The Kayaking Effect

If you find yourself wondering at the end of a long, crazy, camp day, why you ever decided to make a career in camp business, take a moment to consider how much campers can get from what you provide.

For example, think about what most adults look forward to during their working lives… going on a really fun vacation. Every year more people plan their vacations so that they can golf, mountain bike, inline skate, kayak, hike, sail or just about any other lifetime sport.

When you ask these vacationers how they first got into their sport, you will find that very often they credit instruction that they had at camp as their first exposure to their sport.

We have all heard about the growing epidemic of obesity and how inactive young people are because they are spending more of their free time on the Internet and playing video games. And the latest projections about how this physical inactivity will increase future health care costs is downright scary.

So if your camp introduces young people to lifetime sports that help them to enjoy being active and being healthy for life, you can have a huge influence on your campers’ health and enjoyment.

Helping campers to learn how to play a sport that can be enjoyed at any age can have great physical, mental, and social benefits for the rest of their lives. What better reason can there be for a career in a camp business?

Hooked on Success

If you have taught a group of young people a new sport skill, whether archery, swimming, or skeet shooting, you have probably noticed that some of them are just naturals. Researchers in physical activity call these people motor gifted.

What is really important to know is that in the general population of campers, only about 13 percent have the natural ability to master a sport skill. These gifted athletes need just a little instruction, perhaps a demonstration, and then they are ready to make the most of their first attempts and they can start making immediate refinements in their technique.

If you ask motor gifted individuals to demonstrate in front of the group, they are usually happy and confident to take the stage and perform.

Then there are the rest of us mortals… those who are one step behind or feel like they have two left feet. Most instructors instinctively know that struggling beginners are going to refuse to demonstrate the skill in front of the group.

For a lot of campers, firing a bullseye or staying horizontal in the water isn’t going to happen for a while and probably not without some frustrating attempts.

So the real challenge for sport instructors is to develop a learning situation where everyone can get hooked on the feeling of success.

The Kayaking Effect

Albert Bandura, a pioneer in psychology, developed the term self-efficacy. He defined it as “the confidence to execute a course of action.”

Bandura also believed that self-efficacy is the most powerful influence on human behavior. So, before I start to teach a new group of campers any new sport skill, I explain what I call the kayaking effect theory.

I maintain that most people who have never kayaked have this preconceived notion that there is a lot of capsizing, and rolling-over-to-save-your-life involved.

When I have my first class with these novices, I can see the tension in their faces. Before we get into the kayaks, no matter what I describe or demonstrate, this tension usually doesn’t go away, even if I guarantee that basic, beginner kayaking is actually much more stable than canoeing.

Anticipating this trepidation, I plan my lesson carefully: The first lesson involves only flatwater, flatbottomed kayaks, a partner to help each camper into the kayak, shallow water, a paddle with a tether so that the paddle can’t stray out of their reach, and I even include the comfort (distraction) of a water bottle in a secure holder.

But it isn’t until they experience their first ten minutes or so of success that they start to release their white-knuckle grips on their paddles.

However, if they have a close encounter with another kayaker or if they realize that they have strayed into deeper water, the white-knuckle grips resurface. Finally, by the end of the first lesson, they realize that they really are not going to capsize and roll.

Now for the kayaking effect… Usually the kayaking effect occurs once the lesson is over and their feet are safely back on shore. It is so interesting to watch both the expressions of relief and the smiles of pride wash over their faces.

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