Kayak Class Rutabaga Madison

Wet, Wet, Wet

I love the rain. I love paddling in the rain. Coaching paddling in the rain, well.., I love the rain.

Coaching in the rain can be quite complex. Behind the gentle persuasion and brave facery that we all put on, we’re watching the weather, listening for thunder and all the while monitoring our students for signs of hypothermia which can go from zero to a hundred in no time.

Yesterday I worked with a group of summer youth program leaders at Rutabaga. These guys are always up for challenge and happy to push through whatever is thrown at them. Well, you have to be to want to deal with kids on the water! They did everything they were asked to do with smiles, laughter and dedication. It always fills me with hope when you see young people still finding joy outdoors.. even in a solid Akira Kurosawa rainstorm.

Still though, as much as I’ve seen coaches try to put sugar on a cold, downpour day, it wears on everyone. Being chilled to the bones is simply not the best learning environment. Brave faces, silly dances and outdoor camp songs don’t really make anyone feel warmer. These often used techniques are, to me, more akin to playing “Nearer My God To Thee” on a wet violin while blowing bubbles on the way down. Yet, some will keep pushing on because, “outdoors”.

I often ponder the difficult balance of dealing with the weather when instructing, especially when you have paying customers, logistics and budgets involved. Yesterday, we had young, outdoor future leaders.. They’ll push through and still see the fun side. And at Rutabaga at least, we’re pretty conscientious of the weather and keep lots of warm clothing and even drysuits available for students to borrow. But that’s not always the case, and sometimes it depends on the perceptions of the coaches as well. The gear does no good if you don’t offer and sometimes, push the issue.

Our “civilian” students are not always seeing the environment in the same way we do. I think sometimes we need to temper our personal outdoor, risk taking, poor-weather-be-damned attitudes. Take a moment to re-evaluate what is and what isn’t a good, even great learning environment. Shivering is not conducive to learning.. and yet, I’ve seen it brushed off many times over the years with a “It’s nature, get over it.” attitude.  Kayaking after all is NOT a dry sport.

I guess playing out in the rain yesterday just reminded me that as much as we try, we old schoolers & outdoorsy types often struggle to empathise with our students who many not regularly deal with bad weather, bugs, heat, sun and the rest. If our students are not comfortable on their own terms, then they are not learning at their personal potential… and we’re not doing our jobs either…

Anyway, that’s my thought for the day…

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