Coaches - ACA

Sport Development


A coach’s role is to maximize athletes’ potential and help them achieve the best possible results. Because coaches possess an enormous power of authority, they can make or break athletes’ sports experience. Effective coaches embrace continuous improvement strategies and hone skills to help athletes progress.

To achieve success, coaches should consider:

  • Periodize training and rest time for athletes to cut down on overuse injuries and burnout.
  • Provide physical literacy (i.e., agility, balance, coordination training) at every practice, at every level.
  • Use developmentally appropriate drills and practice plans.
  • Embrace an athlete-focused philosophy and create fun, engaging, and challenging sports activities and experiences.
  • Provide objective feedback and age-appropriate development benchmarks. Communicate these continuously to parents and athletes.
  • Emphasize effort and development over outcomes to reinforce physical, technical, and tactical progression.
  • Maximize athlete potential and retention at all stages of development.
  • Seek to obtain coaching certification and continue to hone your skills, including age-appropriate teaching skills.

We believe in developing solid fundamentals and a passion for the sport in our young athletes before introducing them to advanced competition techniques and tactics. Long-term development focus, loosely based on the USOPC’s American Development Model (ADM), recognizes that it takes outstanding coaches and instructors at every development step for athletes to reach their full potential in sport and life.

Starting in the fall, the ACA wants to offer in-person coaching clinics designed to give you a solid background in fundamental skills and provide information on how to teach the sport. Try to attend this or follow-on clinic as they are announced here.

An ACA individual competition membership and competition license are required for coaches to work at ACA’s affiliated clubs. Furthermore, only ACA licensed coaches will be permitted to coach during sanctioned competitions starting in October 2022.

To become an ACA licensed coach:

  1. Register as a member of the ACA online
  2. Complete a background screening and Safe Sport training and certification (cost included in your membership dues)
  3. Complete an ACA coaching clinic
  4. Sign up to receive email from the Sprint Coaches Association

Once you join the ranks of ACA-certified coaches, we encourage you to continue to pursue coach education through the ACA or ICF coaches certification programs and seek entry-level officials’ training (link) to help maintain the sport’s rules.

Learn more about the Sprint Coaches Association (SCA) and join their email list, see their meeting minutes, and find out about coaching seminars.  We would also recommend you follow the ACA Canoe/Kayak pages on Facebook and Instagram in addition to being an ACA member.

Find a coaching job by contacting your local paddlesports clubs, or look at the Club Job Postings page in the Resources Section.

Periodization and SMART Goals Setting

The trouble with not having a goal is that you can spend your life running up and down the field and never score. – Bill Copeland 


Avoid confusion with well-defined goals. They should be clear and specific; otherwise, you and the athlete won’t focus efforts or feel truly motivated to achieve them. 

At a minimum answer: 

  • What do I expect an athlete to accomplish? 
  • Why should an athlete achieve this goal exactly? Why is it important? 
  • Where and when would I like an athlete to achieve the goal? 
  • Which athlete’s capabilities and limitations do I need to consider?
  • Who else needs to be involved to ensure that the athlete can accomplish this goal? 


Imagine that you are coaching a member of a regional racing team, and you’d like her to become a member of the national team. A specific goal could be, “She needs to gain the strength, skills, and experiences necessary to become a member of the national team so that she can consistently perform at the national and international level.” 


It’s essential to have measurable goals so that you and the athlete can track the progress and stay motivated. Regularly assessing progress helps you and the athlete stay focused, meet deadlines, and feel the excitement of getting closer to achieving goals. 

Attempt to answer: 

  • What information do I need to measure progress? 
  • How will I quantify and put numbers to the outcome? 
  • How will I know when it is accomplished? 
  • How will I share the numbers? 


You could measure the goal of an athlete acquiring skills and speed to become a national team member by determining that she has completed the required benchmark training sessions with a score that is 15% better than the score she achieved when you set the goal. 


Goals also need to be realistic and attainable so that the athlete (and you) can succeed. In other words, goals should stretch an athlete’s abilities; however, the amount of growth you expect the athlete to achieve must be attainable in a given time. When an athlete cannot reach the goal, failure is inevitable. Therefore, think carefully about every goal. When you set attainable goals, you may identify previously overlooked opportunities, resources, or obstacles that may change your plan to help the athlete achieve these goals. 

You must be able to answer: 

  • What amount of growth do I want an athlete to achieve? 
  • How realistic is the goal, based on my and athlete’s constraints or capabilities, including financial factors? 
  • Does the athlete have the skills needed to achieve the goal? If not, how can I help the athlete build the required skills? 
  • How can we accomplish this goal? 


You might need to ask yourself whether developing an athlete’s capabilities required to become a national team member is realistic, based on your experience and qualifications. For example, do you and the athlete have the time to complete the required training effectively? Are the necessary resources available? Can you or she afford to do it? 

Tip: Beware of setting goals that are not fully in your and the athlete’s control. For example, “Win that race!” depends on who else competes and their capabilities, motivation, and luck. However, “Acquire the skill, strength/speed, and the course experience needed to have a shot at winning” is entirely down to you and the athlete. 


Meaningful goals must be aligned with the athlete’s objectives. Everyone needs support and assistance in achieving goals; however, an athlete must always retain control over her goals. Therefore, make sure that training plans always drive the athlete forward and that both you and the athlete remain responsible for achieving her goals. 

Attempt to answer: 

  • How is the goal aligned with the athlete’s objectives? 
  • Why should we achieve this goal?  
  • What is the impact? 

A relevant goal can also answer “yes” to these questions: 

  • Is it worthwhile? 
  • Is it the right time to pursue it? 
  • Is the goal aligned with overall objectives? 
  • Does this match our other efforts/needs? 
  • Am I the right person to coach towards this goal? 
  • Is it applicable in the current socio-economic environment? 


The athlete might want to gain the capabilities to become a national team member, but is it the right time to undertake the required training toward more speed now? Are you sure that she is already capable of qualifying for the national team? Have you considered her educational/career goals? For example, if she wants to graduate from college in a semester and apply for a graduate school, would additional training make this more difficult? 


Every goal needs a target date so that you and the athlete remain focused. This part of the SMART goal setting helps prevent everyday activities from being prioritized above the athlete’s longer-term objectives. Therefore, as you develop plans for a quad, a year, a block, a week, or a day, set the schedule for each goal and determine how much time the athlete needs to spend on it before the deadline. Set an efficient deadline for each goal to remain effective. 

You must be able to answer: 

  • What is the deadline? When? 
  • How much time will this goal take? 
  • What can we do six months from now? 
  • What can we do four or five weeks from now? 
  • What can we do today? 


As mentioned earlier, gaining the capabilities to qualify for a national team may require additional training or experience. How long will it take the athlete to acquire these skills? Does she need further training so that she has a shot at qualification? It’s essential to give the athlete a realistic time frame for accomplishing the smaller goals necessary to achieve her final objective.