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“We Got Our Three’s!”
“We got our Three’s!”
Just over a month ago, a small CAT group went to Scotland. Three members returned as the newest British Canoeing 3 star sea paddlers, and I returned as the second American to earn the UKCC Level 3 Coaching Award. Each of us is part of a pretty remarkable community of paddlers that trained with us and supported us and sent us off with their hearts and their hopes.
The words that often define and confine members of this community are varied and diverse. Many are words not often seen in print about athletes or paddlers. Some are words that more often preclude people from paddling or traveling.
Our words? Homeless. Teacher. Ward of the State. Hospice Employee. Transgender. Artist. Suicidal. Business Owner. Abused. Dancer. High School Drop-Out. Social Worker. Teen Mom. Actor. Felon. Musician. HIV+. Librarian. Eating Disorder. Outdoor Educator. Gang Involved. Grant Administrator. Refugee. Public Defender. Anger Issues. We range in age from a sophomore in HS to retired (and one community member’s 1 year old son). Our experience levels range from first time in a boat to ACA L5 instructor. We are Black, White, Latinx, Asian, Middle Eastern. We are single, married (“gay married” and “straight married”), living with partners, divorced, and we have restraining orders against former partners.
We have become a community.
We’re not perfect. We hurt each other’s feelings. We’re sometimes rude or mean to each other. Not everyone likes each other. Still, we’re a community. We’ve had each other’s backs on the water and off. We’ve called each other out when some members are left out of the “in.” We’ve apologized to each other when we too have been hurt. Adult members of the group have come to symposia they usually wouldn’t have because a group of CAT young people would be there, and they’ve ditched the classes they paid for in order to spend the day with our community. They’ve traveled across the country to paddle venues they’ve had the opportunity to paddle before and haven’t, because THIS is the group they wanted to paddle with. Our community crosses barriers that often divide us. In the process, it changes the lives of people on both sides of those barriers.
For my Coach Level 3 assessment, I needed to take two long term students with me – students I’d been coaching for at least a year. For three years, my goal was to take CAT participants. I thought it was probably impossible. I was inspired by two young men. They participated in the Gitchi Gumme Project in 2013. They told me that they wanted to “learn everything we can about this sport.” Coaching them and two volunteers at Montrose Beach that August was the precursor to this community that we’ve developed. They went to the Golden Gate Symposium the next January. One of them was in Scotland with me a month ago.
I was worried about taking CAT participants. This was the first time that a trip would be as much or more about me as it was about them. I’m a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. Many of my colleagues would say I was getting ready to cross a line that a Social Worker should never cross.
When I had the opportunity to take those two young men to the Golden Gate Symposium, it reminded me that in youth development work, it’s about strength, not deficit; about ability, not obstacle; about opportunity, not compensation for poverty, diagnosis, oppression or flat-out bad luck. It reminded me that we have a responsibility to provide young people with opportunities for challenge that don’t come with a guarantee of success. I worried about the possibility that I was crossing boundaries held sacred in Social Work practice; and I trusted in my belief that the young people we work with deserve every opportunity for mastery that we can offer them. If we don’t offer those opportunities, even for sound professional reasons, we are treating young people as “disadvantaged youth,” not paddlers or leaders.
I made the decision to invite three young people, so that if anyone ended up having to cancel at the last minute I would still have two students. I asked an adult member of the community to come along to help manage the group. Our documentarian came along as well – the documentary “Paddling in Spite of the Ordinary” about CAT will end with the Level 3 assessment.
The L3 portfolio requires profiles of both “official” students and an annual plan that outlines the coaching plan for these two students for the year, with 12 session plans that are part of that annual plan.
From a coaching perspective, we often build student profiles based on 4 related parts of paddling – the technical, tactical, psychological and physiological. Do students know a skill? Do they know when or in what circumstances to effectively employ a skill? How does their level of excitement or anxiety (or lack of either) impact their ability to choose or perform a skill? Do they have the physiological ability to perform a skill in the conditions in which they want to perform it? The TTPP profiles for CAT students often look different than what paddlesport coaches expect. A few people in our community have these brief TTPP profiles:
- ttpP – living in a shelter that serves cereal for breakfast, lactose intolerant – dinner often the only meal on any given day
- TtPp – trauma – swing from dis-engaged (bored, sleeping) to over-stimulated (scared, belligerent) quickly – narrow Learning Zone; student unable to take direction in dynamic conditions, angrily shouts “No!” — challenging to keep student safe
- ttPP – Hx of abuse, often dissociates – not fully embodied, challenging to teach a physical skill to someone who is not in their body; expect this student has some level of dyspraxia as a result of trauma
- Ttpp – gets tired/bored practicing technical skills – need to keep it interesting; *create reason for needing technical skill, *be able to teach technical skills in the flat water that we often have and ability to transfer skill to dynamic water
- ttPP – strangled by significant other, gasket of dry top causes intense anxiety
My Annual Plan for my two “official” students is tied up in the annual plan for the whole community. We had a Surf Day last fall, lots of time in the pool over the winter. We had a retreat in early May, a camping trip on the Mississippi River in mid-May, several 2 star assessments mid to late May and while we were in Scotland another group was camping and paddling in the Apostle Islands. Twelve people did their Coach 1 and FSRT in June. Community members went to symposia as students and as coaches.
Our learning and paddling together as a community doesn’t translate easily into a linear plan for two students. But over three years we paddled and learned together, we built community, and I put it all together in my portfolio. Last month, we went to Scotland.
I’m really proud that we all passed. I’m even more proud of our community. We’re a more diverse, younger community than most in the paddling world – especially in the “serious” paddling world as opposed to a “program” for “urban” or “at risk” youth.
There’s lots of discourse about how to bring young people and people of color into our sport. We’ve done it. We’ve done it with young people who have some of the fewest resources at their disposal. We’ve done it by believing that the words that so often define and confine us are not the only words that describe us, and that they do not have the power to proscribe what is possible. We wrote a new script, and we did it together. Some of us may be homeless. We’ve considered suicide. We’re high school drop outs, wards of the state, teen moms. We’re musicians, business owners, social workers and outdoor educators.
We have another set of words. Paddler. Coach. Leader. Learner. Community Member.