WW conversations 2: Jenna Sanders

Interviews: Emma Love
Emma Love is a British Canoeing stand up paddleboard white water coach.

On August 1st 2019, British Canoeing launched the Stand Up Paddleboard White Water Coach Award. In 2020, five women gained this award, and four more are now on route to qualifying. In a series of interviews, Emma Love grabbed some Zoom time with these extraordinary women to chat about their individual journeys and why the incredible paddlesport that is white water SUP is attracting so many women.

Jenna Sanders
Photos: Sophie Dollar and Andy Cass

Chatting with Jenna Sanders was really interesting. Not only is Jenna a paddler, a British Canoeing coach, leader and coach educator, but she is also now on route to taking her white water SUP coach assessment! We discussed what originally made her fall in love with paddling, her experience as a student completing the white water SUP discipline specific training and what advice she would give women interested in starting their journey to becoming white water SUP coaches.

Which craft do you paddle?
First and foremost, I am a canoeist, that’s where I have the majority of my leadership and coaching qualifications. I used to play canoe polo and white water kayak, but I much prefer white water canoeing. I got into paddling SUP (on flat and open water) quite a few years ago when it first became popular.

Describe your first ever experience of paddling
I was about 20 years old and on holiday in France with my parents. We visited the bottom of the Verdon Gorge, I decided to hire a kayak and paddle up the gorge, and it was just beautiful! On my return to Warwick, I joined the university kayak club, and it went from there.

Exploring that gorge was formative. For me, the primary driver for getting on the water is being able to access beautiful places. Interestingly with lockdown, it has made me realise that while I enjoy paddling in the countryside, I would rather be out on a river up in the mountains.

You started paddling white water SUP last year. I immediately assumed this would be an addition to your business portfolio, so I was very intrigued when you described your primary motivation as ‘creating space for you to have fun’.
Yes, my first time playing on white water using a SUP was in spring 2020 just after the first lockdown was lifted, and it was just great to have time to mess about and coach myself. I’ve got all the basic principles; I know how to deal with white water and how to SUP, so it was really good fun to join these up, experiment, play and see what would happen.

If you’re going to be a coach and if you’re going to be a coach educator, it is really useful and essential always to have something going on which is new, that’s difficult, and you’re not good at. If you’re always a beginner at something, you retain that bit of understanding of how hard it is to learn and this then benefits your students.

Will I coach this discipline? I genuinely don’t know. The majority of my work through my business, ‘Flying Gecko’, is coach education and leadership. I don’t have huge amounts of time for just pure coaching, but it would be nice.

What encouragement and advice would you give to women who may be interested in qualifying as a coach but are feeling unsure if they are good enough?
If you are already SUP’ing on white water, then there is absolutely no reason not to start on your coaching journey because the qualification pathway is so open, there are no time limits, and there is no stress. You can go and complete the first stage (core coach), see how you get on and if you enjoy it, then take the next step and complete the WW SUP discipline specific training. If you want to re-visit core coach at a later stage, you can, and the same goes for the two-day discipline-specific training. I would absolutely encourage women to go, give it a try and do it for your own fun and enjoyment. And if you get to the point where you are ready to do the assessment – awesome!

What would you advise women who are thinking ‘I can’t even envision getting to the Core Coach stage, let alone putting myself forward for the final assessment’?
I would recommend coaching and observing other WW SUP Coaches, going and chatting with them, getting on the water, playing, and seeing what is going on. When I am running a core coach, I want to make sure my students understand this is their space where they can make mistakes. Yes, there’s a lot of theory because coaching is a skill set, but the course shouldn’t be intimidating. I want to think that everybody running these courses are doing so in the atmosphere of let’s try stuff and if it works, cool! If it doesn’t work, cool! It doesn’t matter, because you have learnt something.

For many women, we have an expectation that we need to be perfect before we can even attend these courses. I know I did! Why do you think this happens, and how do we change this?
I find a higher proportion of women who come on my courses are self-deprecating, they will say, “I don’t know if I am good enough to be here” and are visibly worried. Whereas I find men are much more likely to come and give it go. It is really hard to change this expectation, but as a coach educator, I make sure the environment is set up to be positive, kind and ego-free. The space needs to allow people to relax and get what they need out of the day. As a paddling community, we still need to be better communicators and say, “It is just a training course for you to come along, enjoy and take away new skills.”

How did you find the two-day discipline training from the perspective of being a student rather than coming to it in your usual role as a coach educator?
I went knowing full well my WW SUP skills were somewhat lacking and what I needed from those two days was to understand the discipline better! I was purely there to learn. I was delighted to say to everyone, “You know what guys, I’m not very good!”

Running the training course were Anthony Ing, Alex Tonge and Phil Hadley and they are just so informative. I had so much technical and tactical input, and I just kept asking all the time, how do you do this and what about that? It was such a fun time, learning.

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