The Kayaking Effect

I have to admit that I sometimes have to hold back a laugh when I watch beginning kayakers swagger back to their cabins after they have “survived” their first kayaking lesson. Now these kayakers have Albert Bandura’s “confidence to execute a course of action.”

Why do I take the time to explain my kayaking effect theory to all my campers in every sport skill I teach? Learning physical skills in a group is a very public event. Even if no one is watching, initial attempts of something new can raise anxiety levels, create tunnel vision and the kind of muscle tension that would make folding a napkin an impossible task.

And believe it or not, even the motor gifted will eventually find a sport that they will have to struggle to master. I believe that every camper needs to know that high anxiety is often just wasted energy and that high anxiety makes learning a lot harder than it needs to be.

Telling that story about beginning kayakers usually starts to decrease campers’ anxiety about learning something new. Of course, the laughs that come from the campers who can remember their first time kayaking usually help everyone feel more comfortable and relaxed.

Golf is another sport where there are very public and dramatic results from a beginner’s mistake. I am not sure which is more painful to the beginning golfer who has just sliced a golf ball across two fairways — the horror of realizing that a very hard projectile is headed toward an unsuspecting foursome, or having to scream “fore!” across the two fairways so that everyone in earshot has to duck, after which they will inevitably scan the area to identify the guilty hacker.

For many beginning golfers, just the prospect of hitting an errant shot is enough to put them into a highly stressed state. The result of this stress is often a death grip on the club that makes it almost impossible to execute the proper swing.

A good golf instructor helps campers learn the fundamentals of a relaxed grip and a smooth swing with practice balls that can’t endanger anyone.

Control is always emphasized over power. Chipping and putting drills are taught first because they eliminate the fear factor and ensure immediate success and confidence building.

Golf etiquette and the rules of the game are learned on mini-par-3 courses on a day where the course is deserted. A smart golf instructor plans the beginner lessons so that there is no pressure, just a lot of opportunities for campers to feel like they can control the golf ball and have fun doing it.

Beginning golfers who have developed what I call the kayak effect usually have less anxiety about making mistakes and they give more of their attention to executing their fundamentals. They have confidence that they can improve and will be successful on the golf course, and so it goes with any sport.

Instructor Homework

Instructors need to plan how they will develop their campers’ confidence and competence so that all campers can experience success early and often.

It really isn’t fair and it really isn’t teaching to give a quick explanation, throw in one demonstration and then expect that everyone will eventually get it.

Breaking a complex skill down into easier, simple steps, creating larger targets, using softer balls, giving a lot of feedback that stresses what campers are doing right, and what they need to do to correct what isn’t right, are all important to building each camper’s self-efficacy.

Anyone can throw out the ball and watch the motor-gifted just do it; but there is no greater satisfaction that I have received as a camp instructor than helping campers who are really timid about learning a new sport skill to believe that they can do it.

All that it takes is some careful planning, constructive feedback, and communicating to campers that you have confidence in them.

Dr. Susan Langlois has more than 20 years of experience as a college professor, athletic administrator, camp director and sport facilities consultant. She is currently the Dean of Sports Science at Endicott College.

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  4. High Adventure
  5. Breaking Through

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