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The key to any students’ progress is taking their mind off skills and drills, and in exchange providing a goal that sneaks in the skills you want them to learn. Enter: Games! 

I believe that having an arsenal of games at the ready, promotes the fundamental reason we kayak and we play today all of those amazing games that we love. It’s fun! Games are fun. So bring out your innermost child and let the games begin.

Cali Collective girls cheering during their first day of kayaking. Photo: Melissa DeMarie

When it comes to teaching or learning kayaking, skills, drills and progressions can only get you so far. One of my absolute favorite things to do with my new students is play.  Once you start playing a game, fun is your goal. Students get really into Sponge Polo or Sharks and Minnows, and then, you suddenly see those beautiful sweep strokes put into action, and people paddling in a straight line, which seemed near impossible in your forward stroke drill. Almost 80% of information retention comes via personal exploration. With the correct game, you can facilitate that personal discovery.

BAYS ladies relaxing in an eddy flower together. Photo: Melissa DeMarie

Some keys to a successful game: 

1- Now, what shall we play? Choose a game that will encourage the skills you want them to retain. For example, working on Sweep strokes or stern draws? Find a tag based game where they must “tag” there opponent by hitting the nose of their boat to the stern of the opponents boat.  They will be spinning to paddle away or tag like rock stars.

Some Cali Collective students engrossed in a game of Yip Poy! Photo: Melissa DeMarie

Two Cali Collective students working on their T-Rescue skills. Photo: Melissa DeMarie

2- Making the Rules. No need to get too in detail with every rule in the book. Keep it simple. And know that rules may be developed as you play to cater to the group playing. When working with kids, they will want to make up all kinds of silly rules. As long as their rules are not out of control, let them make up their own game.

3- Swimmer protocol. With intense games students will begin pushing their limits, which is great! But, make sure everyone knows what to do in the case of a swim. With beginners, I have everyone paddle to the nearest shore and hold on until myself or another instructor helps out the swimmer. Once students have learned the T-Rescue, I offer that if a boat is upside-down anyone who feels comfortable can assist in a T-Rescue.  

Author Sami assisting an upside-down student with a hand of god. Photo: Melissa DeMarie

4- Venue venue venue! Usually you will try to find a nice flat pool for your initial games. Once you want to push your students and work on their balance use a place that may have a few mild eddy lines and currents to cross during play.

Sundance Kayak School students playing on the gorgeous Smith River. Photo: J.R. Weir

5- Have fun! Play with your students; you do not need to be the ref every time. Just try not to let your own competitive nature cause you to dominate the game… It happens. 

When it comes to my go to teaching tools games are at the top of the list. When teaching beginners we often times stick to drills to make them better, and forget to allow for playtime.  Kayaking after all is just a game with the river and us.

– Sami Hawkins