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It’s all about the practice!

glenmore lodge coaching

After all practice makes perfect! Right?

By Dave Rossetter – paddlesport instructor at Glenmore Lodge

This article is about practice and more especially the quality of the practice. I aim here to look at:

  • types of practice
  • challenge and context within practice

dave rossetter coaching

A few quotes to get us going:
“In theory there is no difference between theory and practice. In practice there is.”
Yogi Berra – baseball player

“Practice does not make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”
Vince Lombardi – American football coach

“Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.”
Anton Chekhov – Russian physician

“When you are not practicing, someone else is getting better.”
Allen Iverson – basketball player

Getting the theory behind ‘what’ we need to do, ‘why’ we need to it and ‘how’ we need to do it is important. It helps us as paddlers formulate a set of rules that can aid us in the appropriate selection of techniques or tactics for a particular situation. When we are under pressure it gives us a base to fall back onto. However, without practice it is perhaps wasted information and something that doesn’t help in our performance.

Whatever the theory is we need to trust it. We need to take ownership of the information and make it our own. If we own and trust the theory it sticks and we are happy to have it as our fall back.

However, paddling is dynamic, fluid and rhythmical. We paddle in dynamic environments where we need to respond quickly and efficiently to achieve the desired outcome. The background information aids us in our planning and helps with the start point. This is where we need to have flair and creativity in our performance. This is particularly true in the advanced conditions. The more advanced the conditions the quicker the decisions required in the constantly moving environment.

The dynamic nature of the environment requires us to be able to adapt the our ‘rules’ and find solutions often in the middle of activity. To help us with this we need to look at the types of practice we do.

dave rossetter coaching

Three main types of practice:


Blocked practice
‘Same skill, same effort, same environment – repeated over and over’

Brilliant for grooving and gaining skill development especially good for early stages of skill development as well as later stage development when looking to solve a particular problem.

The challenge of blocked practice can be in that dynamic environments things don’t happen the same. The water level is higher/lower, the wind is a slightly different angle, the boats packed differently etc.

Therefore we need a different approach. The skill we have been practicing is what we will fall back onto because that worked in the past. That is no guarantee of the outcome this time. That can lead to frustration and/or lack of motivation to continue.

Varied practice
‘Same skill with changes – speed, effort or environment.’

A great way to test the skill in different environments. Due to paddling in an ever changing environment we need to have slightly different blend of techniques and tactics to achieve the desired outcome.

For example the outcome is crossing the eddy line. If we practice doing the same thing in only place and one way what happens when we move to a different type of eddy?

By having the skill at a level where the paddler can then take it and apply it to a different situation. This is vital for paddlers as the conditions we are in vary. Therefore adding variety to your practice will aid you in the long term.

The experiences that we have if they are varied will give us greater options for our paddling. This is recognised by the National Governing Body where for example, asking paddlers to paddle in different geographical areas is helping with them having variety of options to achieve different outcomes.

Random practice
‘Skill is practiced and then left as different skills are being worked before coming back to the original skill.’

When we paddle we have to blend a lot of skills together. Using the river example we paddle out of the eddy, down through the rapid which may include avoiding different obstacles, break out before having to then break in again. This using the skill, storing the skill and then recalling it is vital when the environment demands so much from us. When there is so much interference then having the strategies that allow us to recall what we need when we need is the key to a successful performance.

dave rossetter coaching

One that we should all be aware. What side do you practice on? How many have a roll that only works on one side?

Practicing consciously on both sides is a great way to transfer information from one side to the other. You know when one side is working and the other isn’t. Focusing on what those differences are is a great teacher.

The environments that we paddle in demand that we need skills on both sides regardless of what craft we are in. Turning left and right to avoid obstacles, surfing a wave or a move that is better going left instead of right. As much as anything it keeps the body equal and uses all muscles ranges and not just one side.

Challenge and context within practice
Having knowledge of different practice structures gives the ability to understand the context of our training. We know that we can change how we train depending on what the problem is that we need to solve.

If we are looking to groove a skill, add flow or rhythm to our paddling then we can change the practice to suit. However, we can also add challenges to the practice.

Examples of challenges:

Easy environment – hard moves.
On easy grade water look to add the challenge by making harder moves. Looking for effective paddling that leads to efficiency.

Easy environment – easy moves.
Improving the efficiency of the move seeking perfection.

Challenging environment – easy moves.
Problem solving blending a mix of factors to solve the problem.

Challenging environment – challenging moves.
Planning a blend of skills to solve the problem that require different tactics in the trail and error phase.

Use of features to create problems to solve
Recently while working with canoes and looking for a suitable challenge for boat control we used a pier. The environment was benign but wee needed to test boat control and ensure the students had ways to turn, accelerate forwards and move left and right. This ability to use random practice to challenge boat handling skills aided the student in their planning of tactics, stroke choice and paddling side. The blend of skills using the pier gave immediate feedback on the appropriateness of the selection made along with the opportunity to go again and find another or a different option gives great learning.

dave rossetter coaching


So how do you practice?
Is it structured?
Do you have plan?

By asking yourselves these questions then your practice will be more focussed and thus you can start to solve those little niggling paddling problems that we all have.

Choose your type depending on what you need to do either by your skill level, the environment that you find yourself in or the problem that you need to solve.

What type of practices do you do with your students? Why do you choose one type over the other?

By asking yourself what is you use can help you focus and use the practice time well.

Happy paddling and hope to see you on the water.

dave rossetter coaching

Dave is the full time paddlesport instructor at Glenmore Lodge – Scotland’s National Outdoor Training Centre. He has been involved in the development of the new awards and provides expert advice throughout the industry on all things to do with coaching, safety, leadership and personal paddling. He is passionate about all things paddling and specialises in white water kayak and open canoe where he will most often be found. He is supported in his paddling adventures and coaching by Pyranha Kayaks, Mad River Canoes and Palm Equipment.

About thepaddlerezine (699 Articles)
Editor of The Paddler magazine and Publisher of Stand Up Paddle Mag UK and Windsurfing UK magazines

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