In the weeks before every race, the coaches struggle to decide who paddles on what boat. I have always said that we are lucky to have a deep enough roster that there are more paddlers who are qualified than there are seats for each of the boats. Deciding who paddles on what boat is probably the hardest part of our job, and by no means are the decisions unanimous.
So how are these decisions made?
Exhibit A: The Data
Some of you may recall my previous post on data. I love data! Here it is in action!! Imagine this, but BIGGER (as in a spreadsheet including every man, woman and child on Space Dragons). For later tournaments, we often have two columns for time trial data (the two most recent) and two columns for attendance data (season total and last two months). Since this is a mock-up, I decided to save myself the effort, but you get the idea, right? So Exhibit A is an example of the splits for the women on Mixed, which for Long Beach, only has six seats.
Let's continue with this example of deciding the women for each Mixed boat in Long Beach. Paddlers are siphoned into three buckets. "Slam Dunk" means that a paddler is ranked top six of all Space ladies in both "strength" (time trial) and "dedication" (attendance). [Yes yes, there are other ways to be dedicated and strong, and this is not a perfect system, but we do the best we can with what we have.] Sometimes there are only two paddlers in this category, sometimes there are six. It's different every time. The next category is "Bank Shot," which means a paddler is top six in one category and top twelve in the other. "Honorable Mention" is reserved for paddlers who just barely miss the Bank Shot cut-off (e.g. less than two seconds slower than the 6th ranked time trial and still top 12 in attendance) and those who we know have special circumstances (e.g. slightly slower time trials but has above average experience and technique/timing, had a TT time that was out of family with the rest, out for an extended period due to injury, work or family commitments, etc). In this way, an initial breakdown for Slam Dunk and Bank Shot is made objectively using the data we collect. The Honorable Mention category is somewhat subjective, and therefore typically casts a wide net.
Then comes the Pre-Tournament Coaches Meeting. Every single paddler, whether a Slam Dunk, Bank Shot or Honorable Mention, is considered. Usually the Bank Shots are easy decisions, but sometimes the coaches will still decide that a paddler in that category is not ready for a particular boat, due to lack of race experience or poor technique/timing, which are deal breakers. [Recall, there are a lot of criteria used to determine what mix of paddlers is "best" for a boat, and it's not always the fastest OC-2 times or the highest practice attendance.] The Bank Shots and Honorable Mentions are where the decisions get tough. Sometimes all the Bank Shots make it in, plus a few Honorable Mentions, and sometimes there are more Bank Shot paddlers then there are seats left. Typically, it's "Consider these three paddlers who are about equal but with different strengths and weaknesses. Pick two." This is where timing, technique, Land/Core attendance come into play and can make up for several seconds (sometimes even 5-10 seconds) difference in time trial results. And for those extra hard decisions? Bubble busters, like going to SDWW and just having a great can-do, team-oriented attitude.
This system gets expanded to Top 8/8 for Slam Dunk and Top 8/16 for Bank Shot in races with eight women on each crew. Similarly for the men, Slam Dunk means Top 12/12 and Bank Shot means Top 12/24. This is for the Red/Blue split. For the Blue/White split (equally difficult, especially for women in Long Beach), we expand the numbers as shown above (again, I just didn't take the effort to populate the example completely). The decisions for who paddles Open/Women when we don't have enough roster spots for everyone are made similarly as well.
This example may make the decisions seem straightforward, but the coaches meetings for large tournaments can take several hours, plus continued discussion over email. There are seven coaches to provide many different viewpoints, and we all have had tough decisions that we agonize over. Heck, sometimes we show up at the tournament and find that we made the wrong decision! We're not perfect, but we do the best we can, and we are grateful to be a part of a team of paddlers who understand what's most important - that in the end, we're out there to have fun with our Space Dragons family!
Long Beach presents a particularly difficult situation for the ladies. This year, our ladies have been ROCKIN IT, and I am super proud of how well we have gelled as a crew. But, the fact of the matter is that there are only six women on each Mixed crew in Long Beach. What does that mean? You know how we took 1st place in Tempe and made it into the Guts and Glory race in Alcan? Of the 22-24 women on each roster who made that happen, almost half of them will be on the White boat in Long Beach. That's right, our WHITE boat ladies are kicking ass and taking names. So hold your head high and be proud, and don't let THE MAN (the Man being the number of womens roster spots on each boat) bring you down!