make people want to enter and stay in our sport where Olympic success is the ultimate arbiter of whether the sport is deemed worthwhile by many. Slalom can be fun, but it's never on the list of aims of those who want to set the direction of the sport. Be careful what we wish for.

JoS
Posts: 61
Joined: Thu Mar 03, 2016 2:30 pm

Re: Paddler Retention

Post by JoS » Thu Sep 26, 2019 7:15 pm

Aww, thanks Steve, that's really nice of you to say that! :)

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