As the rain starts this autumn, many of us are crossing our fingers that we can soon get out on the water and do the thing that we love … boating!

This year I was a member of the GB Freestyle Team for the first time, and took part in my first international freestyle competition in Bratislava. Afterward I thought that there is actually a lot that freestyle paddlers and non-freestyle paddlers can learn from the way that the GB team train, and thought I would share these!

Work out where you are now and set specific long-term goals

A very useful exercise that we did at the beginning of the training programme was to look at the freestyle score sheet and work out how many points we could certainly achieve now, writing out the moves that we can do in a competition ride now and the points that would score. We then set a competition ride we were aiming for in the medium term with the relevant points, and then one for the long-term with the relevant points. This exercise in itself got everyone thinking about what they can do in a ride to score the maximum points, and what moves they need to work on in the long-term and what sort of ride score this would achieve.

This is easily transferable to other kayaking contexts, for example in whitewater writing down the moves you can confidently do now, what you want to be able to do in the medium term and then in the long term. This will also serve as a useful reminder of your progress if you look back. A number of sports psychologists recommend goal setting as a good way to achieve better improvement. Your goals should, ideally, be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and with a time-frame). This means that for example, achieving an [X] point ride in a freestyle competition within two years would fit that, but beating [X] other paddler would not!

Set specific session goals

​Now that you have your long-term and medium-term goals, this helps you to work out a goal for your specific session. In freestyle this might be learning a particular move like a loop, in whitewater it might be learning to boof. Now that you have your goal, work on it during your session! That may sound obvious, but many freestylers will simply do the things they are comfortable with, rather than trying new things. For a river paddler – rather than just going from top to bottom of a river, how about attempting a boof on at least ten small holes/rocks?

Put yourself under pressure in training

​For freestyle, it is extremely useful to practice a move generally (see above), and also to practice competition rides. This means that using your ride plan of what you can do now, get someone to time you and test on a number of different features whether you can actually score all of those moves. Preferably video yourself (see below).

In river running, this is the old adage of “hard moves on easy water” – if you are trying to improve boofing or ferry glides on hard rivers, start on a grade that you are comfortable on and put yourself under pressure to do those moves in tricky places on the easy river.

Video yourself

​Often, you think you are doing a move in a particular way, and you see a video and you realise that you are doing something completely different. It is well worth doing your own video-feedback session with a friend and self-coaching this way. Session a rapid or choose a feature and film your competition ride, or the moves you want to improve on the river! If you’re not sure what’s going wrong/right, ask a more experienced friend to give you some feedback!

Acclimatise to a new location

​The first thing that the freestylers do when they get to a new freestyle feature is to get acclimatised – study the feature, watch others on it, see how the water affects the kayak. This is important regardless of the kayaking context – appreciate that you might need to adjust the what you are doing to suit your new location!

See you on the water!

Photos Dan McGaley