When stepping back over the past 3 years to look at our sport, World Kayak has slowly developed a snapshot of a successful sport. It is from that snapshot we continue to develop, introducing what we feel is missing from our paddling community. To do this, a good number of folks got involved in research; research that took us to other successful sports to seek out the common denominators of their success. Once our research was done, we took those common denominators and applied it over our sport. The findings were very interesting and helped us map out the paths to come in our World Kayak programming.
So, here’s what WK would like to see of our sport:
The Try, Learn, Play, Compete Model
In all successful sports a model has appeared as the perfect growth catalyst… Try, Learn, Play, Compete. In all these sports there are governing bodies focused on all four of these key elements. Initiatives aimed at getting as many people trying the sport possible are continually being looked into and improved on. Focus never wains in the educational process as most successful sports always continue to finance and build upon the best practice of their sport’s educational delivery. Every enthusiast must have the means to learn in a professional environment. Learning must also afford the athlete the means to learn all disciplines of their sport. Each leading sport provides the means for ALL their enthusiasts to play and try new skills. Competition breeds skills progression and can lead to elite athlete potential. Competition needs to be available at all moments in an athlete’s life… from beginner to advanced… and every successful sport has a means to monitor the progression of each competitor… something that encourages skills progression and helps with ranking when at the elite levels.
So, how does our sport currently do all this?
Well, it doesn’t… at least not in a nice neat process. All sports that have shown continual growth have accomplished this by making sure there’s a clear backbone to their sports… a backbone that follows this model. All these sports ensure that the entire lifeline of an athlete is clear and guided. A swimmer, for example, will always go to the local pool to start their swimming progression… ask any parent, “where do you go to start your kid swimming?” Their answer will most likely be “at the pool”. At the end of the day, very few swimmers don’t start at the same place and once in the pool programs, they are guided through their progression in an organized manner. Once the athlete starts the progression, they are helped to get to a light-intermediate level and then introduced to the diversity of that sport… for swimmers that means life-guarding, diving, water polo, instruction etc. Those with competitive drive are also introduced to coaching at this level … all through the same seamless process. Those showing progress in their sport are then easily spotted and encouraged through to the elite ranks. At the elite levels, the sports count heavily on marketing and the public visibility of that sport to encourage growth… getting more and more people in at the entry level. An interview with a ski professional from Canada told me that “our schools are filled during Olympic years”.
This is the circle of life for a successful sport.
What does a successful whitewater industry look like then?
Well, like this:
World Kayak sees an industry where a growing number of Gateway programs bring non-paddlers into our sport. We see an increasing number of those new paddlers entering in formal educational systems where they get introduced to our sport and get brought to intermediate levels. We see them then getting exposed to the diversity of whitewater through formal education and community activity (slalom, freestyle, creek, big water, polo, surf etc.). Community activity is a result and a catalyst for this diversity and World Kayak sees a continual focus on every community to ensure that the paddler continues to be active and participate in the sport and their personal skills development. From there we see paddlers with competitive drive to be introduced to coaching where they can find themselves moving towards elite levels. We then see elite and community activity appearing in regional, national and international media … attracting more and more people to our gateways.
OK, where do we stand with this model?
Er… its getting better, but we have work to do! Every region is at a different state so take this as a general observation. But keep in mind that there is a LOT of very positive work to be done.
Gateway: Our gateways are limited. Most paddlers get into our sport via a friend. This cannot remain true. There are a ton of amazing examples of gateways that work and they are being implemented as we speak by some of our industry peers… we are simply not sharing that success on a global scale. We need to explore these ways to get our sport where others are… access through school programs, municipal recreational departments, through youth programming (scouts etc.), camps and much more. World Kayak’s Educator portal is now set up to introduce successful gateway models to schools and instructors… spreading the seed of success globally.
Early Education: Many paddlers bypass formal education and end up either quitting out of frustration or stuck at beginner levels. World Kayak is including different approaches to exposing paddlers to formal education by designing and supporting simple ways of getting folks through gateways and into our educational system.
Diversity: We see little diversity at schools who typically teach to light intermediate levels and seldom teach specialty programs (freestyle, slalom etc.). World Kayak has begun work on vertical programs that kayak schools can introduce in their regular programming that expose their students to all our disciplines. We are also introducing a grading system (like judo belts) that encourages paddlers to gain skills in river running, freestyle, slalom, creek, safety etc.
Community Activity: Our community activity varies, but is waning as we need more and more fun ways to gather and have fun together. World Kayak’s first initiative group was to introduce events that the community can rally around… throwdowns, video premieres etc. We’ll continue to do so.
Coaching: Where disciplines like slalom are set up with great coaching programs, its hard for the average paddler to get into them… and few exist really for other disciplines like freestyle. World Kayak will be working with the elite level associations on programs that will connect their coaching programs to the grass roots activity… so any paddler can clearly see a path into coaching. We will also be working on coaching models for those disciplines missing it now.
Elite: Our elite paddlers are getting organized now with the ICF and other bodies but it is still growing and learning. World Kayak again will be there to help any elite organization become more accessible to the paddler with elite aspirations.
Marketing: Slalom gets a good bit of coverage during the olympics and some countries will feature whitewater disciplines in their media, but its inconsistent at best. We have a lot to show but need to take that bull by the horns. With our growing online coverage platform, World Kayak will continue to expand our on-line coverage and start working at television production in the years to come. 2010 will see World Kayak venturing into more and more disciplines.
World Kayak sees itself as an entity that can tie the map together. We will be working with existing bodies towards delivering that ‘perfect’ sporting model. We aren’t far! There are many organizations across the globe at various stages of doing all this work. World Kayak will be doing all it can to piece the puzzle together and help it produce growth. Stay tuned in the next while as we announce some great new synergies to this end.