Select Page

“Right Advice, Right Time, Right Person”

submitted by Ottilie Robinson-Shaw

As part of my “Better Call Ottie” program, I often receive questions from paddlers and parents looking to support their kids’ progress in freestyle. Among the common frustrations they share is the challenge of dealing with well-intentioned but unsolicited and potentially unhelpful advice on the river.

This is a scenario many can relate to: a paddler is working towards a specific goal, perhaps fine-tuning details guided by their regular coach, who ideally understands their strengths, weaknesses, and objectives. Everything is on track, and then someone from the sidelines shouts, “You’re overthinking it!” or “Try leaning back!” Sound familiar? We’ve all seen it, and perhaps even offered such advice ourselves. However, I believe it needs to be approached with care.

The freestyle paddling community may lack funding, but it more than compensates with its remarkable sense of camaraderie, friendship, shared fun, and responsibility for safety. This sense of community often leads to a strong desire to help one another. While there’s nothing wrong with that, before offering unsolicited advice, I now pause and consider the following:

Do I know the person?
Do I understand their goals?
Do I specifically know what they’re trying to achieve at that moment in time?

If I can answer “yes” to all three questions, I don’t see any issue with offering tips and advice. However, if any of the answers is “no,” I make it a point to ask them if they would like help. It truly is that simple.

Above all, I remind myself to ask: “Am I the right person to offer the right advice at the right time to this paddler?” If not, I offer a cheer and a smile, showing my support without intruding.

To illustrate the importance of the right advice, right time, right person concept, I’ve encountered numerous people struggling to learn the McNasty. They have spent months or even years trying to perfect the back blast, rotation, or loop element without success, despite receiving countless tips and anecdotes from well-meaning individuals. When they finally sought professional coaching, they had to unlearn so many bad habits that it felt like a steep mountain to climb.

In contrast, when I learned to McNasty, I had no preconceived notions or bad habits. I was simply drawn to the name of the trick and its cool factor. During lunch, I asked Den (aka supercoach Dennis Newton of Sweetwater Coaching) if we could work on the McNasty in the afternoon session. Den agreed, and three hours later, I had my first McNasty under my belt. It took me years to perfect them and make them bulletproof in almost any feature, but that’s another story. The point is that the right advice from Den, precisely when I needed it, made it happen—not being told by a stranger to lean back more or not overthink it.

If you find yourself on the receiving end of unsolicited advice, take it with a pinch of salt. Stick to your plan, and perhaps give the suggestion a try. But also assess the source of the advice and trust it accordingly.