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Coaching and Whitewater Kayaking

By Steven Filante  November 17, 2017

This past year I began learning whitewater kayaking and was amazed at how my experiences mirrored my own learning as a coach and what I view in others who are stepping into coach training. 

Early in my kayaking lessons, I discovered how much I didn't know. I couldn't start on a river; I started in a pool. I learned and practiced maneuvers in the pool, yet had no idea how they would apply in real whitewater conditions. My mind and body seemed to go in opposite directions. I couldn't do simple things like keep the boat going in a straight line. And this was the easy part.

I had to learn how to roll my kayak upright after it tipped upside down. I intellectually knew the process, but I couldn't translate to doing it upside down and under water. The learning curve felt long and arduous.

This was where I recognized the similarities between learning to whitewater kayak and learning to coach. New coaches learn skills and new ways of seeing and interacting with the world. It is almost like learning a new language. They begin with excitement and enthusiasm for the learning but discouragement creeps in when they are unable to replicate the results that seem so easily demonstrated by an experienced coach. It is humbling to try something new and be unable to do it masterfully for what feels like a very long time.

My first experience on an intermediate difficulty river equates with a new coach’s first experience of coaching a challenging client outside of class. I did what I had been trained to do in the pool, out on the river. Despite my best efforts to do exactly what the kayaker in front of me was demonstrating, I kept getting flipped upside down in the rapids. I was discouraged and scared. The fun went out of the process. I questioned whether I should continue. My teacher assured me that my skill in getting upright in difficult situations was a great success, but it was hard for me to feel like I was doing well when I repeatedly found myself upside down in the water.

As a new coaching student, it is easy to get overwhelmed and discouraged as you push yourself to do more difficult things. You question if you are good enough, if you can succeed, if it is worth the stress and bother. Having struggled so much myself this year as I maneuvered through rough waters in a kayak, I have great compassion for beginner coaches who are navigating the rigorous process of learning and applying a coaching skillset in the real world. Having both internal and external support systems is key to success.

The summer season is behind me, but I haven’t given up on whitewater kayaking. I am back in the pool after a fun and often challenging season on the rivers. I continue to practice the skills and maneuvers and have discovered that I learned a lot out on the rivers. I am better than I was last winter and now I understand how the skills apply in rough water and waves. I remind myself that I am still a beginner. With all my practice and play in the last year, I am still just starting this journey.

What is the journey you would like to begin?

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About the author:

Steven Filante, PCC is a professional certified coach, an international coach trainer, a mentor coach and a Coaching for Transformation certification program facilitator. Always open to new modalities and possibilities, Steven challenges his learners to examine all parts of the human experience and how it can bring value to coaching. He coaches small business owners and executives who need a coaching ally to translate their vision of change into the world. Steven designed and delivered Fire in the Heart, an advanced coach training course.

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