After returning to the helm over the Gig Harbor Canoe and Kayak Racing Team, club founder Alan Anderson scored his sixth national title in the past seven years with GHCKRT last week in Oklahoma City.
After parting in 2017 with high-performance coach Holm Schmidt — who was brought into the fold in 2012 and took over head coaching duties in 2016 — the club was in transition and was in a rebuild mode.
Anderson felt the club’s youth, and family environment he had worked so hard to cultivate, had been ignored. So when he took over the head coaching duties once again, his primary mission was to restore what he had built.
“The philosophy before was all about the individual,” Anderson said. “It’s a team full of individuals. Well, the family dynamic is something I built.”
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Aaron Huston, who was brought on to coach canoe for the team, said the emphasis on making everyone feel valued has been obvious.
“Getting back to everyone on the entire team contributing — that’s something Alan has as a core value of the team,” Huston said. “Everyone contributes, everyone is important. People just can’t help but be inspired and want to be part of that. He makes everyone feel part of it. That seeps through the coaches and athletes. It’s a core value of the team.”
And it’s not just about paddling, for Anderson.
“He’s just super encouraging, very motivational and he focuses on those connections,” said 14-year-old canoeist Sarah Grady, who brought home eight gold medals from the national championships.
“He focuses more on those connections, versus our ability to paddle. He does both, but he makes sure there’s a good balance. With some other clubs around the country, those relationships don’t matter as much. It’s less of a family dynamic and more, ‘I’m just here for myself.’ Alan always makes sure that we don’t do that and that we’re always working together.”
Getting the club back on top, after losing to Georgia club Lake Lanier a year ago, started with an renewed emphasis on recruitment with the team’s summer camps, and fostering an environment which made the beginning paddlers feel valued and want to return.
“The recruitment with our summer camps has been vital to our success,” said 16-year-old kayaker and Gig Harbor High student Jackson Plymale. “A lot of our canoeists at nationals this year were kids I coached in summer camps last year. The base layer is what really got us there. They’re all into it. We have a new group of summer camp kids now and they’re chugging along.”
Anderson is known by the team’s assistant coaches and athletes as a motivator.
“He can really motivate anyone to do anything, and have people perform at a higher level than they ever expected,” Plymale said. “He really pushes this team along and we couldn’t have won without him.”
That’s not to say that Anderson does everything, especially these days. Part of his agreement to come back to the club was contingent upon surrounding himself with a quality coaching staff, including Huston, and Katy Hill, who works with the younger paddlers.
“I don’t carry much of the load anymore,” Anderson said. “Everyone is doing their thing. With Katy, having an athlete-coach that offers a perspective of someone who has come up in the sport, that’s a big deal. She does a fantastic job with those kids she works with. … And with Aaron, he does all the organizational stuff and inspires the kids. He’s just a great coach. And the rest of our staff does a great job, too.”
Looking at everything he has built in the harbor, Anderson said he feels proud.
“The family dynamic is something I worked hard to build,” Anderson said. “Fortunately, we’re all on the same page with that. … It’s just such a community. It’s really a pleasure to be around.”
And coming back home with the national title reclaimed isn’t a bad bonus, either.
“Alan just has a presence about him,” Hill said. “He’s just inspirational. It’s really unique how he can inspire the kids. They really value him when he talks to them. You can see a difference in their performance.”