Monday, June 23, 2008

Why the BCU obsession?

Well, that was funny. I'd been thinking about writing a post explaining why I've been so sort of obsessed with the BCU of late (I've made a few references in the past couple of months, most recently Friday's poll-on-a-whim, but beyond that oh, gosh, the emails, the emails...). I guess I'd practically written it in my mind, but thought it was a little too long for a lunch break post.

But then Joe Rouse asked me the perfect leading question & next thing I knew, there was ALMOST the entire post in a comment in response - in far less time than I'd thought it would take. There was one more very salient detail involving allowing tails to wag dogs (or perhaps putting carts before horses, seeing as the question was straight from The Horse's Mouth). Caught myself thinking some not-particularly-rational thoughts in respect to what I was going to do & why - I'll probably write about that tonight.

But for now - since I wrote as much as I did, I might as well post it.

Oh - in case it's not clear - BCU = British Canoe Union, ACA = American Canoe Association.

Joe's question:
BCU? You must be an instructor. ;)
I belong to US Sailing only because I teach.

sidenote: Why do the Brits have the best programs? The RYA's Yachtmaster program crunches the competition.

My answer (with a few tiny edits)...
I was actually one of the partners at Manhattan Kayak Company from 1999 - very early 2002. During that time, I got certified as an ACA open-water coastal kayaking instructor& when I dropped out of the company, I let my certification lapse. It was expensive & a bit of a hassle to maintain & when I was teaching professionally, it paid for itself - when I stopped, it didn't. I've kept teaching on & off since then; the reason I'm so obsessed with this new BCU scheme is because our club is pretty much sans certified instructor - there are members who are or have been certified as either BCU or ACA instructors, but one lives in CA, one's moved to Queens & has a busy job & a baby, and one's wife just joined him in retirement & they basically plan to spend a lot of time travelling.

The last guy was the one who had largely been responsible for helping the club make the decision to adopt the BCU system as the club's preferred training & served as head instructor for most of the formal training sessions we run at Lake Sebago. He had given plenty of warning that last year was really the last year he would be able to do that. Now, uncertified does NOT equal incompetent - there are still several very able instructors in the club. Nevertheless, we're now in a position where we have to bring someone in to run anything but the most basic training - there's nothing wrong with that, but it's just nice for a club to be able to run at least beginner-level programs with people who are active members & will be around & available for continuing help during those early phases - the learning curve when a person begins to get serious about really acquiring some skills is pretty steep & it goes a lot better if they've got some people to turn to. That takes a little confidence in both directions, and a formal training session is a great place for that confidence to be established.

Because of that, the club covered BCU coach training for those of us who had the proper prerequisites to do so last year, with the idea that the recipients of that training would do whatever we had to finish off whatever we had to do to get certified on our own.

Only hitch is that we all got trained under the "old scheme", and now we have to get certified under the "new scheme", and that's not turning out to be so simple. Problem is that there aren't a lot of people in the US who are certified to do that yet. I'd started getting all stressed out about it & then decided that it was a stupid thing to give myself ulcers over & was going to drop it until somebody in the BCU hierarchy could give me a straight answer.

Recent development is that I DID get a straight answer. It requires dropping quite a few bucks & taking a week of vacation, but the guy who's teaching it is by all accounts an excellent instructor, his wife is an old friend from my MKC days (we taught a few Chelsea Piers kids' camps together, that was fun, she was great with kids' instruction), and it's on Lake Champlain, so I'm inclined to go.

But from the looks of the poll at this point, I'm not the only one who's found the transition confusing. And the thing was, the "old scheme" really did work pretty well. The "new scheme" was developed to fit in with a general coaching scheme that the UK has adapted for all sports.

The fact that the UK actually cares enough about people DOING sports -- not just sitting on their duffs eating cheese doodles & watching other people doing sports on tv -- to institute a nationwide coaching scheme MIGHT have something to do with why UK programs DO tend to be highly effective. Maybe it's just more ingrained in the culture.

Anyways, the problem is that the new scheme is HIGHLY relevant to what's happening in sports in the UK - the BCU coaching scheme is becoming one piece in a much larger picture. Here in the States, though, without that larger picture to give context to the changes, it's generating some confusion. With the old scheme being extremely popular & well accepted, that's a little rough. Be interesting to see if the ACA (who's gone to an interestingly BCU-esque 5-tiered system) starts making some inroads in the areas of the US where the BCU standards had gained the most ground.

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