Act - Relate - Think

In the flow

The Book

About the book

This book will answer some long-standing questions about the connection between what a paddler thinks and feels and how he or she performs. It gives practical advice on what recreational and competitive paddlers and their coaches need to do, to ensure a confident performance when it counts.

Over my time in coaching it has become clear that the quality of a paddlers’ thinking is the single most important factor in success in Canoe Slalom. “In the flow” gives a clear and readable guide to thinking productively about your paddling, whether it’s for World Class race performance or maximum surfing enjoyment. This is a must read for anyone interested in ways to improve their paddling pleasure and success. I will be using this book to help guide my coaching, and to help the athletes I work with realise their potential on the river.

Mike Druce - Head Coach Canoe Slalom Team Australia

About the author

Jonathan Males PhD has been a coach and consultant to a wide range of companies in the UK, the US and Australia since 1993. He draws on his rich experience at the very highest levels of sport.

Jonathan Males PhD has been kayaking since 1975. He represented Australia at four World slalom championships from 1983 to 1989 then went on to coach the Australian and British Olympic slalom teams. As an accredited sport psychologist he has worked with sprint, freestyle, extreme racing and slalom paddlers, as well as with successful athletes in a wide range of sports and at several Olympic and Paralympic Games. As an executive coach he works with business leaders in many industries. He is still an active paddler, making regular use of the Lee Valley whitewater course in London.

Jonathan established Performance1 to bring a fresh and deep approach to his work with leaders. His coaching draws on his sophisticated understanding of people and business, which helps his clients to perform at their best in a complex world. Jonathan has a calm and robust presence. His willingness and ability to “say the unsayable” quickly gets to the heart of a topic and enables leaders to productively confront, explore and re-frame the barriers that hold them back. The results are transformational.

For more information visit: www.performance-1.co.uk

In the Flow – Content and Extracts

Below you can browse some book samples.



  • from: In the Flow - Performance psychology for winning in canoeing and kayaking

In the Flow takes what I’ve learned over the years and presents it in a practical, accessible format for paddlers and coaches. The material is relevant for competitors in all disciplines as well as for recreational paddlers. I use the terms paddle-sports, canoeing and kayaking interchangeably, so please don’t take offence if you feel I’m ignoring your specific craft!

Section 1 begins by understanding self-confidence, the single most important factor for success and enjoyment in paddle-sports, as it is in most fields of human endeavor. I describe how self-confidence flows from the four Psychological Fundamentals of Mastery Motivation, Decision Making, Execution and Teamwork. They are called fundamentals in the same way that edge control, balance, rotation and timing are essential physical aspects of paddling. Understanding and developing the Fundamentals makes the connection between what happens inside your head and how you perform. The Fundamentals develop naturally with experience but I provide specific skills and exercises that you and your coach or sport psychologist can use to increase your capability and speed up your learning in each area.

Section 2 has six chapters that each address a theme and show how the psychological Fundamentals help performance. Feel free to dip into the chapters that interest you most.

There’s a chapter on competition that’s relevant for slalom, extreme racing, sprint, marathon, ocean racing and freestyle, with real examples from top paddlers and coaches. This will help you develop your own personalized Performance Demand Model and a race day plan to guide you successfully through your event.

The next chapter explores whitewater paddling and shows how the psychological fundamentals are just as relevant when you’re sitting at the top of a waterfall as when you are on a start-line. I look at risk and decision-making in remote environments, and how to maintain or rebuild confidence after a bad experience.

Chapter 8 tackles women in paddling. I was asked to write this by a young man I met paddling with his girlfriend. He was puzzled and frustrated by his girlfriend’s behavior on the river, so I’ve interviewed some outstanding women paddlers to get their advice and also reviewed the research on the psychological differences between men and women.

Chapter 9, Paddling with young people, will be especially relevant if you’re a parent or coach. I explain how young people’s thinking, feeling and motivation can change through their teenage years and into young adulthood, and what you can do to help them stay engaged and positive.

Next, I look at canoeing over a lifespan and the psychological transitions at different stages of life. I show that some real gifts emerge with maturity that mean you can get as much, or more, satisfaction from paddle-sports as the youngsters.

Finally, Chapter 11 closes with some reflections about what paddling in the natural environment and in the wilderness has to offer for your mental and spiritual health.

Mental Warm Up

Mental Warm Up


The importance of a mental warm up

Every competitor knows that it’s necessary to physically warm-up before a race. But how many pay as much attention to their mental warm-up as they do to stretching their body, loosening their muscles and increasing their heart rate? The best racers have a consistent routine that prepares body AND mind for the challenge ahead. And they practice this routine during training sessions, not just on race day.

Here are some ideas that will help you develop your own mental warm–up routine.

1. Deal with distractions

It’s hard to race when your mind is full of the normal tasks and concerns of daily life. I remember one paddler complaining that he was thinking about the shopping list while doing full-length slalom runs! So before a race or training session give yourself the time to deal with any distractions and put them to one side. A simple technique is to write a ‘to do’ list, getting everything out of your head and onto a piece of paper. Then put the list away somewhere safe with a promise to return to it after the session.

