Friday, June 12, 2015

Always More to Learn

The learning never stops. A few years ago, when I worked toward earning my ACA Level 3 instructor certification, I claimed to have no interest in progressing to the highest level. The prospect of coaching people in the bigger, more potentially hazardous conditions just didn’t have its appeal. But as I progressed into those environments, it helped to have the occasional guidance from upper-level coaches. As I became more comfortable getting out in rougher spots and moved-on to L4 certification, I naturally started finding myself in those spots with less-experienced paddlers, attempting to pass-on the same kind of coaching that had helped me.

This week I went to an L5 instructor development workshop (IDW) to get pointed in the right direction. We met at AMC’s Knubble Bay cabin, which became our base, and spent the next three days paddling in the area: Five Islands, Reid State Park and the mouth of the Kennebec River. These locations translate to distinctly different environments: rocks & ledges, surf and tidal currents. Each day we had conditions at or beyond the level 5 remit: 3-5-foot seas, 15-25 knots of wind, 3-4-foot surf break and 4-5 knots of current. Beyond that, the water felt cold- still in the high 40s.

But it’s not all about conditions. A big part of L5 has more to do with being able to simultaneously accommodate students at different levels, with different needs. First you need to be able to assess a paddler- see what is working well for them and what isn’t. Then you need to be able to guide them through different activities to help them learn and discover. There’s no set way of doing things. The process will change according to the student and the environment, so the coach needs to be able to put things together on the fly.

Often, in instructor development sessions, we might need to pretend that we’re at a lower level to be students for our peers, but at L5, we just coach each other. It’s tougher, since we’re often looking at skills we’re trying to improve for ourselves, but for that reason it’s also very valuable. And you never get it all. You may focus on improving one aspect of your performance, but then you need to return to some other habit or skill that falls to the wayside.

I don’t take action photos at these events anymore, especially when I’m an instructor candidate, so the photos I have are off-water snapshots, but I like the way these photos, over time, have the feel of a family album, bringing together people we run into at these events and paddle with from time to time. I left with an action plan, the crux of which involves spending more time in these L5 environments with students and peers, working on observational skills and translating that to activities.

Despite the bracingly chilly water, it felt great to be paddling in Maine again. I was glad I’d spent plenty of time in the Florida surf this spring, where the water is now about thirty degrees warmer, but aside from awesome paddling, the Maine coast provides us with far more challenging environments than we’ll find most other places, and you need to keep paddling in challenging places if you want to keep your skills sharp.

We’ll be transient for a couple more weeks before we settle-in at Old Quarry for the summer.


Sandy Stott said...

"There’s no set way of doing things. The process will change according to the student and the environment, so the coach needs to be able to put things together on the fly."

An apt summary of what it is to teach, I think. Yes, you need to know as much as you can, and yes, you need to plan, but most of all a teacher/coach needs to figure out what works for a particular person in a particular moment. Teaching writing was like that; paddling seems the same.

Good to read of you back in Maine, even as I will leave the pictured waters to you and float instead of today's tranquil ones.

Maria said...

I guess its hard being a instructor, and L2 seems to have a great approach of coaching each other so you don't have to pretend to be on a lower level and besides there is always something you need to improve on as you cannot have it all... nice and what excellent conditions, surf and winds, good place to have paddling improvement courses. Good luck upgrading your skills in paddling.