I was recently tackling short gate sequences on the two big drops at Lee Valley. These ‘feature moves’ are easy to get wrong, but they feel fantastic when you nail them, and require a precise combination of boat speed, angle and position.  Typically this involves coming down one side of the drop and surfing across a stopper into an upstream gate on the other side of the channel. The stoppers are big enough to flip a raft, let alone back loop a slalom boat, so it’s tempting to put all my focus onto them as I come down the drop. But I’ve noticed that when I look only at the stopper, I often lose my form, paddle reactively and mess up.

Instead, once I’ve thought about how I want to be positioned on the drop, it’s better to look past the hole and focus my vision and attention on the target – the precise location where I want my boat to land in the eddy, or the next gate downstream of the stopper.  Remaining focused on a target means that I’m more committed to reach it, and often I find myself almost effortlessly putting in the right combination of strokes and boat position to ride the drop and surf the hole.

This is the same principle I’ve written about in my book In the Flow – making the switch from Decision Making that uses the conscious part of the brain, to Execution that involves automatically delivering skills. Looking through the gate at the target is a simple cue that helps this mental switch take place.

I also wonder how often it helps to apply this away from the water? It can be all too easy to become over-focused on a problem and lose sight of the end result we’re aiming for. Next time you find yourself obsessing about a problem, try simply describing your current situation objectively, then focusing your intention on the end result you want to reach. This sets up what author Robert Fritz calls ‘structural tension’, and it often opens up a creative path ahead. I first read Fritz’s work in the early 90’s and it has been very influential on my work as a sport psychologist and executive coach.

So, ‘look through the gate’ and be clear about your target – let me know how you get on, comments are welcome here on on the Facebook page.