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Beyond "Question 9" A Response to British Canoeing's English Clubs Consultation Process

On 11th February 2020, English clubs received an email inviting participation in British Canoeing's English Clubs Consultation Process 2019/20

"As part of Stronger Together - The Strategic Plan for British Canoeing 2017-2021, we committed to a number of actions designed to improve our services to members and clubs, and to revise and promote new affiliation categories for clubs. We also said we would develop and promote resources, workshops and best practice examples to support club development planning.
"This electronic survey follows a series of consultative meetings with individual clubs, Regional Development Team representatives and other groups and is designed to give you the opportunity to comment on proposed changes.

What follows is feedback from the Yorkshire and Humberside Regional Development Team

1. British Canoeing Membership Status

Few would question that Coaches and Leaders who are being deployed as they would in a commercial setting should have full on-the-water membership of British Canoeing, but this does not make the proposal appropriate for clubs.

In club settings, everyone generally mucks in together - and when someone who was going to lead according to Plan A is unavailable (pretty common), others pick up and run with Plan B, C or D. To meet individual needs, buddy pairs may be arranged with one more experienced member taking one less experienced member on something different from everyone else. Safe, enjoyable experiences are a matter for everyone to sort, and we jump on opportunities to get paddlers we know are competent to take on roles, even as a one off.

The above would ALL be threatened by a division between those with full "on the water" membership and those without such membership. The net result of this proposal would be increased responsibility falling on fewer shoulders. The "on the bank" proposal is also deeply flawed as it makes no allowance for liability as a participant in a club session. Would someone who has Liability Insurance for club sessions, activities and trips as a Club Associate LOSE that cover on becoming an "On The Bank" member? That would make no sense!

2. Club Associate Member Data

Becoming a Club Associate Member of British Canoeing should really be between the individual and British Canoeing, without the club as an intermediary.

This is routine in other organisations and should not prove logistically difficult as Azolve allows members to link themselves to clubs AND allows clubs create links with members.

If this route is not taken, be prepared for a major kick-back from the grass-roots over the handing over of data which goes beyond the minimum needed for the administration of the club.

The handling of this consultation exercise has massively alienated many within clubs: looking for cooperation within the next 18 months is looking for more than clubs might be able to deliver – and please note: clubs routinely offer extremely long grace periods for renewals, especially for fair weather paddlers who spend the winter doing other things!

3. A Definition of Club Activities

The way this proposal has been framed suggests a worrying disconnect between Head Office and the grass roots. For starters, only a small part of club activity is “delivery” – as most is facilitating activity within groups in ways which draw on the experience and expertise available within those groups. More often than not, we simply need to ask if we have a club culture which ensures club members do what really matters: give an appropriate level of thought to arranging activity.

We should define Club Activity as “anything sanctioned within the club’s activity safety framework” – and should simply specify that on-water activity should only be conducted with an appropriate Float Plan and by individuals who have been supported to make an informed decision to get involved.

This definition ensures insurance will cover anything that is responsibly undertaken, but our guidance should also show that we cover any involvement of Committee members, coaches and leaders in facilitating activity which ultimately takes place outside of the club. E.g. a club official (coach, leader or otherwise) entering discussions with a group as they arrange a peer paddle, perhaps in relation to choice of venue, conditions (water levels, sea state), weather forecast, who might be of an appropriate standard and “Plan B” strategies.

Everything above is routine within clubs! It helps reassure all concerned (including parents of adventurous youngsters) and routinely keeps members from making foolhardy decisions. The activity on the water might not always be something which the club can view as “covered” but the involvement of club members in helping ensure that what members get up to is appropriate and is as safe as reasonable practicable MUST be covered.

Ps. Why set a four-club limit on inter-club activity? Once four clubs have started working together (as some do in areas like sea kayaking and white-water kayaking), welcoming an additional club becomes straightforward – and clubs combine in an impromptu manner week in, week out, as that makes for safer, more enjoyable paddling experiences for all concerned!

4. CLUB AFFILIATION FEES

This is solving yesterday's problem and the fee structure is horrible for small clubs. A club with 21 members would be paying £8.57 a head - which could be more than 50% of the annual membership fee.

The cost per head in a 41 member club would be £6.10. In a club with 201-399 members, the cost per head could vary from £1.38 to £2.74 and in a club with 800 members, the cost per head would end up being a mere 90p per head. British Canoeing should be supporting small clubs!

Ps. At any point in the last 40 years, the banding could have made sense. It is NOT sensible at a time when British Canoeing is about to start gathering the data on exactly who is and is not a Club Associate Member. Why change just at the moment when fixing capitation fees becomes easy?

5. ANNUAL REVIEW OF CLUB AFFILIATION FEES

Proposals for changes in club affiliation and membership fees should be subject to confirmation at the British Canoeing AGM. Notification of proposed changes should occur in January of each year.

6. Club Affiliation Documents

Activity Safety Frameworks should be uploaded. What format these take is a matter for the Club to discuss with Area Development Officers. If they take the format of formal risk assessments and standard operating procedures, that's great - but for example, we should also be comfortable with an Activity Safety Framework that is based on a float-plan system.

