What I’ve learned from my years of kite instructing

What I’ve learned from my years of kite instructing

Off-season is a great time for instructors to reflect and search for ways to improve the way we deliver our product. Over the years I’ve spent countless hours training kiteboarding and snowboarding instructors. From watching and listening to other instructors and also talking to many students about their learning experience in various schools around the world I came up with a list of best practices and common mistakes.

10 years of experience or 1 year repeated 10 times?

This has to be the most influential quote from my years of studying sport science. We all tend to measure someone’s competence solely from how many years they’ve been in a certain job/discipline. The truth is many instructors don’t evolve much and teach exactly the same way they’ve been teaching during their first year. Being humble, coachable, having an open mind, having the ability to change and adapt to different people and different environments are some of the common traits of highly competent instructors and coaches. Once in a while I challenge myself and my instructors to change the way we do things. I’m always surprised by what we learn in the process and as a result, our product is continuously evolving. Teaching the same thing over and over again quickly becomes boring and many instructors will get fed-up, become impatient and end up teaching just for an easy pay check, which of course has nothing but a negative influence on the students.

Let your student determine the pace of the lesson

Adjusting the pace of the lesson to cater to each student ability level and learning style is one of the most challenging things an instructor has to do. Instructors who are ‘’naturally talented’’ kiters and who learned the sport quickly tend to be the ones who struggle the most adapting to slower paced students. In other words I find that the best instructors are the ones who took more time to learn and had to put lots of efforts before they could ride. There is no point forcing a student to body drag if they can’t keep a kite stable for more than a few seconds without crashing, or teaching a student to ride if they can’t walk/body drag with a board in their hands while flying a kite under control.

The most common mistake here is when an instructor sets a specific timeframe for achieving each skill, regardless of the student’s background, skill level, confidence level, etc. The truth is only a minority of students will be able to competently and independently ride a board in just a few hours of lesson. Most students will need more than 5-6 hours of lesson and some practice time between lessons before they can reach a good level of independence and ride on a board comfortably.

Let the student do all kite manipulations, i.e. setup, pack down, self-rescue

Over the years I found out that some demonstrations from the instructor can be a waste of time. For example, when a student watches the instructor set up the kite or even worse, when a student watches the instructor perform a self-rescue… Let the student do those kite manipulations from the get-go and get involved as little as possible. This may take more time in the short-term but your student will be able to repeat those skills in the long-term i.e. setup a kite alone before they begin their second and third lesson or perform a self-rescue in the future without any assistance. Regardless of the student’s predominant learning style, kiteboarding can only be learned by hands-on practice.

Less is more

Or maybe I should say: talk less, do more. When it comes down to the technical aspects, kiteboarding is a fairly complex sport. A common mistake is to overcomplicate explanations and give too much information to the student. We cannot teach everything and we need to prioritize and make choices. A student only remembers a very small percentage of what is being said by the instructor, so there is no point dragging along lengthy sentences. If a student asks you a ton of questions (cognitive learner), keep the answers short and simple and encourage them to watch KiteBud Videos or give them some reading material outside the lesson. An effective teaching cycle is one where the majority of the time (80%) is spent by student’s hands-on practices and repetitions, rather than listening to you or watching you:

A 2 hour lesson goes by very quickly, rather than trying to progress as far as possible and do as many things as possible, focus on doing things right and make sure the student is competent in achieving each skill before moving on to the next. Focus on quality rather than quantity. If students have fun and progress in total confidence they will come back for more.

Smaller is better

A common mistake in the first and second lesson is to give the student the same size of kite they would need to ride on a board. This is not only dangerous but will also often scare the student. As a rule of thumb I find that the smallest kite that you have that will fly easily is a good choice for the first flying experience. Short lines are also great especially in crowded areas and when the wind is strong. Start with smaller kiters and shorter lines and gradually increase the size of kite and length of lines as the student gains skills and confidence. You’d be surprised to see how well a 4 or 5m kite flies in 20 knots with lines as short as 5m!

