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Confidence in kayaking

I have been told time and time again that I need to have more confidence in my own ability. This has applied to my time playing canoe polo and also white water kayaking. I reached my goal of representing GB at canoe polo in the summer of 2015 which is something I had worked hard but didn’t actually believe that I had the right to be there; I was completely lacking in self confidence. In that environment, you are expected to motivate yourself and to deal with any issues that you have in private. Everyone on the team had their own issues and personal demons to deal with so it was really difficult to approach anyone else for support or advice.


I realised after the championships that my heart wasn’t in it, and I couldn’t carry on training every day for something that I wasn’t enjoying anymore. After a chilly, super fun, high-water weekend on Dartmoor I decided that I needed to get back into whitewater kayaking. I couldn’t stop grinning! Unfortunately this was challenged when my friend Beth Hume sadly died in India, as it made me question that choice. The antithesis was the coming together of her friends and the celebration of her life that made a weekend I’ll never forget and reassured me that I could take control of that decision. It made me realise that friendships have been cemented by the experiences we share, both bad and good. Some of the best times have been on the river and white water kayaking is something I keep gravitating back to.

Why am I telling you this I can hear you ask? I’m telling you as the issues with self confidence extend far beyond the confines of canoe polo for me, and I know that I am not alone. I have given up the relative safety of canoe polo but now often question my ability when faced with new rivers or challenges and find myself doubting decisions I’m making. Again I see this in others and want to explore how we can challenge ourselves and in return build our own confidence.

So how do we define self-confidence?
It is how you feel about your abilities which can vary from situation to situation. It can affect how we perform and how we approach new situations whereas self-esteem is how you feel about yourself overall. You can have have good self confidence but poor self esteem. The two are often confused but it is a lack of self confidence that can hinder progress and stop you from achieving what you are capable of.

Confidence operates in the realm of the known, and courage that of the unknown. This means that we can have a lot of confidence on a familiar run or river, but none when faced with something new.

13958078_10157351645055094_2276740088505635659_oNow we know the difference what can we do to boost our self confidence?

Cement your basic paddling skills on rivers that you are familiar with and gradually push yourself onto harder sections, but only when you feel ready. There can be pressure from others to do this before you are ready. Go with your gut and remember why we do this. It’s meant to be fun!
If you don’t enjoy paddling grade 4/5, then don’t do it. Do what you enjoy!

Choose the right boat for you. I never thought I’d like the 9R, but I tried it and loved it. It’s narrow and fast, suits my paddling style and also performs really well when fully loaded. Such a good creek boat for the smaller paddler!
Try lots of different boats and make sure that it’s not too small/big. It sounds obvious but we are often told what we should be paddling. It’s definitely a personal choice so go with what you feel good in as long as it’s suitable for what you’re doing. If you’re in the right boat then it should boost your confidence.

Paddle with the right people. This may be difficult to figure out. Try paddling with different people and learn how you operate in different groups. Often we paddle with the same people and end up relying on them to make decisions for us instead of developing our own concept of our own abilities. That doesn’t mean that people can’t try to push you; sometimes that’s necessary, but only in the right time and place.

If you’re paddling with people who make you feel bad for messing up, then they’re not the right people to paddle with! It only takes a small comment or a roll of the eyes to undermine someone’s confidence, especially when they’re having a rubbish time. Picking the right group can make a drastic difference in how you feel about your own ability and how you progress.

Be kind to yourself and to others. If something goes wrong, reflect on it and try not to beat yourself up. Not everything is a competition and you don’t have to do things perfectly every time. Most importantly remember to do things because you enjoy them. Whether that’s enjoyment that you get after a scary run or from surfing or learning to do freestyle or competing. You will gain the most out of whatever you’re doing if you enjoy it and that in turn will give your confidence a lift.


If you experience anxiety then try to realise it in yourself and how it manifests. Try to identify what makes you anxious and share it with others. For example paddling without scouting things makes me anxious and I get snappy, so now I only paddle with people who are happy to stop and look at stuff. Anxiety can come across in many different ways and can turn into panic. Learning what makes us anxious enables us to form strategies so we can manage it rather than letting panic take over. Strategies may include visualisation, planning trips differently or self relaxation techniques; find what works for you.

Don’t be afraid to push yourself to try new things, even if you don’t think you’ll enjoy it. Surf things you wouldn’t normally surf, and if you need further support then get some coaching from someone you trust. Say yes to things that you feel nervous but not terrified about. Some nerves are good, it’s when they turn into something more that we struggle. We have to reach a level where they don’t affect our performance. Easier said than done when you’re lacking in confidence, right?! Take things slowly, and take a step back if you begin to feel overwhelmed. Sometimes we can push through and sometimes we can’t!

Seek positivity and take it from the small victories. Love what you do and if you find yourself not loving it for some reason then take a break, reflect on things and talk to people. Relish the challenges that kayaking poses but don’t let them overcome you.

A lot of this might sound obvious but all of these things should help you to build your self confidence when it comes to kayaking. It doesn’t have to hinder our progress or stop us from loving what we do. We just need to take the right steps to make things more manageable.

Now to practice what I preach! See you on the river!

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