This weekend celebrated World Mental Health day. No doubt you will already know this due to the vast amount of posts that have been shared online about mental health. It is wonderful that people feel comfortable to have this open and honest discussion about mental health. Kayaking for me plays a huge role in my mental well-being as well as my physical well-being. This is an aspect of my addiction to kayaking that I believe is shared by many others within the kayaking community. Therefore this week’s article I want to dedicate to mental health and it’s association with kayaking for me.
A little while ago I wrote three articles about to how to become an ‘independent boater’. These articles focused on three smaller goals you should achieve in order to move from club paddling to peer paddling. There is one key ingredient that I did not talk about in detail however and that is getting professional coaching. This I felt deserved to be discussed in a separate piece and in more depth.
I want to discuss the value of coaching and how to get the most out of having coaching. I have made the conscious decision not to name any kayaking coaches in this article. A wise friend once said ‘different coaches work for different people and at different times in your life, different coaches will work for you.’ I thought that this was such an accurate statement and it has really stuck with me. Everybody will have different coaching styles that they prefer and that is fantastic. We also are incredibly lucky in the UK to have a huge wealth of talent in our white water coaches and it would be unfair to single out just one or two in this article.
When it comes to head games in kayaking I am my own worst enemy. One of the greatest obstacles that I have to deal with is when negative thoughts about my kayaking or even myself come into my head whilst I am on the water. These thoughts have the potential to affect my river time so greatly that two things usually occur. The first is that I stop enjoying myself. The second is that my paddling actually gets worse because of it. My whole motivation for kayaking is because I enjoy it so if something gets in the way of that, it needs to be addressed. I came up with a list of my most frequent negative thoughts and how I dealt with them. I then asked people what negative thoughts they themselves experienced whilst on the water. I was amazed at the response I received to this question. It was clear from the replies I was getting that there were some strong common themes and many of the answers actually matched my own list. So I decided to address three of the most prevalent negative thoughts along with how I have learned to deal with these thoughts whilst kayaking.
As I am sure the rest of the UK paddlers will agree, it has been sad not being able to go white water kayaking over the last three months due to Covid restrictions. I am lucky to live in Nottingham however and so have been able to do lots of flat water paddling since restrictions eased just over a month ago. Whilst I have really enjoyed my flat water sessions, it is not quite the same as white water kayaking. So when it was announced this week that my local white water course Holme Pierrepont would be opening up again it was of course met with great excitement. With careful restrictions in place, all sessions have to be booked in advance to limit the number of paddlers on the course at any one time. So I booked on for this weekend and have let the excitement build up since!
‘What happens if you fall over?’ is a question I am often asked when trying to explain what whitewater kayaking is to non-kayaking friends. I would usually respond by describing what a roll is. Of course rolling back up after capsizing your kayak isn’t the only possible outcome. If you are wondering what another option might be, it is of course the swim! For a water based sport, I have always been surprised by the variation in attitudes when it comes to swimming out of your kayak. As someone who has had many, many (I’m really not exaggerating), many swims, I feel I should share some of my thoughts on the matter.
As a kayaker and an outdoors enthusiast, I completely understand how important exercise, adventuring and being outdoors is for people’s mental health. Since starting kayaking, getting out on the water has played a fundamental role in my happiness and well being. Part of the reason I enjoy my sport is because it helps me to manage the stresses in my life. We are currently in a stressful situation and just as everybody’s personal circumstances are different, their coping mechanisms will also be different. But for those of us who use sports to regulate our emotions, the fact that we are currently unable to engage in that sport can leave us feeling particularly blue. Rather than letting it get to me, I have tried to refocus my energies during this time on other things which are helping me to stay positive. As many of these are specific to me as a a kayaker, I thought I would share some with others. Whether you are a fellow paddler, an outdoors lover or just someone who is feeling a little sad right now, please feel free to read on if you think it may help you.