How to Set Goals to Improve Your Paddling

I’ve been learning how to kayak for 7 years now, and will continue to learn my whole life. I don’t think I will ever be content with my skills as they are, and I’ll always be finding new ones to work on. My paddling career thus far has been a long, arduous learning process, full of bumps and roadblocks. It was sixth months into my paddling that I finally mastered my roll, not to mention hundreds and hundreds of attempts at bow stalls, stern stalls, back deck rolls, and thousands of flatwater loop attempts ending in faceplants. 

Admittedly, it’s been pretty frustrating at times. I know a lot of paddlers where their skills have come unnaturally fast, and it’s hard to swallow that sometimes when you have to grind hours and hours to achieve the same skill. When I was starting out paddling, that was something that would be a roadblock for me. If I didn’t get something at the same speed as everyone else, I would accept that as a sign that I should stop or I wasn’t good enough. I like to think that I’ve matured a bit and as of late I have been what used to be frustration into pure motivation. 

Whether or not we religiously adhere to them, goals are the backbone of motivation. I’m beginning to incorporate goals more into my personal life and my paddling as a way to keep my mentality in the right place. Goal setting can be especially valuable in paddling so that you can gauge your improvements every time you get on the water. 

I have recently applied this principle to my slalom paddling. In the beginning of August, I attended the Canadian Whitewater Slalom Nationals. Not having a lot of slalom experience, I felt pretty apprehensive about going to a more competitive race than the local ones put together in New England. I knew that I didn’t really have a lot of skill to apply to the harder race course, but I had complete control over my attitude towards the race. So, the goal that I set for the Nationals was to maintain a positive attitude throughout the competition and try my best. 

I can happily say that I met my goal for the Nationals, and I think that having a premeditated goal for the competition really helped me out. There are a few things that are important for setting your own paddling goals. 

The first one is, “Is this goal something that I really want?” If the passion to achieve your goal isn’t there, your likelihood of reaching it decreases. Do you have the drive to work on catching eddies higher, or making your roll in class III water, or surfing a bigger wave than you ever thought you could? If the answer is yes, then you can work on your developing your goals further. 

You may have heard of a S.M.A.R.T. goal before. It stands for a goal that is specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timely. And although it sounds a little gimmicky, it’s something that when incorporated into your paddling, can make a big difference. In preparation for the Nationals, my goal was specific and timely because it pertained to certain event, and I would consider if measurable because I could evaluate myself at the end of the race by whether I positive or not. My goal was achievable; I knew that I had the mental strength to participate in the race and maintain a positive attitude, which also makes it realistic.

If you have a good understanding of what a SMART goal is, you can apply it to your own paddling. Are you going to pool sessions this winter? If you are, setting a specific goal for what to accomplish during the winter will increase your chance of success, rather than just showing up and not having as much direction with your practice. 

Here’s an example of a goal that you could set for your time at the pool sessions: I will have a bomb proof hand roll by the end of January. Does this meet all of the facets of a SMART goal? Be sure to define all parts of your goal for yourself so that you’re more likely to reach your goal.

Here’s another example: I want to catch all eddies high enough so that I don’t float out the back this month. This is a great goal that’s achievable and will dramatically improve your paddling.

I’m a very strong believer in goal setting because personally I’m someone who otherwise probably wouldn’t accomplish very much without setting myself up with some direction. I find that if I am deliberate about what improvements I want to make, I am more likely to improve than if I just take a generalized approach at paddling improvement. Goal setting is not always easy and staying on track is even harder, but if you stick to it you can really reap the benefits of your hard work and commitment. 

Take a small step and try to set a goal for your paddling and see what happens!

See you on the river!

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