Some thoughts on the Rating of Difficulty of Coaching and Whitewater River Running
Some people feel that running whitewater rapids in a kayak is a lot like coaching difficult performers. Sometimes the rapid is an easy one that you can just float through without a lot of preparation or even much observation. In other cases, where the water and the “drop” is a bit more difficult, it may make sense to get out of the boat, walk along the shore and take a look at what you are about to encounter so that you can plan a route through with the highest likelihood of success.
In the case of very difficult whitewater, you may want to have a good deal of information about the situation available, have a plan for other observers to share their thoughts on how to succeed and even have a plan for someone to throw you a rope if things get really tight. And sometimes scouting that rapid is in order so that the difficulties can be avoided or responses can be planned.
So here is how rapids in a river are rated insofar as difficulty:
Class 1: Easy.
Fast moving water with riffles and small waves. Few general obstructions exist and all obvious and readily missed. Risk to swimmers is slight; self-rescue is easy.
These represent really easy discussions where a lot of collaboration is expected and where the topics to be discussed are non-controversial. You can pretty much just walk into these kinds of situations.
Class 2: Novice.
Straightforward rapids with wide, clear channels which are evident without scouting. Occasional maneuvering may be required, but rocks and medium sized waves are easily avoided, if desired, by trained paddlers. Swimmers are seldom injured and assistance, while possibly helpful, is seldom needed.
Like the Class 1 stuff, these are obvious discussions with clear and observable desired outcomes. Not much real action and a pretty safe environment for the participants. But there needs to be some real movement as part of the results.
Class 3: Intermediate.
Rapids with moderate, irregular waves which may be difficult to avoid and which can swamp an open boat like a canoe or flip a kayak. Complex maneuvers in fast current and good control in tight passages is required; large waves may be present but may be avoided. Strong eddies and powerful current effects can be found, particularly on large-volume rivers. Scouting is advisable, especially for inexperienced participants. Injuries while swimming are rare; self-rescue is usually easy but group assistance may be required to avoid long swims and water up your nose!
Now, we are getting into it and you better be prepared. There may be some unexpected twists and drops and you need to be ready to “brace” and keep the conversation stable and calm.
Class 4: Advanced.
Intense, powerful but predictable rapids requiring precise boat handling in turbulent water. Depending on the character of the river, it may feature large, unavoidable waves and holes or constricted passages demanding fast maneuvers under pressure. A fast, reliable eddy turn into quiet waters may be needed to initiate maneuvers, scout rapids, or rest. Rapids may require “must-make” moves above dangerous hazards. Scouting often necessary the first time down. Risk of injury to swimmers is moderate to high, and water conditions may make self-rescue difficult. Group assistance for rescue is often essential but requires practiced skills. A strong roll is highly recommended.
Your coaching discussions need preparation and planning, since it is not likely that you can simply “drop in to the discussion” and not have some clear paths out of the potential chaos. Maybe a discussion with a peer before the discussion will be like getting out of the boat and surveying the problems you may encounter. Have some clear desired outcomes and be prepared for some shifts and spins.
Class 5: Expert.
Extremely long, obstructed, or very violent rapids with drops that may contain large, unavoidable waves and holes or steep, congested chutes with complex, demanding routes. Rapids may continue for long distances between pools, demanding a high level of fitness. What eddies exist may be small, turbulent, or difficult to reach. At the high end of the scale, several of these factors may be combined. Scouting is recommended but even this may be difficult. Swims are dangerous, and rescue is often difficult even for experts. A very reliable roll, proper equipment, extensive experience, and practiced rescue skills are essential.
Bring all your skills and perspectives to these, because they are very challenging and also risky. Control is very difficult and all your coaching skills will probably be needed, along with some research and solid information. This might also turn out to be somewhat of a confrontation, should your boat bang directly into an immovable rock. Be prepared, for sure.
Class 6: Extreme and Exploratory.
These runs have almost never been attempted and often exemplify the extremes of difficulty, unpredictability and danger. The consequences of errors are very severe and rescue may be impossible. For teams of experts only, at favorable water levels, after close personal inspection and taking all precautions. After a Class 6 rapid has been successfully navigated many times and routes and strategies become known, its rating may be downgraded to Class 5 and the difficulty is actually lessened and the required “moves” become known.
Coaching such Class 6 situations would be really challenging and require a LOT of pre-contact preparation and research. You better have all your skills with you, for sure. You might want to leave these kinds of discussions to the qualified experts who can bring some confrontation skills or serious de-escalation processes into play. These tend not to be very fun discussions.
In the next post that appears here, I will describe how coaching situations can be matched up to these ratings, and how the strategies for running white water rapids can be useful in planning and executing these coaching sessions.
For the FUN of It!
Dr. Scott Simmerman is a designer of team building games and organization improvement tools. Managing Partner of Performance Management Company since 1984, he is an experienced presenter and consultant. Years ago, he was running the Class IV stuff pretty regularly. Those days are long gone!
You can reach Scott at [email protected]
Here is a 2-minute overview of our new online, virtual team building game: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cE6gDtZymwk
Have FUN out there, for sure. Leave some positive impacts on your people.