Mastering your Cats, Dogs and Pets

I have loved paddling since I first went on the water at 11 years old as a scout. At university I spent a lot of time paddling – doing canoe polo, fun recreation – but most of all Whitewater paddling, the bigger the better.

As you get older and have breaks from a sport your skills do fade as well as your confidence. In 2015 I have set a goal to be a Whitewater coach again – something I did in the military years ago but with all the regulations etc now a must have if you want to take people on white water. Hence over the last 2-3 years I have been developing my white water skills to do the assessment this year. Having done the training my biggest barrier is getting time on the water to redevelop my own paddling skills so that I’m confident on grade III/IV water.

I therefore enrolled on a white-water course in January, in Devon. At the time, the Dart was in full flood and I had a real ‘epic’ having my canoe-roll fail me and then having to bail out and swim; Being held in the ‘dish-washer’ going round and round and only just managing to pull myself out; A bit scary. This really sapped my confidence to the point that on the following day I really did not want to go paddle – I did manage to coax myself back onto the water and had another go, on the same river, getting back on the horse so to speak, was not a comfortable experience.

Now I had already enrolled on to an advanced Whitewater paddling course at Plas-Y-Brenin over half-term (February), so there was no backing out. I arrived very demoralised and willing to quit, I know I had the skills to do advanced white water stuff but my confidence was very low.

On the first day after meeting Pete and Chris the coaches, both national coaches, and a great team of fellow paddlers, I decided to give it a go, take each day at a time.

The first day on the Dee (grade II water) was challenging but Pete, perceptively, introduced me to the concept of cats and dogs. The dog is your skills – you can train your dog, develop skills and learn new tricks – I was good at that. However, as Pete pointed out, your confidence was like a cat – if you scare it away it will not want to come back unless you do some serious coaxing. Clearly, I was good at developing the ‘dog’ but had tormented and scared off the cat with my ‘epic’ a few weeks previously, and it did not want to come back any time soon.

Obviously if I did not pamper, coax, and slowly nurture my ‘cat’ I was not going to be making progress, I would be surviving each day but not thriving. Over the next week we spent time doing a variety of things.


Skill development on a range of grade II-IV water (River Dee, chain bridge, serpents tale)



Steep Creeking down a 30 foot fall.

Loved this.



Upper Conwy grade III river run and the Afon Llugwy grade II-IV (Cobdens falls)



By the end of the week I had managed to coax my ‘cat’ to have some fun and developed my ‘dog’ tricks – I was definitely happy and smiling like a Cheshire cat. Interestingly the take away development point from Pete was to work on all my ‘pets’ as Pete called them – particularly my rolling skills in different situations, still a barrier to further development as a white water coach I think.

All in all, a great week with some exceptional coaches who were very supportive, perspective and encouraging. I’ll definitely be paying the extra for future courses at Plas-Y-Brenin

Once I do my whitewater coach in April I think I might look at developing my sea kayaking skills with a plan to paddle around Anglesea in 2019/20!

Want to join me?

Finally, we all have our own ‘epics’ that can create self-doubt and crash our confidence, even the best of us. What this has shown me is the power of a great coach who can make all the difference to helping you master your ‘dog’ and taming your ‘cat’. Ultimately Improving your performance.

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