Unfiltered | Dave Kalama Talks Teaching

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Photo: Erik Aeder

From the Mag | Dave Kalama Talks Teaching

Teaching people how to move is the hard part. Most people are trying to muscle things and move themselves with effort and strength. This drastically impedes the learning process of technique and figuring out what technique does versus what your muscles do. To focus purely on movement without integrating strength is so much trickier than I previously appreciated. If you can coordinate strength with movement you can really improve any paddler's technique.

I always try to find out what (students) do and then relate paddling to (that), whether it's golfing or tennis or riding a bike. All those other sports have common dynamics that people understand. I'll explain things as much as possible in a language that they're familiar with and then just translate it to paddling.

Once people understand concepts it becomes much easier to integrate a mechanical technique. I spend quite a bit of time explaining philosophies and concepts so people understand why I'm teaching what I'm teaching. You're much more highly motivated to execute a small mechanical piece to the equation when you understand why you are doing it and what the function is. I used to teach 50/50 concepts vs. mechanics, now it's 80/20.

I try to develop a rapport with students and create a level of comfort. I'm not here to be judgmental or critical. I'm here to help. When I'm working with someone who doesn't have a lot of experience, I don't expect anything. I could care less how you paddle, the challenge for me is to make you better no matter where you're at.

I don't get many hot shots because they don't think they need coaching. But if one of the top professional competitors comes asking for my help they are already coming with the right attitude. You have to be somewhat humble to ask for help if you're already one of the best guys. Those are the guys I like to work with because they want the help and we can work together to achieve something.

I tend to think I was coachable back in the day. But like most young athletes, who are strong and skilled, I tended to just overpower everything. I've developed into a better learner over time. Now that I know how the brain interpret things, how the body wants to move, I can be more receptive to input from people who know what they are talking about. Especially when I'm teaching someone fast who's doing something different. I'll try to emulate what they do and figure out if it works, and why. Then I can integrate it into my own teaching—or teach people not to do it, depending on how effective the results are.

I enjoy teaching, so it becomes about whether I can raise my game enough to where you're impressed with what I do and I make you feel better about paddling and what you're trying to learn. It still blows me away how much I've learned about how people learn. The more you understand about that, the better instructor you can be. There are fundamentals of what I teach, but everybody moves differently so they will take what I teach and integrate it into the way they move.

I was having lunch with one of my old ski coaches, Darryl Whitaker, and told him that he was the person who inspired me to want to coach. "Can you give me a nugget?" I asked. And he said, "Kids don't care what you know. But they know if you care." That's why I constantly remind myself to be patient.

My advice for learning? Stand close to the teacher and don't be afraid to ask questions.

Interview originally from our 2016 Skills Guide.