Wilderness Director Todd Wright becomes one of three in the US to achieve Level 5 British Canoe Union Coach

By: Buff Lindau

Todd Wright Wilderness Program DirectorFollowing a rigorous two-year process, Todd Wright '96, director of the Saint Michael's College Wilderness Program, became only the third North American to achieve Level Five Sea Coach status, the top level in British Canoe Union coach training organization.

Wright returned from Scotland Nov. 17 where he achieved British Canoe Union Level Five, the highest international standard for coaching sea- or coastal-kayaking to students who range in ability from beginner to advanced open water and beyond. There are fewer than 50 Level 5 Sea Coaches throughout the world. 

Wright is the first individual to pass the assessment process on the first try, which has a fail rate so high that most, Wright included, expect to have to have a second go.

An Army combat veteran of the first Gulf War, Wright has led the Saint Michael's Wilderness Program for 15-plus years, developing programs in sea-kayaking, whitewater boating, skiing, hiking, or rock and ice-climbing, in Vermont and around the world. He structures the Wilderness Program as a student-coordinator model. Achieving Level 5 with the British Canoe Union serves to strengthen that model. He earned a bachelor's degree from Saint Michael's in 1996 and a Saint Michael's master's in education in 2011. 

"I have become a more dynamic and innovative coach and better educator over the past two years of work towards Level 5," Wright said. 

Training focus on all levels of learners in any sea environment

Wright succeeded on the final leg of the L5 process which was a two-day assessment. Day one involved meeting a group of unknown students, determining their readiness, interests and learning profiles, and developing a full-coaching day for them, to be completed the following day. He was observed both days and assessed as to his "ability to run highly differentiated experiences for multiple learners in any sea environment."

The real value of the rigorous, lengthy certification process, Wright said, was in how it caused him to "dramatically change his teaching methods - we are much more efficient now," he said, "at developing our student instructional staff," who teach many other students.

Wright said he started the process in 2002 with his first British Canoe Union assessment, and by 2011 he had achieved Level 4. Getting there involved a training course, practice time and assessment, along with fulfilling leadership, teaching, and navigational modules. In November 2011, Wright passed a six-day Level 5 Coach Training Course at the Tolleymore National Outdoor Training Center in Northern Ireland. But that was not the end. 

"That course brought together much of what I learned as a graduate student in education," he said. "I applied it directly to coaching paddle sport." He worked there with superb coastal kayakers he said, as well as sport psychologists, Olympic coaches, physiologists and Level 5 coaches from around the world.

Two years of intense training

For the last two years, Wright has worked on his action plan, collaborating for six weeks with a mentor, Gordon Brown, a famous Scottish sea-kayak coach. He also developed six students who would be ready to accompany him on assessment, completed a peer-reviewed project promoting paddle sports, and kept a detailed logbook of his work with his students and of carrying out his action plan. 

The British Canoe certification is the world standard.  But Wright also has certification from the American Canoe Association (ACA) Level 5 Advanced Open Water, Instructor Trainer, ACA L4 Open Water Instructor Trainer Educator, ACA L4 Whitewater Instructor, ACA L4 Surf Kayak Instructor, and BCU 4 Star Leader Course Provider.

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