2. Be clear about your intent

Give yourself time to sit quietly, relax and visualize what you want to achieve from the race or training session. The clearer you are about your intent, the more likely you are to achieve it. And if you can see, feel, and hear yourself performing the way you want before you start, so much the better.

“I was thinking about the race and how I was going to race it. Stay to my race plan, not getting distracted by the other athletes. I also remember telling myself that this race is what I’ve been waiting for, time to find out how good I really am.”

Eirik Verås Larsen, 2012 K1 1000m Olympic champion 1

3.Understand the transition to your competitive mind

This is also a good time to notice your own thoughts and feelings. Competing strongly means that you are tapping into your Mastery Motivation, aspiring to be strong and focusing your energy on being in control. This is like a warrior going into battle – in fact one athlete I worked with used to talk about mentally ‘putting on a suit of armor’ before he competed. This focused state of mind is ideal for competition or training but it can be unproductive in your normal life, when it is often necessary to be considerate and kind to other people. In fact people who are too extreme in their mastery motivation in normal life can come across as insensitive or even ruthless.

So your warm-up routine helps you transition to a mastery state of mind. Team sports players call this ‘putting their game face on’. Although this is easy for some people, others will need to take some time to tune out of normal social interactions, remind themselves of what it feels like to paddle hard and why the race or training session is important. This is particularly important to get yourself ready for the pain of competing to your maximum. You need to be ready to be tough with yourself, the course and your competitors.

Remind yourself of your different sources of self-confidence – these typically include high quality training, having good equipment, trusting your coach, and knowing from experience that you can deliver. Imagery can help too. Get creative and experiment with different mental images of yourself feeling strong and confident.

4. Mentally warm-down too

After a race or training session you need to transition back to normal life. This is the reverse of warming up – you need to use your Decision Making skills to review your performance and whether or not you achieved your goals, so you can take the lessons forward to the next event. If it’s been a big event, it’s likely that you’ll feel strong emotions – either joy or disappointment. Emotions are natural and it’s important to acknowledge them before you return to your ‘to do’ list and take some practical steps to keep your life in order. And you can reverse from a mastery motivation to a more open state of mind, in which you no longer need to be so tough with yourself and other people.

1 http://www.sportscene.tv/flatwater/canoe-sprint/news/interview-with-multiple-olympic-champion-eirik-veras-larsen

Paddling with Young People

Paddling with Young People


Execution: Help young paddlers learn how to focus

In this wired world teenagers (and the rest of us) face constant demands on attention. It’s all too easy to get into a reactive, hyper-vigilant state of mind where we’re multi-tasking and constantly waiting for the latest tweet or Facebook update. The upside is a sense of connection, but the downside is that few people are ever fully present and paying attention to the task at hand. What sort of a problem this creates is a matter of some debate amongst psychologists and neuroscientists. Some argue that a wired world is leading to changes in brain function and reduced empathy in young people, where others take a more positive view on the benefits of the Internet (1). Whatever the real impact, paddling takes young people away from smart-phone screens, and the challenge of mastering whitewater, surfing an ocean swell or learning to balance a sprint kayak, all demand sustained attention of a different order than modern daily life. Add in the increased challenges of a competitive environment and paddle sports offer a fantastic opportunity for young people to develop their capacity to sustain their focus on their bodies and the physical world around them.

Teach them to increase their self-awareness and pay attention to their body as they paddle. Encourage their respect of the river environment, to look around them and appreciate the natural world. Teach them to closely watch the patterns of moving water and understand its forces. Encourage them to view competition as a chance to learn how to discipline themselves and learn how to focus their energy and attention.

(1) https://theconversation.com/your-brain-on-the-internet-a-response-to-susan-greenfield-8694

Stunning Photography


For this book we have used pictures from some of the best paddle sports photographers in the world: Antony Edmonds (www.aephotos.co.uk) and Rob van Bommel (www.sportscene.tv).



The World Paddle Awards
AE Photos



  • I never read anything about psychology in the sport before I became a professional paddler. It’s definitely really interesting reading and as a professional athlete I can recommend it to everyone who is willing to have a whitewater in the blood for most of his life. No matter its slalom or extreme paddling, the words in this book can be used as a big help and inspiration.

    Vavra Hradilek, Slalom K1 world champion and Olympic Silver medallist
  • With this book Jonathan Males, whom I first coached in 1981 in Australia, demonstrates he’s now one of the top experts in the field of sports psychology.  The book’s easy to read and packed with insightful and practical information, not only for competitive athletes and recreational river runners, but also for those seeking high performance in any field.

    Bill Endicott, former coach of 27 World, World Cup and Olympic Champions and assistant in the U.S. House of Representatives and the White House
  •  Jonathan Males’s book In The Flow, takes us on a journey through the somewhat neglected and less understood area of psychology within paddlesports. Through sharing his deep understanding and experience of sports psychology and coaching, Males equips paddlers, coaches, elite athletes and sports psychologists with the tools to understand and develop techniques, to get the most out of paddle sports and their personal performances.

    Whether you are a coach, an aspiring athlete, an elite performer, or simply enjoy white water river running, In The Flow, will help you to find answers and make the connections needed to get the most out of your paddling.

    Deb Pinniger

Get ‘In the flow’ now

Available in paperback or e-book, just click below. Special discounts available for large orders.

Jonathan Males