(This article is the fourth of a series of five)
In the recent years, there has been an increasing amount of young paddlers. Teaching them to paddle requires a very different approach than teaching teenagers or adults. Here is a gathering of my top tips to anyone wanting to teach young kids how to paddle. They are dedicated specifically to kids under the age of 12 and focus primarily on making the experience of paddling enjoyable. This week’s tip focuses on teaching kids what they want to learn.

TIP #4 Don’t call it training

Adults train; kids play. Adults embrace paddling for the joy of being outside, get fit, reach new goals, get an adrenalin kick, train on technique, learn new drills, travel, discover new places, be social (…) Kids enjoy paddling because it’s fun to play in water and get butterflies in their stomach. Period. (For the time being, of course.) Keep that in mind when teaching kids; that a new skill is only ‘essential’, in a kid’s mind, if it enables to play more, differently or better. For example, a good forward stroke (which only means blade in and extended arms at this point) allows to cross eddy lines and make new fun lines across a rapid. Good body positioning (which only means to sit up straight and in balance at this point) allows to ride bigger wave trains and surf mini-size waves. And so on…

Call it magic. I dare you start your session with: “let’s go train on sweep strokes and body positioning, shall we”, and see what happens. There is simply zero success rate in starting the session with aims that sound dead boring and adult-like. Yes, you need to train skills, but a little bit of magic will be needed. Want them to keep their boat flat on calm water? Place a rock or a stick loose on their boat, back and/or front, and challenge them to make sure it doesn’t fall in the water while they paddle. Want them to cross small eddy lines and currents? Play ‘mamma duck and baby ducks’; one leads the way while others follow in the exact same line. Want to train balance? Have them ride small wave trains while pretending to play other sports, like basketball (to challenge heights when arms are up), riding a motorcycle (to challenge leaning in/out), or play soccer with a beach ball (to challenge side to side balance), etc. Want them to move in a rapid and practice getting in/out of their boat? Promise a few candies if they manage to get all the rubber duckies you threw on shore alongside of the rapid. And so on. The idea here is simple: keep paddling a magical experience and you’ll have no problem in keeping kids on the water.

Switch it up. Kids get quickly bored. So unless you hit the jackpot with your latest drill, you will need to open up to whatever the spot has to offer. Also keep in mind that whitewater paddling is a complex sport that requires many different sets of skills. These sets of skills all play a major role in becoming a proficient paddler. So switch it up: swim a lot (flat water, current, wave trains), train skills (strokes, balance, strength), surf (bodysurf, surf small waves, surf with pool toys), read moving water (features, lines, eddies), watch others paddle, play with toys in current, and try other water-related sports like stand-up-paddle.

Nb. Want more game ideas? Read my last post after this one and you won’t be disappointed 😉