In my experience, when female paddlers mess up their lines it’s not usually because of their lack of physical skill (although that can be the case too), but it’s most often due to their lack of mental preparation and focus. After all, it’s usually our lack of confidence, doubt and fear that makes us stiff and hesitant, which leads to bad lines and trashings. I’ve read books on sports psychology that give suggestions on imagery and affirmations that can help control negative thoughts, but someone very wise recently gave me a trick that is very simple and works well. And the best part is that it doesn’t just work for kayaking, but it’s also helpful in almost any situation that raises fear and uncertainty.
The trick is simple: whenever you’re feeling nervous when you’re kayaking focus on how grateful you are for the skills that you do have. It works something like this: I’m at the top of challenging whitewater that I’m about to run, but I feel really nervous and negative chatter starts going through my head. At this point I think: “I’m grateful for my skills. I’m grateful for my experience. I’m grateful for my strength. I’m grateful for my ability to read whitewater.” And so on – you get the idea. What this does is cut off the flow of negativity and doubt and focuses my attention on the positive. Then I can proceed with the rapid filled with positive thoughts, which usually leads to positive action.
I like the ‘being grateful’ technique better than affirmations because there isn’t room for doubt when you’re being grateful. If I say: “I am strong,” then my mind can always intervene with “but the River is stronger.” When I say ‘I’m grateful for my strength’ then I’m showing appreciation for and recognizing all of my experiences, my skill, my teachers and perhaps even a higher power, and there isn’t much room for doubt in that. And being appreciative, for me, produces a feeling of wellbeing that has a calming effect. It’s also very motivational and inspiring.
I think that if this teaching had come to me while I was competing I would have been a lot more consistent! I suggest that you try it and see how it works. It may help keep your positive juju flowing. Even if you think this sounds a bit ‘airy-fairy’ I challenge you to try it at least once if you have difficulty staying confident on the river. After all, there’s nothing ‘airy-fairy’ about acing a sick line on a challenging rapid!
About the Author
Anna Levesque was the 2001 Freestyle Kayaking World Championship Bronze Medalist and is a motivational keynote speaker. Her company Girls At Play, LLC offers white water kayaking tours, trips and classes for women.