I had an interesting intersection of learning in work and paddling last week. My company, Performance1, hosted a workshop that explored what it means to work with the “millennial generation”. These are people aged in their 20s to early 30s now making up the majority of the workforce in many organisations. One of the characteristics of these folks (being fully aware that this is a massive generalisation!) is a sense of impatient ambition. They want to get on, and fast. Their (older) managers often report that millenials aren’t willing to put in the hours on mundane tasks, preferring to quickly move on to fresh challenges. This can cause frustration for those people who have spent years grinding away at their jobs, and often achieved a real sense of mastery through the repetition.

How does this connect with canoeing? I’ve got a great deal with top UK slalom paddler Huw Swetnam. He works as my technical coach and I work as his sport psychologist. It’s a barter system that suits us both. Huw was watching me train the other night, and noticed that my stroke pattern on stagger gates was letting my boat slide-slip too much, costing me valuable time. I needed to put more power on more quickly on the key upstream strokes. When he pointed this out I did it and, hey presto, the boat tracked better and I was faster down the course. His coaching worked. But the interesting point is that I’ve known what he was telling me for years. I can remember as a coach working with paddlers on exactly the same point, probably at a time when Huw was still in nappies. So, despite the fact that I’ve been paddling for nearly 40 years, I’m still being brought back to the basics. Stuff that I think I know, yet don’t always put into practice.

Perhaps this is the same challenge that millenials (or any of us!) face, at work or in sport. The basics might seem obvious, easy to grasp, and quickly become boring. We want to move on to a new and more exciting challenge. Yet we ignore the basics at our peril, and confuse familiarity with true mastery. It takes a lot of thoughtful practice to really hone skills so that they are reliable under any conditions.

So yet again, I’m back to drilling the basics. Not glamorous, not new, not exciting: but I’m reminded that mastering the basics will make me faster!