Your club has decided to enter a boat in this year’s Molokai race, and you have been appointed as the coach. Several things needed to be sorted out. More paddlers want to be part of the team than can be entered in the race and you need to make some decisions quickly because time is running out for preparation How do you go about selecting your crew of 9 or 10 from the 15 who would like to be part of the action? We present here a strategy that may be part of the tool kit you might use in deciding who will go and who will remain behind, assuming that you want the best possible boat on the start line at Molokai and have the podium in your sights. How can you go about this objectively so that each paddler knows what are the expectations?
It goes without saying that you will already have a selection process for the steerer positions, and that is beyond the scope of this article. It is also fair to say that different paddlers will excel at different seat positions, but we will gloss over that one for the purposes of this exercise. One of the first questions that need to be asked concerns endurance: how will each paddler cope with the length of time he or she will be in the boat each time? Let’s assume here that it will be 20 minutes. As the coach, it is important to have some understanding of the ability of each paddler to maintain a suitable work rate for the period they will be in the boat. It is not easy to develop an objective ranking system from your time in the boat with your list of 15. You have probably got a reasonable ranking in your mind that could come close to determining who will make up your selected team, but it is important that the final selection be done objectively rather than a subjective one, at least so that paddlers can see that a fair system has been employed for selection.
Here’s how we went about this many years ago for an OC6 team which was preparing to compete in the sprint worlds back then. It must have worked, because the team blitzed the regatta in all distances they entered: 500m, 1000m and 10km and came home with gold in each event.
An important piece of equipment for this task is an ergometer capable of providing accurate information, so this means ensuring that it is calibrated prior to the process. It may also be necessary to ensure the calibration is holding up throughout the testing session, and even to do this after every paddler if necessary (you should receive information on the procedure with your ergometer). Test this out beforehand so you know what you are working with. The ergometer should enable athletes to perform a paddle stroke as close as possible to the stroke production they would normally execute in the boat, and it should be accompanied by a monitor which provides a read-out in either distance (metres or yards) or work (joules or calories). If you can download the data directly onto a computer for later analysis, so much the better.
OIM Canoe Ergometer
A canoe ergometer such as the OIM from www.kayakpro.com would be eminently suitable for this purpose. If your club doesn’t have one of these items of equipment, it could make a very useful addition to your club assets, and would be very worthy of purchase at your next fund-raiser.
So assuming you have access to an ergometer which can perform this task, and each of your paddlers is experienced with its operation, let’s move on. We recommend that you perform the Performance Test (as recommended in The PEATS Program) for each paddler, and that the test be administered as follows.
- Firstly ensure that all your paddlers have been briefed on the details of the test protocol, that they should be rested and that glycogen levels should be maximized by attention to diet in the 48 hours prior to testing, along with minimal high intensity exercise.
- Because each paddler will be required to paddle for a 20-minute stretch in the race, we recommend that the test be conducted for 20 minutes for each individual.
- After a suitable warm-up that is the same for each paddler, instruct them to paddle for 20 minutes with the objective of covering the greatest distance (or to perform the most work) for the period of the test. This will depend upon the monitor on your ergometer.
- If you cannot download the data to a computer, you will need to set up a data sheet. Prior to this testing session, develop the Data Sheet which will enable you (or an assistant) to collect information from the Monitor during the test. We recommend that you do this at the end of each minute (or other multiple – depending on test duration), and that the data recorded is the number on the monitor which indicates distance covered (or work performed). What you want to achieve here is a set of data points that will provide you with meaningful information. The more points you can obtain, the more information you can glean from the data. Too many, though, may create a logistical problem in obtaining it. If you have the means to determine the number of strokes executed in each minute, that information will extend the value of your test. Alternatively, if you can download the data from the monitor, you can simply scan this information to move to the next step.
- What you are looking for is the distance (or work) covered per minute, or if you have downloaded data, this may do the job. The objective is to develop a chart of the paddler’s effort for the entirety of the paddle as illustrated in the diagram below.
