Let’s be honest, for those new to paddlesports the initial experience can be awkward. There is new equipment, jargon, and it’s a sit down sport, which alters one’s perspective and requires them to rethink how to use their body. In addition, paddling happens on, and occasionally in, the water, which means new sensory information, different environmental cues, and for some, anxiety.
All of this has the potential to result in new paddlers leaving their first experience not feeling terribly competent. Granted, some come back for another go, but others walk away from the experience thinking, ‘this just isn’t my thing.’ This is a huge loss for paddlesports. As ambassadors of the sport (enthusiasts, coaches, instructors and teachers) we should be promoting competence whenever we are on the water, particularly with those new to paddlesports.
Competence is the perception that we possess adequate ability to engage in an activity. As paddlers, we have the ability to influence this perception in others. Here are five top tips for supporting competency when introducing new folks to the paddlesport:
1. It’s all about them!
Make sure they are comfortable wet exiting a kayak/canoe or dismounting a stand up paddleboard. Do let them practice on dry land and in the water. Do remind them that swimming is part of learning paddlesports. Do not use fear or a horror story to emphasize the importance of the skill.
Encourage new paddlers to set and share individual goals.
Choose venues that support their goals, venues where they can have success.
2. Set attainable tasks!
Set tasks based on their goals.
Emphasize fundamentals like posture, blade submersion, balance, looking where they want to go etc. rather than specific techniques.
Deemphasize performance outcomes such as making the paddlecraft go straight.
3. Praise performance!
When folks achieve a goal, praise them in an authentic way. Remember, new paddlers may not always be aware of their success, or they may not be able to assess their progress, so tell them.
4. Reduce the cognitive load!
A new paddler’s brain is working pretty hard; therefore, reduce the volume. Avoid excessive jargon and nomenclature. Focus on one or two fundamentals, rather than ‘teaching them to paddle’ in an hour or a day.
If you observe fear, anxiety or frustration, pull back, change the venue, and/or encourage them to take a break. While fear management and mental toughness are part of paddlesports, folks don’t need to confront this day one.
5. Inspire a sense of connectedness!
Paddling is a community and an amazing one at that; therefore, welcome new paddlers.
Individuals who feel connected to a sport develop at a faster rate than those who feel they must prove themselves to gain access.
Keep in mind that competence is a perception about one’s ability; a perception that we can influence. Therefore, if new paddlers feel a bit more able after every day on the water, they won’t be beginners for very long.