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Danny Ching: A Paddler’s Coach

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Many of Danny Ching’s accomplishments are widely documented. His consecutive wins at the Battle of the Paddle, 2x Molokai 2 Oahu Champion on an OC-1, and more. What few outside his home outrigger club realize are that his skills as a coach are as impressive as his record as a paddler. Earlier this week members of Anthony Vela’s Performance Paddling Training Club were treated by a visit from Danny Ching when he stopped by after a day at the office to serve as their guest instructor for the evening. The trip to Performance Paddling was a first for Danny Ching and in a small way brought a slice of his career as a waterman full circle as Vela was once a substitute instructor years ago when Danny Ching first set out to become a Los Angeles County Lifeguard.

“What a gift! Feeling super lucky to have Danny Ching share great technique, teaching, analysis & drills last night! So much great information. We have paddlers of all levels in our group and there was value for everyone,” said Kristin Thomas, a long time Performance Paddling member, after the session.

An industry insider tipped me off to Danny Ching’s appearance later in the evening and the next day I called him up to talk about his coaching background and discuss what he enjoys about sharing his knowledge with fellow paddlers.

What do you enjoy the most about coaching?

Danny Ching leads paddlers in a drill during the Performance Paddling clinic. Photo: Mike Muir

From a young age I found people were looking to me to see what we were going to do next. But really, I just like solving problems and figuring it out. Every single paddler is a new puzzle and I recognize how difficult it is to get everyone on the same page; to take what is essentially a feeling, and try to teach it; so that whatever it is I’m feeling and thinking, I have to find a way to put that into words. I have to communicate it to someone else and get them to process it and understand exactly what I’m thinking and then get them to try to do something when they get the same feeling that I have.

So it’s just trying to figure out all the different nuances and different ways and just being as creative and flexible as far as communicating that to different people. I really enjoy that, even though it can get frustrating at times. It’s all about finding those cues and those clicks and recognizing that it is ever-changing and never the same.

I benefited from a lot of really good coaches early in my career and have found that coaching actually helps me improve as a paddler, as well. When I communicate it, when I have to process it and break it down, I discover new advantages, new ways to go fast and recognize how things are connected.

Where have you drawn your coaching knowledge base from? Have you had formal training as a coach to develop your methodology or is your approach based on the amalgamation of your experience as a paddler?

For me, it started with Cliff Meidl and the Olympic training program. Meidl and Josh Crayton were heavily involved in the program back then and I was just a young kid following, watching, and occasionally getting dragged along. My first structured training was the Olympic program and that was what we adopted for the outriggers.

I obtained a teaching credential in college, so I was able to learn all the theory and lessons behind that. I then started to apply it and quickly saw how people learned. Also getting involved with training the Junior Guards on the Lifeguard side of things where I learned how to teach a large group of young children.

But before all that, my first “job” as a coach was coaching the 19 and unders at outrigger when I was just 16 years old!

From all those experiences I learned that how you communicate with people opens up how receptive they are – and that is the most difficult part of coaching.

How long have you been involved with training the Junior Guards and what have been some of your memorable experiences working in that program?

I’ve been working there part-time since 2005. After a couple of summers I found it wasn’t a lot of fun being at the beach all day and not being allowed to go into the water unless you’re conducting a rescue. With the Junior Guard program it is super rewarding to build up the young kids. By far the Junior Guard program is the most fun. Several of the kids I trained have gone on to pursue careers as a lifeguard. The only thing more fun than being a Junior Guard is being in charge of the Junior Guards.

What are some of the lessons which have helped you become a better coach?

Going through the teaching credential program definitely taught me to think about some of the things I was already doing. It also highlighted some of the things I wasn’t as far as how to communicate with different types of people. Some people are visual learners, some are audio, and others learn best by getting out there and doing it. So I’ve been able to transfer that knowledge to my approach as a coach by recognizing that some paddlers learn best if we’re all out paddling and others improve with more explanation.

I am able to draw from my experience across multiple disciplines, but also a willingness to try new things. There are 1,000 different ways to say something, so I’ve learned not to feel uncomfortable or weird by proposing a new approach.

