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Newbies: One of Your Most Important Assets | How to Work With and Retain Your Rookies

Posted by Kristin Stickels on
Newbies: One of Your Most Important Assets | How to Work With and Retain Your Rookies

As a former teacher and a current coach, I have been fortunate enough to be a part of the learning process of individuals. Whether it is academic material or athletic movements, learning new things is a difficult endeavor which can be frustrating.

When newbies come out to paddle for the first time, it is important for coaches and teammates to remember that for most people paddling involves completely new body movements. We grow up kicking or throwing a ball, running, jumping, etc. Not many of us were lucky enough to grow up with a paddle in our hands. So, in the beginning, nothing about paddling feels natural. Not only is it uncomfortable, but it also involves many things to think about: timing, rotation, top arm, outside arm, leg drive, finding the catch, exiting in sync, return/recovery, and more. And as we all know, once you start concentrating on one area, the others tend to fall apart.


So, when working with newbies, keep in mind that the information needs to come in small bits, incrementally, and when appropriate. It wouldn’t make sense to present a brand new paddler with information about how to use their lat muscles in the stroke before they understand the concept of timing. Emphasize timing in the beginning stages, and develop the other basic parts of the stroke from that. In-depth information can come later when the basics have been mastered. You wouldn’t teach a student algebra until they have a grasp of the concepts in pre-algebra or even more basic material such as multiplication. Use this idea to guide your newbie training sessions. Think back to your first days of paddling. Try to remember how frustrated you were just trying to master the timing while trying to learn each crucial component of the stroke. Be mindful of this when you are coaching newbies. Build the foundation before you attempt to put up the walls and the roof.

Newbies are your most important resource! All too often teams neglect their new paddlers. Sure, it can be frustrating to paddle behind someone who struggles with timing, or someone who doesn’t give you enough space because they don’t yet know how to rotate. Instead of ignoring them or worse, berating them, help them by encouraging them! Depending on your team’s policy, coaching by teammates may not be condoned, but there is nothing wrong with giving encouragement. A simple, “You can do it!” or pointing out something they are doing RIGHT can go a long way in making a newbie feel competent. And when someone feels good about what they are doing, they are more likely to return.

No one wants to feel like they suck at something. Imagine that you are learning to do something completely foreign to you, such as the trapeze. Now imagine people constantly telling you how bad you are at it. Why would you even consider trying to get better? Most likely, you would say, “Why bother, I suck at this!” On the other hand, if someone identified even one thing that you were doing right, you would feel some kind of confidence in that one thing and be inclined to return to hopefully develop more.


No one is apt to continue something they believe they suck at.


If your team does not cultivate their newer paddlers’ abilities, you will find yourself with a shrinking team. Veteran paddlers are important to the team, however, the future of your team depends on the new paddlers. Every team has a natural attrition rate. Paddlers get married, have children, become injured, lose interest, change jobs, move, etc. and the numbers of paddlers drops. Without putting emphasis on recruitment and new paddler development, your team numbers will unfortunately decline.

So, how do you recruit paddlers? Various teams have different methods. Some use recruiting fairs, some pass out flyers or business cards, some use, and others simply rely on word-of-mouth. However your team decides to recruit new members, make sure that you do it with some regularity. Having a dedicated “paddler training” or “paddler orientation” day is a good way to have multiple new paddlers on the boat at the same time, therefore making them feel less self-conscious. Being the only newbie among a boat load of veterans is daunting. at best. But of course these paddler training days require veteran support. As mentioned before, new paddlers are the future of your team. If the veterans don’t come out to help develop this talent, your newbies will not have good models of what strong paddling truly looks like. Help them to raise their own level of paddling by being a team player and volunteering to help train the newbies.

One mistake that teams often make is to put all of their focus on a few individuals simply because they look strong and therefore seem like they will be top paddlers. I cannot emphasize enough how wrong this is.  Quite often, the paddlers with the most drive and determination will surpass those who have bulging muscles because they are persistent and have the willpower. Focus on the scrappy ones who demonstrate the ability to persevere. Focus on those who have “team player” attitudes. If you could see a video of me in my first few months of paddling, you would see that my paddling was absolutely atrocious. But thankfully our coaches at the time, Oliver and Michael, saw determination in me and kept encouraging me. They both made me feel like I could do it, despite the fact that I was ridiculously scrawny (5’11” and 119 pounds) and truly awful.


Don’t neglect the scrappy, scrawny paddlers – they may have just the determination needed to become a top paddler!

So, remember that your newbies are the future of your team. Treat them well. Remind yourself what it was like when you learned to paddle. Encourage them. Find something they are doing right and praise them. If you don’t have newbies, you will never have veterans. Everyone was a newbie at one point or another. Work to develop their talents and before you know it, they will be an intricate part of the team.








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About the blogger


Kristin Stickels is a three-time Team USA member of the US National Dragon Boat Racing Team. She is the coach of the Miami team Puff, the Florida Tarpons women's team and the local Breast Cancer Survivors' Team (SOS).

She is also an avid outrigger canoe paddler and raced through the Panama Canal on a native cayuco boat from the Atlantic to the Pacific.


Found out more about Hornet paddles at 

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