Instructors- How do you deal with stress

It does help to have a group to vent to. My coworkers don’t really get it (they don’t do the programs). If I ever mention the stress the response is along the lines of, “How can you be stressed, you’re spending the afternoon out on the water!”.

The good news is that once I’m on the water and in my zone the stress mostly goes away. I’m still on edge, but the pre-trip dread is much worse than the actual trip itself.

Good advice
Thanks for the tips. I am working on getting my skill and experience up. I try and get out at least once a week on open water, generally in 1-2’ waves. That’s well beyond what I’d ever even think about taking my students on.

I have a good deal of the safety equipment. I always have a stirrup in my PFD pocket. A lot of the participants are pretty significantly overweight, so I decided right off the bat to try and be prepared for any level of need…

that’s exactly my situation

– Last Updated: Jul-23-15 8:22 PM EST –

I'm good on the water as well but prior to the event I get worried. I've coordinated a beginner ww clinic with 26-35 participants, 11-16 "instructors" for the past three years and also help with a two day science camper (65 kids, 30 "instructors") event. Our "instructors" are volunteer paddlers that are experienced but most are like me and lack much formal training. So I worry a bit beforehand but things always seem to come together very last minute when the event happens and everyone has stayed safe. The anticipation of what could happen causes me some anxiety. Not the actual doing. Like I said before, I say a short prayer. That helps me immensely and I immediately feel calmer and better about things. You can pray for everyone to stay safe or just that you need help to make good decisions. The best prayers are heartfelt. I'm not trying to convert or indoctrinate. I just find that a lot of weight is lifted when I ask God for his help. That works for me. It helps me feel better.

I never went to church in my Upper Gauley video boater days and I wasn't the most skilled paddler out there. It was kind of stretch just to paddle the river and I felt a bit anxious working it. I prayed in my heart that He would help look after me and help me make good decisions and it was and still is to me a very real comfort.

Paddling into Insignificant (class V) drenched in fog, no other boats around at 7:30 in the am was a really lonely feeling. My heart cried "Please God help keep me safe, I'm scared" and I felt a calmness that allowed me to do what I needed to do. I'm not a very good Christian but I look out at the world and its natural beauty and I know I can't be an Aethist. Too much to love. So have faith and persevere. So there have been times when I needed those prayers on the water but not so much now.

Or there's always smoking. Just make sure you wear your pfd when you do it! Humor helps as well.


– Last Updated: Jul-23-15 8:45 PM EST –

obfuscating the experience helps.

then point them at the canyon and say 'GOOD LUCK'

be careful with your incoming tides on a outgoing river.

develop a sense of humor ...'oh look Jerry's gonna drown'


Stress defined…
Old friend, a biology teacher, decided he needed to organize a a group of his students into a Stream Team.

Had about 12 to 14 kids who were involved on a regular basis.

He knew he needed some backup when he had them on the river in canoes.

Some parents got involved initially, but quickly fell by the wayside with a variety of excuses.

He conned me into “helping him out”. I said I would do a couple of trips to help an “old paddling buddy”, but was not highly motivated to do so. I’d act as a safety boater; he was in charge of all else. I did the 2 trips I said I would. Then he tried to volunteer me on a regular basis. NOT!

Definition of stress: Acting as a safety boater for a mix of both male & female, junior high school kids, with little to no boating experience.

See ya old buddy; I’m outa here…


That’s what I’m doing in 2 weeks…
I’ll be doing this soon. Group of 18 kids coming out with a couple of chaperones. There’s one other ACA-certified member they’re bringing, but I’m the one who was told to lead the trip. I’ll just be happy when this season is over.

Go find another position.

Really. We had a group of 20 kids, two Maine Guides and ACA instructors and four adult chaperones get windbound on our campsite.

You’re nervous? Listen to your little inner voice! Whoever is telling you to lead that large a group is clueless! You need at least one (two would be better) more qualified help. The chaperones I cited were half useless. One had a nervous breakdown due to feeling marooned in wind and retreated to a tent babbling nonsense.

This situation has not so much to so with your newness as an instructor but the unwise task ( and I think you feel this) you are being demanded to do.

I repeat. Find your job teaching elsewhere.


– Last Updated: Jul-24-15 9:37 AM EST –

You have my empathy...........

