Anita Toland – Great Lakes Canoe Club

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Anita Toland has been a coach at Great Lakes Canoe Club (GLCC) for 20 years and will retire from her long-standing role at the club following the next National Canoeing Championships. During Anita’s time with GLCC, she has coached many local school students, with excellent success. Anita recently coached Lydia Toms, who competed in the Junior World events in Canada, gaining impressive medal placements. She has also worked with 2012 London Olympics silver medalist, Jessica Fox, at the outset of her career. Anita spoke to FOCUS about her formidable teaching career, which spans two decades and the passion which drives her.

What has driven you to coach for two decades?

I took up kayaking after watching my son, Kelvin, have so much fun on the whitewater. The deputy of Forster High, Peter Flowers, was the coach at the time, and I just joined in with the kids and learnt how to paddle and subsequently, how to coach. It was when Peter went off to organise the Sydney Olympics in 2000 that I took over as coach of the canoe club. By that time, I had my coaching and whitewater instructor’s certificates and a small but great bunch of paddlers to coach.

Tell us what your three most rewarding experiences have been?

The first one was seeing Lydia Toms make it to Junior Worlds Slalom Championships. I first started coaching Lydia when she was only in primary school. I have watched her grow from a child into a highly skilled athlete, who has represented not only her school at a state and national level, but also her country.

She has competed in New Zealand over the past several years, gaining excellent results, as well as building excellent friendships. At Junior Worlds in Warsaw, USA, she won silver in Ladies C1. She then went on and took out the bronze in the open division.

The second rewarding experience was coaching Jake Perrim. I believe canoeing was the making of this wonderful young man. He joined the group, being on the chubby side and with low self-esteem. Very quickly, he gained the skills of a fine paddler.

Even though he was very good at slalom and was always there to support the club or his school at competitions, he developed an extraordinary love for freestyle. Freestyle is a very difficult discipline of canoeing, where you perform moves and near acrobatic performances in a huge stopper or standing wave.

The only place Jake could train here at Forster was on the bar, or in the surf. Jake went on to win gold in the junior division at the Australian titles held near Cairns on the big water rivers of the Tully and Baron.

Finally, it is often just the little things that make for rewarding experiences. To watch the delight on a paddler’s face when they finally manage to roll a kayak for the first time, or their first live roll in a competition, just makes coaching all worthwhile.

Picture this scenario: you’ve stumbled across a brilliant and naturally gifted student, who simply cannot be bothered applying themselves to utilise their very obvious talents to succeed. From a teaching perspective, how would you encourage the student to dig deep and utilise their skills?

I actually have had naturally talented gifted paddlers who are reluctant to apply themselves.

With paddling, this hesitance usually stems from being tentative about the water. They may be scared of capsizing in whitewater, hurting themselves, and possibly even drowning.

As with all teaching, you need to build not only skills in an environment of clear communication and instruction, but you also need to build positive relationships with the paddler. The setting needs to be safe and fun.

I coach a very wide age range, from 9 year olds to 18 year olds in the school group. Often with reluctant paddlers, I call upon my senior paddlers to give the new ones encouragement, as well as gain positive reinforcement for their natural abilities.

I find the best way of reaching a hesitant paddler is to take them out onto an easy section of whitewater and let them experience the sheer exhilaration of coming down through a rapid and realising they have the skills to accomplish it … and sometimes much more.

By working up realistic and achievable goals, it is not usually very long before the hesitant paddler is into it and has long forgotten their fears.

Canoeing recently celebrated success at the 2012 London Olympics, including when Australian teenager, Jessica Fox, won a silver medal in the women’s K1 canoe slalom. I understand that you worked with Jessica back in the day … tell us about this?

I first met Jess Fox as a small child, when her parents, Richard and Miriam, took up the coaching positions for the senior team at the 2000 Olympics.

Jessica was always at all the major competitions throughout the years, but didn’t really show much interest in the sport – nor did her parents push her.

Jessica attended Blaxland High, where there were other good paddlers. It was early in her teens that those students dragged her along to the state CHS competitions. I used to give her a few pointers on technique in the early days and encourage her participation.

She had a great deal of natural talent, which soon started to develop with the help of her parents, and look where she is today. I’m sure she will be at a few more Olympic Games, and the colour may well be gold.

Canoe slalom can be a dangerous pastime. What are the main cautions you might instruct sports people about when undertaking this sport?

Whitewater paddling is an extreme sport. We paddle grade 1 – 4 water on rivers throughout Australia and beyond.

The main prerequisite in order to do this safely are sound stroke techniques and a good knowledge of reading the flow of the water.

With slalom, it is all about leaning in the direction of the flow of the water. If you get slammed against a rock, you need to ‘love the rock’; that is, lean towards it, otherwise you are over before you know it. Always stay away from trees; they can act as very dangerous strainers.

Know your kayak. Know how to do a wet exit, and always keep your feet off the bottom of the river by lying on your back if you fall out.

Canoeing is an arduous sport, requiring peak cardiovascular fitness and vigorous stamina. What are the key ingredients which make a sports person epic in this arena?

Canoeing is a high energy, peak performance sport. You can make it or break it in a space of 90 seconds. One gate touch, and you’re out of the league. Fitness and highly tuned skills are the key ingredients. Paddlers need to build stamina. I encourage my paddlers to do a long 8 – 10 km paddle using a DRR boat at least once a week. This helps build their aerobic fitness.

My top paddlers do gate work 2 – 3 times a week. We have a few gates set up out at Darrawank Creek. We fight the sand flies and mozzies, but we can at least train the necessary gate skills. With no whitewater in the immediate area, we train on the bar or in the surf. It is the closest thing to a river and gives the paddlers the confidence when they go onto the big whitewater. Cross training by running, cycling, participating in surf club activities and a light gym routine all help to make a paddler great.

I understand that Great Lakes Canoe Club is on the look out to find a replacement coach to fill your rather big shoes. Who should interested applicants speak to about the job?

Unfortunately, the national championships at Eildon in Victoria this January will be my last. My interests are changing, and I feel I need to move onto a new phase of my life.

Anyone interested in coaching a great bunch of paddlers and having a wonderful and rewarding experience can contact me on 0411 168 130.

Thank you Anita.

Interview by Karen Farrell.

This story was published in issue 68 of the Manning-Great Lakes Focus

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