Word choice is important in sea kayaking just as it is in any activity, as a paddler’s use of words conjures an image in her mind that either helps or hinders. Let’s discuss empowering versus disempowering words a kayaking teacher can use to strengthen or weaken a student’s viewpoint of his skill in a trying situation. For example, when a student capsizes and ends up out of his boat in surf or rocks or in stormy seas, is he a victim, or could he view himself as a swimmer? Is getting him back in his boat rescue or recovery?
If the person who fell out of his boat sees himself as a victim who needs to be rescued, will getting him back in his boat and paddling again be easier or more difficult? Will he be more or less likely to cooperate fully? Will his chances of capsizing again in the near future increase or decrease?
Most of us would answer that the victim will have trouble getting back in the boat, will be less likely to cooperate fully, and be more likely to capsize again. Yet, if the person saw himself as a swimmer who will recover, he will get back in his boat and get going faster and easier. Wouldn’t you agree?
The lesson is that it’s important to use power words such as recovery and avoid weakening words such as rescue when teaching. Think of other paddling situations where empowering words could replace disempowering words.
Imagine you are teaching someone how to help a swimmer in the water who has lost his boat in wind or surf. In addition to teaching the actual techniques and principles of assisting a swimmer or even saving a drowning person’s life, a good choice of words will empower the rescuer. When teaching a person to rescue a panicked swimmer, I instruct my students to seize and assist the paddler in trouble.
Most lifeguards will tell you that getting control of a flipped out swimmer is the hardest part of lifesaving. By using a powerful mnemonic such as “Seize and assist,” the rescuer is more likely to gain control of the situation quickly and effectively than if weaker words were used (e.g., “Place your hands on”).
The bottom line: use power words when possible. I’m sure you know many good words or phrases that you use when on the water. I invite you to share them here. I also ask for comments and encourage questions.