Test results for six paddlers during 30-minute Performance Test
This chart was taken from testing of 37 OC6 paddlers, and the top two, bottom two and middle two were drawn for this illustration. In this instance, the data were taken every 5 minutes for a test duration of 30 minutes, and the data points represent the average work rate in watts for each 5-minute period. It is a very telling diagram, and really demonstrates the differences in ability or at least endurance capacity, and in the contribution that paddlers can make to the overall team effort. This is probably the type of chart which will demonstrate to you, the coach, the cross-section of ability in your team when it comes to endurance.
Although not measured during the testing session illustrated here, as mentioned above, Stroke Count (SC) information could have improved the data yield from this test. With SC data, you would be able to calculate the Technical Economy Index (TEI), and gain some understanding of the technical ability of your group of paddlers, adding more objectivity into your selection process. For more information on this Index, consult our eBook, Critical Speed and the Physiology of Training. Here you will learn how to calculate the TEI and how it has been derived. We strongly recommend using this Index in conjunction with the overall pattern of work rate shown above in your selection criteria. A very useful way to maintain a database of this Index is to calculate the average TEI for the effort, and to rank paddlers according to that number. This will enable you to gain some understanding of the overall technical status of your paddlers. If you know the TEI for elite paddlers, then you have a benchmark that can be used as a motivational tool as your paddlers develop their skills, and have something to work towards.
Another measure that you can determine from the test data is a Fatigue Index (FI). This measure takes into account the work rate at the beginning of the test and compares it with that at the end of the test. By expressing the reduction in work rate to the end of the test as a percentage of the initial work rate, you have a Fatigue Index. Again, this provides you with a slightly different measure of endurance capacity and overall performance. We can see from the test data in the diagram that paddlers 1, 2, 4 and 6 all were able to increase work rate at the end of the test – this is a characteristic that you, as coach, will be looking for. Paddlers 3 and 6, on the other hand, demonstrated a drop in work rate as the test progressed. This measure may give you some idea of the ability of each of your paddlers to back up for a second 20-minute stint, and a third, and a………….
While in this article, we have discussed testing in preparation for team selection for a marathon event, the same principles could be employed to select for a sprint event – the difference would be to decrease the test duration to one which closely mirrors the duration of the event you are aiming for – say 5 minutes. In this case, you could take measures at the end of each minute. If the race has approximately a two-minute duration, then perhaps every 15 seconds would be appropriate for the test data interval.
Because of the usefulness of this information, our strong recommendation is that you take an extra step in your testing session. Measure both a long- and a short-duration test in exactly the same way – the only difference will be the data collection duration as described above. With the two tests performed, you have the information to calculate Critical Speed (if your data is measured by distance) or Critical Power (if your data is a measure of work), and you can perform this calculation on our website. Then with this information, you have a range of possibilities relating to training program design. So for a little extra work, you could have a lot of valuable options at your fingertips, and add another dimension to your preparation for the Big Race. Read our core eBook, Critical Speed and the Physiology of Training for detailed information of the components of training program design that are incorporated into The PEATS Program. Our add-on eBook, Paddle Sports, serves to illustrate these components for paddle sports specifically. Both of these eBook are available now for download here.
Of course, there are other aspects that come into play when selecting your team, and endurance is only one of these, albeit an important one. While some may believe that testing strength and other things are valuable additions to the test battery, at the end of the day, it is the paddling that will win the race, not how well an individual can bench press, for example. That has relevance of course, but it is more in keeping with the training program development than assessing the ability of a paddler to perform in competition. Measuring in a sport-specific way ensures you are measuring paddling, and that will incorporate an indirect strength component that is far more predictive than testing non-specific strength exercises. Testing for strength and other physical characteristics should be part of an all-round assessment of paddlers to ascertain strengths and weaknesses to guide training program design, but it is our position that it should not be included as a selection criteria.
If you do set up a testing session such as this, please share your experiences with us all on our Blog. Thank you.