United Albertan Paddling Society: Rebuilding Instructor Capacity Post-COVID-19

In the heart of Edmonton, Alberta, the United Albertan Paddling Society (UAPS) has long been a hub for water sports enthusiasts. The club, with 140 to 200 members spanning different ages, has always been inclusive and family-friendly. They even welcome non-paddlers who joined for camping trips and to support fellow members.

“I love getting out to remote locations and seeing these beautiful places that many people don’t have the opportunity to get to or see. And I love our camping environment, especially our summer potlucks*!” Club Vice-President Kate Neigel said.

Neigel joined UAPS in 2015 by first participating in their basics programming and roll clinic. From there, she took both their beginner and intermediate river programming. “As I became a stronger paddler, I joined the Executive. I sat on our provincial board, the Alberta Whitewater Association, from 2017-2021, and joined the UAPS board last year as the Vice-President,” she said. Neigel has also been certified as a lake and pool instructor and has her river leader certification. Her experience within the society is a great example of how members can get involved and the type of experience you can gain in a supportive, welcoming grassroots sports community.

Impacts of COVID-19 on United Albertan Paddling Society programming

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, like many sports clubs, they faced significant challenges.

“COVID took a big hit out of our club, not being able to run the pool programming for two years, welcome new members, or run any kind of instructional programming. And in that time, many of our longtime instructors moved on in life—they were busy having kids and that sort of thing. We didn’t lose many of our instructors, but they’re just busy doing other things right now,” Neigel explained. “We needed to rebuild our instructor base.”

Their provincial sports organization, the Alberta Whitewater Association, pointed them toward Sport for Life’s COVID-19 micro-grant to help address their challenges. Once received, the micro-grant wasn’t just an immediate financial boost, it was a building block for the future of the United Albertan Paddling Society.

On the one hand, funding helped support the purchase of some new skirts for the kayaks, and nose plugs for pool training. The other half of the funds went into certifying seven new instructors. As new instructors joined, the club could restart its basic programming, and interest gradually soared.

Their seven newly qualified instructors have all taken the pool and lake kayak instructor program, with two also certified in river leading and one trained. The remaining four all plan to do their river leader training next year, and many look forward to taking their river instructor training in the springThis grant allowed them to explore collaborations with other paddling clubs in Edmonton, strengthening ties with the Ceyana Whitewater Club and forming connections with the Edmonton Whitewater Paddlers. UAPS hopes to run a combined Pool and Lake Instructor course with the other clubs next year.

In all, the new instructors mean even more opportunities to offer programming to the community, which UAPS is already working on! They currently offer basic, stroke, and roll clinics in Eastglen Pool throughout the winter.

“The micro-grant impacted our growth in that we could start running our basic programming again,” Neigel explained. “When we first started running that basic programming, we only had two or three people sign up. But now that we’re kind of back into it, people have started to hear about it again—just the other night, I posted on social media for the next basics course and had four people sign up, I don’t know, three minutes after I posted it?!”

Ongoing hurdles

While the club continues to grow post-pandemic, the most significant hurdle was securing enough pool time. To address this, the club has formed connections with swimming and synchro clubs to divide the pool time, and look forward to looking into ways to combine training with other paddling clubs in the coming year.

Tangible takeaways

Reflecting on their journey, Neigel shared valuable takeaways for other clubs seeking to rebuild post-pandemic, based on UAPS experience:

  1. Embrace Volunteer Strength: Seek help from dedicated volunteers! Encourage friends to join or host introductory nights to get the community interested.
  2. Utilize Paid Social Media Advertising: Even a modest budget for social media advertising can boost program visibility. Consider putting a few dollars a month towards advertising on your most engaged social media accounts and boosting your most popular posts.
  3. Utilize Tried and True Advertising Methods: Posters placed throughout your community are a great resource to boost your club presence!

*Use of the word potluck is not to be confused with traditional Potlach Ceremonies.

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