Lessons From Kayaking

I recently went on a kayaking adventure with my son across the Noosa Everglades, a beautiful place made up of a series of lakes, creeks and the Noosa river. Surrounded by various habitats and home to plenty of birdlife and native creatures.

Seated in a double sea kayak for 5 hours, transporting our own food in a special ice box storage area and having to navigate, steer and propel our vessel together made me think about how kayaking can teach us lessons for our dental practice.


Firstly you need a map and to have an idea of where you’re going, how you’re going to get there, how long it’ll take. You need landmarks and milestones that guide you and let you know you’re on track. You also need to understand the prevailing conditions and climate and be able to adapt and adjust should things change.


Secondly when you are paired up in a kayak you have to understand what your responsibilities are and make sure you do what is needed. The person up front has to steer with a foot control to direct and turn the rudder; you push your left foot forward to go left and the right to go right. And remember you are doing this at the same time as paddling. The person at the rear needs to help navigate, review the map, ensure water supplies are at hand and record the journey with photographs and also keep paddling.


Next comes the paddling and working together. There has to be a unified rhythm. If you paddle out of synch – yes you still move forward but it takes much more effort. If you paddle too fast your teammate may not keep up to that pace. If you paddle too slow you are not going to make progress. Finding a rhythm that you can sustain and that works for the conditions and the people in the kayak is essential. You’ve also got to be paddling in the same direction, there has to be an agreement that you are heading to the same destination.


You’ve got to do you fair share of the work. It’s not ok to be sitting there cruising while the other person does all the work. It’s ok to rest but make sure you then put in the effort when it’s needed.


Communication and observation are key. You need to watch your partner and adjust your stroke and rhythm to match, this is especially true for the person in the rear as the one up front is setting the pace and can only turn back occasionally to check on you. You need to check in with each other, confirm you’re heading the right way and offer words of support and encouragement.


Stop to rest and refuel. You can’t keep going at a flat out pace you need to consolidate, stretch and appreciate how far you’ve come and what you’ve experienced along the way. Look after your body and put some fuel in the tank for the next stage of the trip.


When the wind’s at your back maximise it and ride home hard. On our journey we paddled out into a light head wind and enjoyed the more sheltered section of the glades. On the return section we were in open water, the wind at our back and increased from the morning’s light breeze. This created small waves and more difficult paddling conditions when the wind was across you or in your face but once we turned we were able to use the wind and the waves to accelerate us back to shore. The temptation by this point was to ease off and go steady as our arms and shoulders was screaming to rest but as we could see the shore and the end in sight, rather than ease off we kept the momentum going and got back quicker than anticipated.


I feel these are all lessons that can be applied to dentistry to have a vision and a plan, to be dedicated to getting there, to be willing to be flexible and adjust to what is required to make it happen. To work together as a team, in rhythm with one purpose and knowing what our role is and being responsible for it and putting in the required amount of effort. To build momentum and keep it going without slacking off or giving up before the end is in sight or it feels too hard or like you can’t make it. And once you have that momentum to capitalise on it and achieve what you set out to do.


It may be getting more referrals, online reviews, converting new patient calls to appointments, improving communication skills, increasing case acceptance, training your team. No matter what the goal is in your dental office if you apply the principles of double kayaking you can’t go wrong.


Be determined, work together and you can take your dental practice from one that has settled for ok to one that is outstanding and stands out as both a place people want to work and patients want to visit.