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How To Improve Your Performance On The River

Aug 14, 2008
Although white water kayaking does require some physical strength and technical skill, the real key to success in the sport is mental prowess. Learning to paddle the kayak and read the water are often easier than learning how to focus and to not let your fear overwhelm you. Since the level of fear affects your physical and technical performance, it's important to have tools that can help you feel confident in your ability. Visualization is a very effective tool for improving your performance, increasing your confidence and reducing the effects of fear.

Some paddlers don't even take the time to stretch or warm-up before heading down the river. They're after the adrenaline rush and they just want to go and do it. To these paddlers the thought of setting aside time to sit still and visualize may seem like too big of a time commitment, but it only takes 10-15 minutes to transform your performance on the river. Visualization is a technique that's used successfully by countless high performance athletes. If it works for accomplished athletes it can work for you too!

Here's how to get started: Find a quiet place where you can sit by yourself and not be disturbed for 10 to 15 minutes. Sit in any comfortable cross-legged sitting position, close your eyes and start to focus on your breath. Bring your attention to the tips of the nostrils where your breath enters and leaves the body. Become aware of how your breath feels and pay attention to the spaces between your exhalations and inhalations. Breathe in and out through your nose relaxing the body and the mind.

Once you feel very relaxed imagine yourself on your favorite river about to run a rapid that challenges you or maybe that you've never run before. See yourself taking deep breaths in the eddy and relaxing. Now focus on a thought of gratitude for the skills that you have, for the opportunity to be on the river, for your friends who are on the water with you-whatever makes you feel good at the time. Invite the feeling of knowing that you have the skills to make the move you're about to make. See yourself peeling out of the eddy and making the move successfully with perfect timing. Focus on the sense of accomplishment and excitement that you feel at the bottom of the rapid having just run your line confidently.

Repeat this practice as often as you can and see where it takes you. Then when you find yourself in the actual eddy above the rapid you can take a deep breath and remember all of those good feelings and moves you've practiced in your mind. This will allow you to feel relaxed and confident in your ability. You've already run the rapid successfully several times in your mind so you know exactly what to do.

Another way to visualize is to do it as you lie in bed before you go to sleep. This only works if you don't fall asleep as soon as you start to visualize! Go through the same motions of focusing on your breath, relaxing and visualizing yourself running the rapid successfully. It's important to focus on the feelings of confidence, accomplishment and joy that you feel while visualizing. The better you feel the easier it will be to tap into those feelings when you're actually on the water.

There are many ways to visualize. These are just a few ways that have been successful for me. Once you get more comfortable with visualization you can transform it into a process that is unique to you that best helps you optimize your performance on the river. Breath, relax and paddle well!
About the Author
Anna Levesque was the 2001 Freestyle Kayaking World Championship Bronze Medalist and is a motivational keynote speaker . Her company Girls At Play, LLC offers white water kayaking tours , trips and classes for women.
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