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#ShePaddles Ambassador, Julie Perren's mentoring scheme for women

Julie Perren is a moderate water sea kayak coach, chair of Totnes Canoe Club and co-organiser of the Women’s Sea Kayak Festival in Devon. This year Julie is also one of British Canoeing’s #ShePaddles Ambassadors.  

Keen to break down one of the known barriers to women’s participation and development in sport, Julie has chosen to start a mentoring program to encourage more women onto the coaching pathway. 

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A desire to help others progress

However hard we may try to improve on our own, I believe the support of another is invaluable when striving towards our own goals. Whether this allows us to achieve our first turning strokes, progress to the world of coaching or even become a top athlete, a reassuring word from a friend, peer or coach can make all the difference! 

During my year as a #ShePaddles Ambassador, I aim to mentor five women with the hope of building their confidence to achieve their paddling goals through a more structured framework. I will be running a series of sessions based on the skills they want to improve and giving them challenges to work on in between our meetings. I hope that maintaining an equal focus on short term and long term goals will enable the paddlers to continue to develop beyond the scheme. 

In return, I have asked that they help another kayaker on their paddling journey, male or female to create a cascade effect. The immediate reaction from all those asked was ‘yes please, but I’m not sure that I’m qualified to help another’. Having reassured everyone that being a safe, empathetic and enthusiastic person was enough qualification to encourage another paddler, they have made suggestions on ways they could either help a friend of the same level, take out beginners on their own sheltered water patch or gain some coaching qualifications to help others. Three of the ladies have also been accepted on the #ShePaddles Club Champions project.

The mentoring group is giving me a safe place to push myself and improve my paddling. I love the social aspect of the group. We are mixed ages and abilities but the atmosphere is totally non-competitive and all about mutual support. Julie made it clear that she hopes the group will cascade outwards and that we in turn will help to get others (not just women) onto the water. I'm a member of two canoeing clubs and have begun taking out small groups, on a peer basis, with the wish to “pay back”.

– Karen

Passing on experience

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Having started paddling aged 40, I have been continually inspired by amazing female role models over the last fifteen years as a kayaker. From gaining qualifications, to taking on the role of Club Chair at Totnes Canoe Club, there has never been a challenge I haven’t been able to overcome thanks to the continual support from others. 

From running the Women’s Sea Kayak Festival, South Devon I have watched women’s skills and confidence grow in the nurturing environment we were able to create with 65 participants and inspiring female coaches. Seeing women supporting other women encouraged me to formalise a mentoring project that can be reproduced by others within any paddling discipline, at any level. 

In order to set the scheme up, I firstly completed the British Canoeing mentoring e-learning, which me helped to clarify the lay out and ground rules of the project. It taught the importance of mentoring being a two way interaction and all the different elements to consider in order to ensure the time spent is effective and successful.

I then asked some female paddlers, who I had previously coached, if they would like to be involved and put together a questionnaire to discover their short/long term goals and rate how they felt about various skills. I was interested to know which learning styles worked for them, in the hopes of being able to make sure I maximise their learning opportunities. As part of this I also asked for details about negative paddling experiences and how they had overcome them. It was unsurprising to find a common theme of ‘lack of confidence’ within all the replies, amongst other similar themes. 

I love our Encourage a Paddler Group. I 'm learning a lot and filling in those little gaps I was too afraid to ask about before. This is only able to happen because of the very supportive group atmosphere created by Julie. Making trip plans and discussing them both before and while on the water is a great way of building from what's written on a bit of paper to what it actually translates to on the water. I've found this an invaluable learning tool, especially as no question is deemed 'too silly' to ask. There is never competitiveness only encouragement. We are 'allowed' to make mistakes and encouraged to try a different approach next time. For me this is a fantastic learning environment and I really don't want it to end.

– Alison
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We used our first paddling meet to get to know each other whilst revisiting a few basic skills which the ladies turned into ‘time warp’ dance edging and zombie armed forward paddling. We also exchanged ideas on how to help each other. It was a more enjoyable evening than I could have hoped for! 

Between meets, I've encouraged everyone to join other paddling trips and start leading their own. During lockdown I was able to run an online sea kayaking course, working on beginners trip planning and navigation as though we were going on an actual trip (although we didn’t paddle it!). We then had a Zoom meet afterwards to discuss how the forecast actually panned out and how the trip might have gone. 

Gaining experience in trip planning and learning to build a picture of the day from the forecast information gathered seems a key factor in building confidence on the water, alongside paddle skills and rescues. The group all now arrive with a trip plan for the day and we talk through which to follow and why it might be the most appropriate. 

This has been an amazing experience so far. Being in a small group of amazing women, where we can support and learn together has been great. Being a mixed ability group has meant that everyone can learn in some way. It has really given me the confidence to get out on the water. From a starting point of a relative beginner, I’m now assessing the weather, planning a trip and getting out there. Outwardly I still look scared (that’s just my concentrating face) but inwardly I’ve got the biggest grin.

– Kate

The future of the scheme - can you pass it on?

Up to this point we have had three paddling sessions and there is already a difference in the confidence levels on the water. I'm learning plenty too and am not allowed to stay dry and avoiding practising rescues! 

By the end of my time as a #ShePaddles Ambassador I aim to help the ladies to achieve the goals they set out to complete at the beginning of the scheme, as well as build their the confidence as paddlers. 

It would be fantastic to see a similar scheme to be run across the UK and I hope that by keeping the scheme easy to follow it will encourage others to adopt it. 

If anyone has any suggestions or comments on how we can get more people involved and reach a wider audience please feel free to contact me on [email protected]