Encourage your students to come to the lesson well prepared

We live in a time where almost anything can be learned on the Internet, for free. Kiteboarding theory and knowledge is important and a fundamental step in becoming an independent and safe kiter. Encourage your students to watch KiteBud Videos, to read forums, or refer them to some documentation and a few videos they can watch. This will save you a lot of time and make the first lessons far more enjoyable for both the student and the instructor. More time will be spent flying the kite and far less time will be spent talking on the beach.

 

Learn from others

When you finish your day of lesson, spend some time talking to other instructors and share your experience, successes and failures. When you’re not teaching or when you go for a kite somewhere else, spend some time observing some lessons, maybe you will learn something new you’ve never thought about before. No one is perfect but we can always improve. Accept criticism and take on board any feed-back you get from other instructors, your superiors or even your students. It’s been proven over and over again that instructors and coaches learn their trade mostly from mentoring, interactions with other instructors and time spent self-evaluating their performance. Contrary to popular belief, what we learn in instructor courses has little to do with our level of competence. The most impressive improvements I’ve seen from training other instructors is simply from doing something as simple as recording an entire lesson on film and handing the footage over to the instructor.

Pay attention to the student’s non-verbal

Learning to kite can be an intimidating experience for many students. The power of the kite can easily scare students, which often puts them off from going any further and having an enjoyable learning experience. Typical non-verbal signs of fear and distress are a heavy bar grip (AKA death grip), inability to focus or respond to feed-back, trampling, tense body, etc. Downsizing the kite and shortening the lines is often the best solution, or simply cancelling the lesson if the wind is just too strong that day. Pushing a lesson further when the students cannot be relaxed, calm and confident will simply make it worse and can easily lead to accidents.

Learn when to call off a lesson

Teaching in sub-par conditions unfortunately became a common practice in kiteboarding… As a general rule of thumb, if a kite cannot stay in the air, a student shouldn’t be charged in full for a first-time lesson. If a kite cannot be relaunched from the water for long periods of time, a student shouldn’t be charged for a full second, third (or further) lesson. If the wind is too strong and you don’t have the appropriate size kite and/or if the student simply doesn’t have the confidence and skill level, the lesson should probably be called off. Always ask yourself the following question: ‘’would I have paid X amount of dollars to learn in today’s conditions myself’’?

Ensure the student has realistic expectations

Be sure to always ask any new students what their expectations are, especially at the beginning of the first lesson. You’d be surprised to see how many will say things along the lines of “I’d like to be riding the board in the first 2 hours”. If this is the case, spend some time explaining the learning process/steps, redefine their goals and set realistic expectations.

What are your students able to do without you?

The easiest way to measure the quality of training any student receives is to watch what they are able to do without any supervision. Too many students complete their lessons and get up on a board without having the ability to demonstrate essential skills such as self-rescue, board recovery and water relaunch (all in deep water). Teaching in shallow water is no excuse for taking shortcuts and not covering essential deep water skills without standing up. All students who decide to continue on with kiting will end up in kiting in deep waters…As an instructor, your job is make sure they are well trained for this.

Have a positive and encouraging attitude

It’s been proven that the instructor’s attitude towards their students have a direct influence on their learning abilities. If you give nothing but negative feed-back to your students and have a pessimistic attitude, they will perform poorly. Some students need more time than others to master a certain skill. Taking your time, breaking down goals in smaller steps and encouraging your student in every step of the way is the best way to handle slower paced learners. If you stay positive and encourage your student you’d be surprised how well they can perform even if initially you told yourself things like “this one will never get it’’.

Take care of yourself

This one is often overlooked by busy instructors. Stay well hydrated (having a ‘’camelbak’’ is a necessity). Protect yourself from the sun and stay warm if teaching during colder days. Improve your time management skill: start and finish your lessons 5-10 minutes before the official time, this will allow you to take a few minutes of break between lessons, eat and relax a bit. Take some time off and go for a kite elsewhere…I actually wrote that last one for myself!

Thanks for reading,

Christian

3 Comments

  • Word!??

    Markus Unterrainer,
  • Thank you for this wisdom.

    Jeff Smith,
  • Nice write up!

    Jos,
  • Leave a comment