A lot of people come to me wanting to improve their stroke. As a coach I can definitely help with that, but how can paddlers continue to implement and embed the changes we worked on after the session is over?
As I’m coaching, I may be paddling alongside or in the back of an OC2,repeating the same cue over and over as the paddler focuses on a particular aspect of the stroke that they are working on improving. Anyone who has been to one of my camps will have some memory of cues like Connect through the heel, drive through the legs, knee open, legs, legs. Connect through the heel, legs, legs. Ankle-knee-hip alignment. It almost becomes a mantra with its own rhythm, that helps you to be mindful of the movements of your body.
I explain that this is what they can start doing for themselves. Choose one thing to focus on, and mentally repeat the cue over and over again. After a while, you can move on to another specific aspect of the stroke, and repeat that particular cue over and over. Eventually the cue you are repeating and the adjustment you are making becomes embedded, shifting from something that requires constant mental awareness and focus to something that becomes an automatic part of your stroke.
I can remember my first solo Ka’iwi Channel crossing on an OC1 in 2009, and the 22,000 strokes I took during the 6 hours and 57 minutes it took me to cross the channel. The conditions were flat, without much wind, and it was taking a long time! I used the approach of being present and mindful to focus on one stroke at a time. Maybe because it was my first time crossing alone, or maybe it was my “one stroke at a time” approach but it went by quickly and I never felt bored. I said to myself: This stroke, every stroke, the only stroke is this stroke, and this one and this one. Sit up, look up, chin up, sit up, shoulders back, sit up…this stroke and this one, and this one and this one… and so on, until I reached the finish line.
Paddling is repetitious and that repetition is what builds your stroke.The mental aspect of paddling is huge, and focusing on what your body is executing in the present moment is incredibly valuable for mindful paddling that enables you to be aware of your stroke. The only stroke that matters is the one you are taking at this exact moment. So why not make each rep the best you can. Achieving this focus makes each moment, and each stroke, a part of your improvement as a paddler.
Author: Anna Mathisen