Slalom for Messing Up on the River
In river running there are times when we mess up: we flip, miss an eddy, blow a line. It is not that it happened that determines whether we are good boaters or not, but how we handle the situation. The well-known slang phrase “shit happens” is so true in kayaking. Deal with it. Having trouble with dealing? Try your hand at a bit of slalom training to work through the mental aspect of kayaking and pressure – particularly after messing up on the river.
Slalom is one of the best training grounds for handling the “mess up” factor in kayaking. When you have an entire course to deal with, there is a chance that you might touch a gate (2 second penalty), miss a gate (50 second penalty), flip (ego penalty), have to work hard to make a move happen (losing time). When it happens it is important to not let that one incident (or two or five – depending on what kind of run you are going to have) throw you off or be the reason you quit without completing the course. Deal with it. Keep going. Even the best athletes touch/miss/flip/hiccup in the middle of a course.
Slalom also helps you learn to deal with outside pressure. At any slalom event, you are being timed, scrutinized by the gate judges, analyzed by your fellow racers, and watched by an audience. It is easy to let that kind of attention make you nervous or feel like quitting if you are not having your best day. But if you have fourteen gates (for example) and you miss one, was that really a “bad day?”
In river running you might have a bad line through a rapid, or a swim in a rapid. Do you dwell on it, or do you sit up in your boat and not let that one bad line ruin the rest of your day? In kayaking you often must deal with the unexpected. It is part of our sport. The ability to deal with it just increases your confidence and willingness to get out there and try things. Having trouble with that aspect of whitewater kayaking? Maybe it is time to try a little bit of slalom to broaden your horizons and improve your mental state on top of improving your technical skills.
Take a lesson away from slalom: it might be time on the river to stop beating yourself up over one rapid and focus on how well you did on the all the rest.