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.

Coaching outdoors – how things have changed!

“You get the best effort from others not by lighting a fire beneath them but by building a fire within them”

climb coaching

I have always had a passion for being outdoors – as a young person doing the DofE and scouting and later in the military. This has taken many forms – climbing, mountaineering and paddling, basically anything outdoory. For me it has always been about the freedom and fun, the risk and the challenge.

In the military I became an outdoor instructor in paddling, climbing and mountaineering – mainly so I could do stuff but increasingly so I could share my love of being outdoors. This led to expeditions  all over the world. The underlying ethos was to instruct techniques  – survival, climbing, walking paddling strokes. And I became quite good at it.

paddle coachAfter having a family and a bit of a break  I got back into paddling, largely due to my kids doing scouting and being asked to help. I then embarked on ‘retraining’ becoming a paddle and climbing coach. I was really surprised to find that the landscape had changed greatly. We were no longer instructors but coaches. No longer focusing on perfecting strokes but more about skills, fun and enjoyment . This has of course generated a new industry of qualifications and requirements, mostly sensible I think.

As well as paddling I have also updated my climbing and hillwalking qualifications and think that the move towards a coaching culture is welcome. For example climbing has moved from telling how to make a move to a more holistic view and approach of coaching movement, balance, forces. Even mountaineering is moving in this direction with the focus on the client experience – flora and fauna (never my strength).

MWE coachingI think you can teach an old instructor new tricks! I have recently undertaken the Moderate Water Endorsement programme for paddling with I was so impressed by my coach, really talented, experience and supportive, a real role model. Again exemplifying a changing way of working with young people.

2016-01-15 train the trainer courseAnother area I have been developing working outdoors, having gained my Mountain Leader qualification recently I undertook the ‘train the trainer’ course at Plas y Brenin. Led by a former geography teacher this was very much about supportive learning, not being judgmental and discovery learning, not dissimilar to my style of teaching in the classroom.

Reflecting on the developments in the outdoor industry there has I think been a massive change, largely for the better, towards a coaching model that is supportive and inclusive that should see a greater uptake in people of all ages taking on adventures outdoors.

For me coaching is like teaching, making a difference to people,

“Each person holds so much power within themselves that needs to be let out. Sometimes they just need a little nudge, a little direction, a little support, a little coaching, and the greatest things can happen”

Unlike instructing, coaching is a dynamic two way process, before the session not just about the skills but the needs of the coachees, during the session a intricate dialogue (supporting, motivating, encouraging) and afterwards a reflection on the experience, what has been learnt and what I have learnt too. Always thinking of new ways of doing similar sessions in a different way so that it will engage, motivate and inspire!

 It reminds me of my first years of teaching, I had a colleague who had been a classroom teacher for over 30 years, he was far from past it. He kept his enthusiasm and motivation by focussing on the people and the learning and the fun of the whole experience, living in the moment day by day. I swear he was the biggest child in the class with bounds of enthusiasm and curiosity.

 But I don’t think coaching is quite teaching like instructing is neither coaching or teaching. A discussion for another time I think! Thoughts appreciated!

 “A coach is someone who tells you what you don’t want to hear, who has you see what you don’t want to see, so that you can be who you have always known you could be”

My summer project – develop a new company “Oxford Canoe Tours”

canoe oxford 02

Having paddled on the Thames and Cherwell for many years I was struck by how little commercialisation has gone on in terms of canoes and kayaks in Oxford.

Having recently done some paddling on the River Wye I was surprised how much business was going on in terms of canoeing and kayaking  – similar to that found in France. Putting people and groups up stream and collecting them at the end of the day – little instruction but reasonably safe and enjoyable. And some incredible views!

Having done a workshop on marketing and commercial practices as part of my MBA we studied tour operations in Oxford and it was obvious that there is a real lack of divergent opportunities for visitors to our great city. I really liked the idea we presented of different alternative trips – hence my thoughts for a tour of Oxford on the river by canoe. No one is doing it!

So with a friend, Richard, we have put together our embryonic business for the summer “Oxford Canoe Tours” to see how viable it could be.

Some of the details of our new business venture:

We will take you on an exploration of this ancient city by in canoes so that you can find out about how the river has made an essential contribution to the history of this famous city.

Our aim is to deliver a friendly, fun, informed and unique experience of Oxford for all participants.

Why? We want visitors to Oxford to experience an amazing journey through time and the city that informs and celebrates the world renowned heritage of Oxford as a fun, challenging memorable adventure, a lasting  memory.

How? Through a unique tour with friendly and knowledge tour guides along the waterways of Oxford.

What? we are Oxford Canoe Tours, want to experience an adventure with us?

We will be operating in collaboration with the Oxford Canoe and Kayak Club ( and running tours from:

Riverside Centre, Donnington Bridge, Oxford OX4 4AZ

We will be running tours on Monday, Tuesday and Thursday mornings, other days by arrangement. So if you are in Oxford why not experience Oxford in a unique and different way!

Further information,   Book your tour

Looking forward to meeting you over the summer!

So lets see how it develops and perhaps we might see a second season?