I crest the hill, and suddenly everything feels light. I feel like I'm flying, down through the trees as the path twists & winds its way downhill... Snow carpets the route but my feet find their placement without conscious thought. Yes! This is why I love running...
In my last blog post, I asked if you'd ever thought about why you paddle. What is it that you love about your watery pastime? Why do you get on the water? What really makes you get excited about that next outing?
This time, I wanted to focus on what you're aiming for. Goal setting; although that's not a term that gets many people excited...
And therein lies the rub. If your goals and your motivation aren't the same, will you be excited and motivated to work towards those goals? When it gets tough, will you keep reminding yourself to use what you've learned? To keep up with that great forward paddling technique when you get tired, so you can go further or faster? To paddle out again for just one more wave, when you're flagging but the surf is still good? To remind yourself not to put in that negative stroke?
That brings me to the first paragraph of this post: I'm not a particularly good runner, but I love it. For years though, I focused on entering road-running events. I'm not really sure why, if I'm honest: perhaps I thought 'that's just what you do'. I thought I should be faster, and worked hard to get my 5k, 10k or half marathon times down. I entered a couple of marathons, but the training felt hard and I always got injured before I hit the start line.
Then this winter, something changed. I decided just to run for fun, not to enter any events unless they really appealed, and purely for the beauty of the place. Instead, I altered my goal-focus towards running a route I've wanted to do for ages, not for anyone but me. It's a trail run, in a beautiful place, and just challenging enough that I need to get out and train for it. As a result, I'm thoroughly enjoying running and exploring trails, with no pressure to get faster or compete with anyone else but myself. That goal is still to be met, but I know I'll get there.
So what really motivates you? Do you just love spending time on the water with friends? Or the physical challenge of paddling in tough conditions? Or something else? What are you working towards, and why? Do the two things match?
If they don't, the chances are your goal will be a tough one to master. Just like my old running goals, of bringing my half marathon time down, if meeting your goal demands that you work hard at something you don't enjoy, the chance of you doing that, and not finding an excuse to avoid it, is very much reduced.
When I first began lifting weights, my trainer at the time laid it on the line to me: "The best form of exercise is the one you'll actually do". Wise words!
If your motivation is beautiful scenery, wildlife and enjoying wild places, will you really be motivated to get out in rough water in order to pass your Advanced Sea Kayak Leader award? If what you really love is the buzz of surfing a wave, should you really enter that Sea Kayak race? If you can't get enough of the smile on people's faces when they achieve success: perhaps your goal should be coaching-related?
So, should those goals be SMART? Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-bound, right? Well, not necessarily. If it suits you to set a SMART goal, well, go ahead. It's a great way to work. But that doesn't work for everyone, and at the end of the day, we're all different. If it works for you to just have something you'd like to achieve which, well, you'll get to one day... Do you know what? That's absolutely fine!
Personally, I have a paddling-related goal I've been working towards for around two years now. I can see it perhaps taking another couple of years, or maybe more, before I achieve it. What I do know, though, is that it motivates the living daylights out of me. Come hell or high water, wind or rain, I'll get there one day. I've visualised it so many times, I can virtually touch the water and feel the spray on my face. There'll be knock-backs and disappointments on the way, and I'll have to work hard to get there. But I will.
Do you know why you paddle? Go on, have a think...
Hard question to answer, that, isn't it? And it's different for all of us. For some it will be social: enjoying the company of friends; for others, the natural world; and for yet others, the feeling of moving, of performing, of getting better at something. And for many of us, a combination of all three with a host of other factors added into the mix.
If you're a coach, have you ever thought about why you do it? Perhaps it makes you feel good, or perhaps you've used coaching to help you improve your own paddling. Or maybe you simply do it because your club needs you to.
All of our motivations are equally valid, and none of them static. One thing I've learned over the course of my paddling & coaching life (and indeed, life in general!) is that motivations change.
In my early paddling life, my motivation centred around getting out as often as possible, by any means possible. It was all about time on the water. Growing in experience, I focused on expeditioning, wild camping from my sea kayak at every opportunity. Occasionally my motivation would switch, and for a while I would live for getting to a particular tide race, or on a particular river. Always, though, this was with friends, with people whose company I enjoyed and who made me feel good.
Over the last few years, my motivation has shifted and settled. I have become focused on learning, on improving as a paddler and coach, on performing in challenging environments, motivated by the rush of pushing my performance to new places, discovering what's possible for me. The smile I get inside from the feeling of Flow. Many people think of the British Canoeing Advanced Sea Kayak Leader award as being the 'top' of their aspirations as a paddler, but for me that was when the 'real' focus on learning and performing began, on achieving freedom from the confines of a syllabus, and the ability to widen my own horizons, open my eyes to what is possible, and begin to experiment with performance.
Adding and developing my understanding of performance in the gym gave me even more depth to play with, and scope to experiment with performance on the water. How could I use added strength & power in my boat?
As a coach, my focus and motivation has followed that of Zoe the paddler. If you do some coaching, whether as a profession or as a hobby, have you ever thought about why you do it? What do you enjoy? What really motivates you as a coach? Does that rub off on your learners?
The British Canoeing Educational Philosophy has this to say on the subject:
"British Canoeing Awarding Body believes in a participant-led approach when creating and enabling experience from which people will enjoy, learn and develop through paddlesport. These experiences will be delivered in an individualised way that also supports the inherent social aspects of the sport and fosters a sense of a paddling community.
Through this paddlers will achieve success, this success being focused on the journey and not the destination.
The experience will be safe, engaging and enjoyable, with the paddler at the heart of the process involving them in their own learning and development.
This will be delivered by a supportive and empowering approach to instil an active passion for the sport of canoeing, alongside developing understanding and respect for the environment in which it takes place."
I've italicised a few phrases that really stand out for me, in that statement. I love helping paddlers to become... better paddlers! So when that realisation dawned for me, it left me with a dilemma: do I focus on doing that, helping people to become better paddlers; or do I continue to work towards delivering syllabus-based awards courses?
Now, the two aren't mutually exclusive. Becoming a better leader or coach can help you become a better paddler. But that doesn't happen by accident: you have to understand how to learn, how to practice, how to help yourself get better. A coach can't do that for you, but they can help it to happen a lot faster. That's what I truly love about being a coach.
So, over the course of the last few months, after a lot of personal wrangling with motivation, philosophy, and staring at my own belly-button (metaphorically, you understand!), I've made a decision.
Most paddling coaches, organisations & providers offer a selection of syllabus-based courses. I'm going to go out on a limb and dare to be just a little bit different. For the time being, Zoe Newsam Coaching will not deliver Leadership or Coaching training or assessments. Never say never of course, like we said above, motivations change.
For now, though, I am going to focus my efforts on offering my clients a focus on improving their performance, on becoming better paddlers, fitter and more powerful people, and on achieving their personal performance goals, including the British Canoeing Personal Performance Awards. Focusing on being better, more in control, and more confident & independant in the environments and places they want to paddle, with the people they want to be on the water with.
How do I know that's the right thing to do? Well, I don't for sure. But it just feels good. How will you know when you've achieved success or made a good decision on the water, or given your all in the gym? Well, it just feels good... right?
So, what are you waiting for? Why not book onto a course this summer, and find out what it feels like when it just feels right?
Sea Kayak Coach & Personal Trainer based in the Scottish Highlands. I love paddling, running, lifting weights, cycling, and moving well- and I love helping other people to do the same. I have to work really hard to build and maintain my skills on the water and my fitness, and I hope that helps me to understand how hard my clients also have to work!