7. Youth Card and Day Event Ticket

Day tickets are massive barriers to us increasing participation. Who is covered by insurance at an event should be at the discretion of an event organiser. Fundamentally, all British Canoeing (and the insurance companies) need is a record of who was covered during the event, plus consent to add those details to the British Canoeing system. Then add a trigger on the system to contact anyone who has started abusing the system by attending more than 3-4 events in a year.

Remember, if we over-constrain a system (tying organiser’s hands), we simply drive people (organisers and participants) to find work-around solutions. This creates brittle systems which are prone to fail at key moments. That's failing organisers and participants.

Ps. “Entry Level” to events can be at almost any level. We recruit enthusiasts from the informal sector who are extremely accomplished. The “Youth Card” approach helped and the thinking behind youth cards should be built upon (for all ages / disciplines), not abolished!

8. Replacement of Club Quality Mark

If the new Club Quality Mark scheme lives up to expectations it will be a monumental improvement on everything which has gone before it. We do not anticipate many club paddlers getting overly excited about it as being a Quality Mark club is rarely going to make any practical difference to members – but having a light touch, affordable system that inspires a few and which helps with obtaining grants, getting pool fees down and so on would be most welcome.

9: Coaching, Leadership and Instructing Qualifications

Enough comment has already been made elsewhere on the practical implications of the “Question 9” proposals – but the fact that the proposals were even considered suggests priorities for 2021-2025. Key thing: being “Stronger Together” is great – but that needs to be rooted in the culture, values and traditions of the grass roots!

We should not have any issue with British Canoeing recruiting the best people for each individual role, even if this means recruiting people with limited grasp of the grass roots – but when a proposal such as this is even considered within the office, let alone consulted upon outside of the office, we have quite clearly lost the fundamental sense of connection and belonging we need to build trust.

The entire way this matter is being viewed is wrongheaded. Yes, we are under pressure to ensure our activity safety frameworks are more robust, and that is likely to mean change – but that is not about processes (which can be administered), it is about the culture of our clubs at the grass roots.

The experts in managing clubs are IN the clubs. No level of experience in centres, as a Provider, as a Coach Educator, or delivering as a National Trainer, is meaningful preparation for managing a club. Clubs do not start with what they want to deliver, then recruit workforce to deliver those things in line with standard operating procedures signed off by a technical expert.

Clubs are first and foremost places where highly motivated enthusiasts who care passionately about their community evolve ways of operating based on an intimate familiarity with each other’s strengths and on a commitment to finding workable solutions to the challenges involved in sustaining and developing club activity.

Managing clubs is about culture, not process.

For 2021-2025, British Canoeing should concentrate on visits to clubs with a view to understanding how those club work. If those visits could result in recognition of the experience and expertise found within the club, that would be even better – but that needs to be open-minded engagement, not an effort to measure how individuals measure up against rigid ideas of what “competent” looks like.

Encouraging clubs to work more closely together so that the members notice differences in approach and reflect on their established practices would be good. A system where clubs wrote up those reflections, giving endorsements of strengths and raising questions where practices don’t inspire confidence might be even better. By all means involve British Canoeing staff – but not as “experts” attending to tell clubs how to run.

Ultimately, we need to start giving formal recognition where it is merited within clubs to those who can demonstrate the judgement and decision-making experience and expertise which are needed to manage risks within club activity in appropriate and proportionate ways. That should not be a competency-based assessment (seeing how individuals measure up to an ideal) but a formal endorsement of where we have confidence in the judgement and decision making of senior coaches / leaders.

Critically, once our Coaching Scheme allows recognition of “Senior Coaches” where we have good reason to trust individual judgement and decision making, we will have every reason to be comfortable with an extension of our exemplary Paddlesport Activity Assistant scheme in ways which allow a robust sign-off of club members for roles they can and do fulfill within their clubs. That’s working WITH the culture of our clubs, not trying to ensure practices we can endorse DESPITE the culture of our clubs!

10. County/Regional Workshops

If County and Regional workshops were the way forward, we would have had massive engagement with the many that have been available over the years, including through Sports Partnerships and UK Coaching. Again, the proposal comes across as top-down: as if the expertise is in the centre – with our National Governing Body existing to provide necessary support.

For a more engaging approach we should start with our purpose: to inspire. Where members within clubs feel inspired and motivated, they will ALWAYS find a way of getting things done. We should learn from the success of our #Shepaddles Ambassadors and our Community Champions – a language we also see in the Quality Mark proposals.

Beyond that, we should focus on building the connections between clubs. Nurture “communities of practice” where clubs learn from one another rather than positioning workshop providers as gurus!

11. Club Hotline

Club hotlines should be within each region, so the person taking the call is one who actually knows the club in question! This already happens week in, week out. Let’s build on it!

Submitted February 28th, 2020

in response to British Canoeing's English Clubs Consultation Process 2019/20

Keen to contribute further? Get involved at a forthcoming British Canoeing Spring Roadshow.