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Take a Clinic: Why it's a great idea, no matter how experienced you are

Although I occasionally give a paddling clinic, that’s not the reason I’m suggesting you take one.  I simply think that if you’re really serious about improving and learning new skills that can make your paddling more enjoyable or, if you’re a racer, becoming the best you can be in this sport it’s worth hearing what people with experience and knowledge have to say and seeing if there’s anything you can learn from them.

When I was a just young C1 paddler I used to hang on every word the older National Team paddlers had to say about training, technique and racing.  When I eventually became a National Team member myself, I used to like to talk to the competitors from other countries and share ideas about everything to do with training for paddling.  I’d pick up little things that I could try in my own training, some of which I’d find really useful, and some which I never tried again because they didn’t seem to add anything to what I was already doing.  The point is I was willing to learn, and over the course of my career this helped me get a lot better.  Many of the things I learned back then are things I’ve been able to apply to stand up paddling and are things I still use today as both an athlete and a coach.

When I worked for Toronto’s bid to host the 2008 Olympics I had the opportunity to rub shoulders with a lot of former and current Olympic athletes from a variety of sports.  I had way more time to actually talk to them about training and competing than I ever did when I was in the Olympic village as a competing athlete and met them there.  I found that even though our sports could be incredibly different from a technical perspective, the experience we shared as athletes while training and competing was remarkably similar.  I learned things from these athletes, especially about the mental side of training and racing that I found useful, and with athletes in events with a similar energy system profile to mine I learned some really useful things from them about training.

I’m fortunate that my sprint canoe background helped me become competitive in SUP pretty much from day one.  But I’ve had a lot of help from, and asked a lot of questions of, SUP paddlers with far more experience than me along the way.  They’ve helped me become better and pretty competent in big water conditions that I was never exposed to in sprint canoe.

Some of the best learning experiences I’ve had in SUP have been clinics I’ve given with other paddlers – Jimmy Terrell, Dave Kalama, Travis Grant, Jamie Mitchell, Connor Baxter, Daniel Hasulyo, Seychelle and Fiona Wylde – just to name a few.  In each case, even though I’ve been teaching the clinic with them, I’ve been essentially taking it as well as I’m listening carefully to everything they say as they teach.  

I’ve found through this experience and from talking to countless other paddlers that when it comes to sharing ideas about skills and technique we’re all, for the most part, pretty much on the same page with what we’re trying to say.  However, each of us communicates information in our own way based on our personality and our experiences.  For people taking clinics, this presents a really different perspective coming from each instructor, which is both cool and important.  Why is it important?  Well, as learners we’re all different.  We’re at different stages in our experience and skill development.  We have different learning styles and process information presented to us in different ways.  What’s a clear message to one individual is confusing one to another, and vice versa.  

When you’ve got different people sharing similar information about paddling but sharing it in different ways or stressing different things, you’re going to find you learn more about one particular thing from one person than you will from another.  And if you’re taking a clinic with a bunch of other learners, you’ll find the message that really resonated with you maybe is different from the one that resonated with someone else.  

Truly, the only real way to broaden your knowledge and gather the depth of understanding required to improve is to learn from many, not just one.  

There are lots of awesome SUP athletes that do clinics as they travel the world competing.  Michael Booth, Connor Baxter and Danny Ching jump immediately to mind as I’ve recently seen social media posts about their clinics.  All of them are going to provide you with information you can use to make yourself better.  There’s a Paddle Monster coach like Victoria Burgess, who is an experienced racer and open ocean paddler with a Phd in Exercise Science.  There are lots of lesser known individuals, both athletes and instructors, around the world that offer clinics or one-on-one lessons.  If you’re relatively new to SUP or not into racing, you don’t necessarily need to wait till a pro athlete is in town to take a clinic.  You’ve probably already got resources in your own community bearing knowledge that can help you, and what they have to say might well be more relevant to you at your experience level than what the pros might tell you.  

Hopefully, by this point I’ve convinced you to take a clinic when you’ve got the opportunity to do so, but let me take it one step further.  Take as many as you can, with as many different instructors as you can.  Don’t make the mistake of always signing up for a clinic with your favorite paddler or instructor, be it me or anyone else.  Get as many different perspectives as you can, and then figure out how they apply to you.  All of the paddlers I’ve mentioned here are incredibly well spoken, articulate and passionate about paddling.  They’re personable and can tell a good story.  You’ll not only learn, you’ll be entertained while you’re learning.  They’re motivating and inspiring.  I’m confident that the same thing applies to most instructors that I’ve never met as well.  I guarantee, regardless of your current level, if you take a good clinic or do a one-on-one coaching session it’ll help you become a better paddler and enjoy your own paddling more because of it.

Happy learning.  Happy paddling!

More thoughts on the subject:

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