Junior high school kids are generally speaking, some nasty, obnoxious, critters. It is my opinion that the girls are even nastier than the boys.

Getting them downstream in any kind of order is like trying to herd cats. They think little to nothing about putting themselves, or others into possibly dangerous situations. They're immortal you know; just like the superhero characters they watch. They also have little fear of natural consequences for rude, obnoxious, or disruptive behavior. That's because there are no natural consequences from the school or parents; just endless threats.
The animals are in charge of the zoo; parents cover their asses, and teachers seemingly have little to any authority. The kids know it too.

I'd turn down a hundred bucks an hour to do it again. I might consider two hundred fifty bucks an hour?

Nah! On second thought, I don't need the money bad enough. I'd sell one of my canoes first.


How is your confidence level?

Teaching should not be stressful. Maybe you are not cut out for it.

I give the safety talk for river newbies on canoeing and rafting trips. The only thing that makes it stressful is when people do not take the hazards seriously. That rarely happens on raft trips, but some canoeists think it is all fun and games.

Have you attempted to teach
18 newbie kids in boats, with only one assistant and maybe a couple of (probably inexperienced) chaperones?

The ACA ratio is 1/5 or 2/10.

I am a level III ACA instructor and have been teaching an average of 24 classes a year for the past 5 years. I too used to have trouble with stress, but the more I prepared which included plenty of handouts, and laminated curriculum that I kept with me when I taught the stress stopped and I found instructing to be very enjoyable.

You seem to have a love-hate thing
with instruction. It is entirely optional. If this activity is that uncomfortable for you then just opt out. It is hard to be a good instructor if one is not happy and relaxed. Students can tell.

I 'd disagree
The OP has been thrown into a situation that is suboptimal and potentially dangerous.

Hes been asked to watch way too many people. A good organization would never do this.

Seems quitting instruction is not the way to go… Quitting that boss is.

I think
you are being taken advantage of. You are beginning to realize this and that’s why you are stressed.

You may also be the type of person who can’t say ‘No’ and being pushed into leading this type of goat rodeo with all its implied and direct responsibilities may have you thinking you want to say ‘No’.

Say no. See what happens.

you really can tell who in this thread
has instructed or tried to instruct, and who is shooting from the hip.

Sorry I only read the O.P.
and did not realize he later qualified the situation to blame his boss. Look, a responsible Instructor would never have agreed to put themselves in this situation. After I was certified as an Instructor I felt that a 5 student max was too many and 4 was a better standard. A conscientious Instructor would never have put himself or the students in this untenable situation. Did he not know this was unacceptable? If not, then shame on him, if so then shame on him.

This has been an ongoing topic of debate for decades and I have always voted for the 4 max position.

I think you don’t live in the real world

– Last Updated: Jul-28-15 2:03 PM EST –

People learning make mistakes and need guidance. A new instructor is not prepared to know all. In this case, the instructor did not "put themselves in this position", loss of another instructor and the instructor's supervisor did.

Don't ever volunteer to mentor anyone, please.

kinda like you are doing to me

– Last Updated: Jul-28-15 3:06 PM EST –

If you have not learned an acceptable student to teacher ratio by the time you become an instructor then I suggest you are not ready to lead learners out onto the water. If you don't have enough gumption not to put yourself and others in this situation then you should go back and learn acceptable practices before leading new paddlers out onto the water. Some times one must take personal responsibility for one's actions. And BTW, the way to avoid on-line mentoring is to not post, otherwise live with other's opinions.

you’re not paying attention

– Last Updated: Jul-28-15 3:12 PM EST –

The instructor never agreed to put themselves in the situation. Go back and read the OP's posts.

"coulda, woulda, shoulda". Well that's all fine and dandy, but we are where we are now, with several students signed up for a course, and an instructor seeking productive input. That's the point from which we should be starting, not some point in the past.

And I'm not mentoring you, I'm expressing my own opinion.

This is funny…
Your musings are just your opinions, but mine are mentoring. Oh well.

You are hardly likely to sway me to your point of view by stating that I don’t live in the real world. Might be a better approach to be less personal and keep things a bit more objective. BTW, for the last 20+ years I’ve instructed, mentored, and certified scores of paddlers all across the U.S. No shooting from the hip here, just total experience.