I’ve certainly benefited from the opportunity to travel around the world and compete in different countries, as well. By seeing how other cultures focus on different things I’ve found that the experience has really helped me draw out the little things as a paddler and as a coach. For example, if Tahitians always focus on one thing and they go really fast, then that’s probably the thing that makes them so quick. If the Hawaiians always focus on another thing and they surf really well, then that is probably what makes them efficient paddlers in the surf.

When you are coaching, how do you keep the program fresh and engaging?

I have to recognize when people are having difficulty accomplishing the goal and then implement small changes so they benefit. With outrigger, Lanakila’s program has been the same for about the past 10 years. The biggest thing is recognizing what your body will derive the most benefit from at a given moment. The goal is to put your body in a certain comfort zone. When you are going easy you need to focus on technique. If you are going 70 percent there is a different focus. When you’re sprinting there is a completely different focus.

So what I’ve found is that while the standard program may not have changed, as a coach I have to recognize when someone’s body is tired, they mentally are no longer engaged, or kind of bored or just mentally over the situation. That is a signal that it is time for me to switch things up. And fortunately, there are 1,000 ways to get 60 minutes of training in. You can pyramid up and down; Train in a group; Go out with some friends. You can go by yourself and listen to music. It is just recognizing all those little differences and switching it up every so often.

Being able to recognize what paddlers are going to benefit from the most on any given day is very important. Sometimes you have to throw out the plan because you recognize they are going to derive a greater benefit from practicing a different concept than you initially had in mind.

Walk me through your process of teaching a new concept to someone who is struggling.

When people are overwhelmed they begin to struggle. So to counter that as a coach, I start taking things away from them in terms of in-depth explanation and analysis. I’ll often just break things down to the building blocks of conveying that paddling is a feeling.

The most important thing is to just slow things down. Then start moving body parts, knowing how they are most likely to react. Also, getting a paddler to perform a certain action without a detailed explanation of why it will help. Just focus on simple explanations and concepts.

How is your approach to coaching young paddlers different from working with adults?

Danny Ching works with a student at the Performance Paddling clinic. Photo: Mike Muir

It’s totally different! With young paddlers, I can basically just line them up and they will naturally find the way. It’s the same with new paddlers. They don’t know any better, so I’ll just give them some basic things to think about. They’ll usually take a few strokes, perhaps look a bit concerned, and then they will get it.

With adults or people who have been paddling for a while, they tend to do the same thing, only harder. So the concept then is to figure out what type of learner they are. Do they have to do it, do they need to feel it, do they have to hear it. With verbal instruction, getting paddlers on the same page is the primary hurdle. For example, when I say “reach”, every single person has a different idea of what that means. If I say “sit up”, I’ll grab their bodies and I’ll sit them up. I am always focusing on defining the verbiage when I give instructions. It’s something I learned from teaching young kids.

One time I was coaching a nine-year old in outrigger and I told him he needed to get his hands wet. He still needed to make an adjustment, so I said “put your hands under water”. He set his paddle across his lap, shoved both hands in the water and looked at me and smiled! That cued to me that while my instructions made total sense to me, they didn’t make sense to him.

Kid’s and women are the easiest to coach because unlike guys, their solution to everything is not to go harder or bigger or stronger.

What is your take on the different electronic gadgets out there. Is there a particular type of device you recommend?

It’s all personal preference. If it were up to me, there would be no gadgets, no music, no anything. That allows me to focus a bit more on what’s going on. If I’m focused on the ocean, I can feel the rhythm of the boat, I can feel my body, I can feel all these things, so I don’t like to use any gadgets. That said, they are extremely helpful at providing real-time data. So now I do use a GPS as often as I can to get real-time data on my speed.

I found when I was younger and I paddled by myself, if it was flat and I was going to go do an intense workout, I would listen to music to help get into the mindset and I would paddle to the rhythm of the music.

Photo Gallery of Danny Ching’s Visit to the Performance Paddling Clinic

Danny Ching is the owner of 404 SUP and Hippostick Paddles. He serves as the men’s coach at the Lanakila Outrigger Canoe Club in Redondo Beach, California. 

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