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What are the implications of kit and equipment design on performance and skill development?

Avg: 4.83 / 5 (1votes)

Olympian and World Champion White Water Kayaker, Corran Addison, has always combined paddling with designing paddling kit and equipment. My motivation for interviewing him for a podcast was my desire to understand more about his awareness of the relationship between the performer and their performance environment and the impact that boat design had on that.


I was curious to know if Corran's kit and equipment designs might be rooted in his unique perspectives and understanding of what it meant to move skilfully within his performance environments. I also wanted to explore whether or not kit design could support or thwart the development of skill by highlighting or dampening perception-action coupling. How had he resolved the challenge of designing boats, bikes, surf and skateboards for his son Kailix? We also talked about motivation, play and safe environments for developing confident, competent and happily active and adaptive youngsters.


When it comes to kit and equipment, size matters!

The first time I had a kayak adjusted to better fit my size and shape, I was mind blown! It was at a roadshow for kayak manufacturers that my employers hosted when I was working as a full-time senior paddlesports coach in North Wales. How had I worked for so long within coaching without fully realising the subtleties in the impact on learning and development of inappropriately designed or poorly fitted kit?


 Corran and his son Kailix in one Corran's boat designs (picture courtesy of Corran Addison)


Even before this experience, I was aware of the obvious issues that were talked about. As women, we had been stuck battling with dry pants that didn’t fit (crotches just above the knees and hideous to walk in), personal floatation that was not even remotely the same shape as me, and centres and clubs buying ‘mega-size’ boats to accommodate everyone, that were simply far too big for most beginners to have a chance of learning anything meaningful in.


It's not just about the size

It was the importance of the more subtle adjustments that shocked me. My boat, although the correct volume for me, was still just a scaled version of a ‘standard male’ model. Moving my seat forwards and raising it an inch suddenly transformed the way the boat handled. It became far more responsive to me and my movements. Although there are no female-specific boats on the market now (to my knowledge), there is a wider range of shapes and sizes that accommodate the diversity of all paddlers. A short time later I went to buy a new mountain bike. I was asked if I wanted to try a women’s version. After my experiences with the boats, I asked what was different about them. “Oh, I think they have adjusted the dimensions and stuff to reflect a more typical female skeletal frame and movement coordination patterns.” The shop assistant told me. My immediate response was ‘yes’. The result – I was mind blown – again! It was hard to describe, but the bike was always ‘under me’ and I was not having a fight to do the things I wanted to do. If looked or changed my balance, it responded.


The exhilaration of having a bike that is with you


Why does this matter for coaching?

As I have done more and more coaching, particularly in paddlesports, I have ended up with a bigger and bigger box of stuff that I use to adjust boats and kit. Weights, physio pads, seat risers, ropes, duck-tape, balls, and so much more. Whenever I am coaching, the first thing I do (after ensuring all the engagement and motivational elements are in place), is to really observe the way the person is interacting with the environment through the kit, equipment and clothing that they have. I start by adjusting as much as I can to support performance (is it the right size and basic shape, not too responsive, not encouraging poor posture or less functional movement solutions), then I carry on using my box of tricks to change the constraints to support skill development. Can I exaggerate the need for postural stability, dampen or heighten responsiveness to support the development of functional coordination patterns or increased perceptual awareness? Can I disrupt learnt movement patterns that are hampering learning? In other words, can I now use the adjustments to the kit and equipment as constraints that I can manipulate to assist with my coaching?


Corran Addison white water kayaking

Corran surfing on white-wate(picture courtesy of Corran Addison)


My experience of assessing has too often been shaped by observing coaches shout more and more technical instructions to someone in a boat that is sabotaging them so much, they have no chance of success. Some of the examples that come to mind are a UKCC Level 2 coach putting his group in flat bottomed beginners boats that could have fitted two of them in (because he thought they would feel safer) and then trying to coach them to edge the boats. After using lots of verbal instructions about what they should be doing with their knees, weight and hips, he concluded that he ‘was disappointed with their lack of ability’. When I suggested he put them in more appropriate and well-fitted boats that were available (Burn’s and Mamba’s in this case), he was at first hesitant, then shocked at how well they performed without any further intervention from him as a coach. Other examples include backrests that encourage posture collapse, little connectivity or connectivity in the wrong places, and many more.


Enjoy the listen!

I hope you enjoy listening to Corran as he takes us on a fascinating journey, from his father’s early inspiration to take up boating triggered by watching the film ‘Deliverance’, to analogues ranging from imagining aliens to designer girlfriends.


Two questions that might be interesting to keep in mind as you are listening are:


1. What are the possible implications of kit and equipment design in the sport that you coach? Who is it designed by, and for? Does it support everyone's performance equally? What about supporting skill development?


2. What are the implications for coaching and coach development? Is the tendency to give verbal technical instructions being used when kit and equipment are not appropriate and are hampering the development of functional movement patterns (maybe even causing injury long-term) or perception-action coupling? Do we need to help coaches become more aware and more skilful in adjusting task and equipment constraints?


If you like to skim to bits of interest, here's a contents guide

 Please click the link here to listen to the podcast. Enjoy the listen and let me know what you think!



If you are interested in learning more about Corran’s boats and boards, check out his website at  https://www.soulwaterman.com/


Thank you to Corran Addison for a being a great podcast guest and for the use of his pictures, and to Greg Spencer & Dan Wilkinson for their excellent proofreading and feedback.



If you enjoyed this you will be able to find all my other ConnectedCoaches blogs here.

For links or to contact me about my work please see my Connected Coaches profile.

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Comments (1)


Hi Marianne, I enjoyed reading this and I intend to listen to the podcast, too!

Reading about how different equipment can change our relationship with the task and environment got me thinking about a quote from Kris Van Der Haegen about youth development in football. He used an analogy about how you have a child who wants to learn to ride a bike (play football) - would you give him an adult bike (have them play 11v11) or give them a kids bike (1v1/2v2/3v3 etc) to help them learn? He said that we can't go around putting kids on adult bikes and expect them to learn. You're absolutely right that even something as simple as changing the size of the ball will change the task constraints. I think if we're clever as coaches and know the individual, we can also dial up and dial down the equipment (e.g. use a heavier ball or smaller lighter ball) to stretch or support them appropriately during a task.

I think you pose two great questions about the WHY behind what equipment we use and therefore the positive or negative implications of that equipment on a task. My takeaway from this is that the more details you consider during the planning process, the better the learning environment for the individual. I will definitely be going away and thinking in greater detail during the planning process about the suitability of the equipment in relation to the task and each individual.

Avg: 4.55 / 5 (1votes)