Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Links between Kayaking, Fear, Confidence and Competence: Factors Affecting Women's Participation in Paddling in a Tertiary Outdoor Education Course

Academic journal article Journal of Outdoor and Environmental Education

Links between Kayaking, Fear, Confidence and Competence: Factors Affecting Women's Participation in Paddling in a Tertiary Outdoor Education Course

Article excerpt


Our research explored why some females were expressing anger, frustration and lack of connectedness when learning paddling in a university unit called "River Environments." Our review of the literature on motivation theory suggested that we need to teach females differently, simply because they often learn differently than males. We attempted to determine if there was a connection between boat design and feelings of paddling satisfaction, but we discovered a range of deeper issues. We discovered that fear, particularly social fear, is a powerful inhibitor of risk taking and learning, that it affects confidence and hence competence, and that this was more noticeable in female paddlers. We also concluded that females may require: different learning experiences and instruction to optimise their learning outcomes; a path that reflects a more gradual and repetitive sequence with considerable intuitive instruction; and gender specific groups. We also discovered that the students' attitude and the environment are clearly important, but that the paddling instructor can be a far more critical motivating influence to confidence, competence and satisfaction outcomes, particularly with females.


Given a new class, all of whom are theoretically capable of learning a new skill, it is frustrating to watch as some members quickly acquire skills, yet others struggle with skill acquisition. Successful skill acquisition may be more dependent upon the attitude of the student, than upon his or her physical ability. This paper explores the experiences of students who have achieved varying levels of success in learning the skills of whitewater paddling, particularly kayaking, and attempts to unravel some of the factors that might be contributing to the gap between the competent and less competent students. Gender differences in skill acquisition were also of interest to this study. In addition, the physical consequences of mistakes in whitewater paddling in Victoria in the winter and spring season also have an impact on the student's fear of physical harm. The potential consequences range from common capsizes and wet exits in cold water to the less common but more serious possibility of hypothermia or even drowning.

Motivational theory: The confidence/competence link

The knowledge, that students play an important role in their learning, is not new. Lee and Solomon's study in 1992 (cited in Lee 2001) found that the assumption that "teaching directly impacts learning and learners are simply recipients of knowledge" is quite erroneous (p. 119). Rather, Lee (2001) observed that,

   the link is far from direct, and the role
   students play in their learning is powerful.
   They make decisions about the extent to
   which they will pay attention, how much
   effort they will put forth, and whether
   the activities are enjoyable or boring.
   To a large extent, they control their own
   learning. (p. 119)

Lee's (2001) study explored "the relationship of practice using correct technique to achievement" and he found that some students approach learning "with a great amount of confidence and enthusiasm while others show signs of frustration and lack of confidence" (p. 119). Lee found that the level of confidence seemed directly related to the amount of practice in which students engaged and that those students who made the most use of the practice time were those who were both confident and enthusiastic.

In their 1992 study, Lee and Solomon had concluded that factors not easily observed, such as students' past belief systems and prior experience, have a profound effect on current learning. This was because students with a higher self-efficacy were more likely to be involved in the learning activities designed by the teacher. These positive feelings about their competence were influenced by age, gender, and type of activity. Lee (2001) reported that the perceived appropriateness of an activity according to age, gender and societal norms enhanced both initial confidence and final achievement. …

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