Waterwerks Kayak Club’s resilience and post-pandemic revival

The COVID-19 pandemic brought an era of unprecedented challenges for community sports programs around the globe. Pandemic disruptions left organizations grappling with uncertainty and setbacks, forcing them to adapt, innovate, and reimagine their futures as restrictions eased.

While many clubs continue to reset and find their footing, there is a wealth of experience, advice and support from the larger community of grassroots sports organizations to tap into when it comes to re-envisioning clubs and programs. One of these clubs is Waterwerks Kayak Club, a recipient of a Sport for Life COVID-19 micro-grant, working to rebuild its club with a foundation of new, trained coaches and volunteers.

The history of Waterwerks Kayak Club

Since 2002, Waterwerks Kayak Club has been a key community hub for paddlers in the Calgary area. The club offers year-round programs, and strives to make kayaking accessible and fun for all ages and abilities—whether it’s river kayaking, freestyle, slalom or polo!

Creating positive experiences in supportive environments is the foundation of a quality sport experience. Within Waterwerks, it is a pillar celebrated through:

  • Good People: The passionate parent volunteers at Waterwerks who dedicate their time and energy are integral to the club’s success. These individuals exemplify the essence of community, contributing not only to the sport but also to the bonds that form within the Waterwerks family.
  • Good Places: Calgary’s Harvie Passage, a world-class whitewater park and home of Waterwerks Kayak Club, offers an exceptional space for learning, training and growing through the sports of canoeing and kayaking.
  • Good Programs: Since its inception, the club has provided a spectrum of programs, catering to beginners seeking a taste of kayaking and seasoned enthusiasts honing their whitewater skills. These programs are coached by trained instructors, and led by experienced and responsible staff like Mark Taylor, director of Waterwerks Kayak Club.

Before the pandemic, Waterwerks was a thriving community hub, offering kayaking programs that fostered skills, friendships, and a deep connection to nature.

Impacts of COVID-19

COVID-19 brought unexpected challenges. Like many other clubs, Waterwerk’s ability to train and certify volunteers, instructors, and coaches came to a standstill, as did their programs overall given pandemic restrictions.

Following the pandemic, interest in kids’ and youth kayaking programs soared as families sought outdoor activities promoting physical health and emotional well-being. The Waterwerks Kayak Club found itself at the crux of this renewed enthusiasm. However, a significant challenge lay ahead–they lacked the certified instructors, coaches, and volunteers needed to accommodate growing demand.

Rebuilding the club foundation

Sport for Life’s Quality Sport Division’s COVID-19 micro-grant came at the right time. As recipients of the micro-grant funding in fall 2022, Waterwerks subsidized NCCP coaching certification for six instructors, and first aid training for three volunteers. The increased number of staff members meant Waterwerks could run new programs, for various skill levels—in 2023, programs include Lil Tykes, Lil Rippers and, for the first time, a Rippers program for older participants, with a focus on higher-level skills for youth who had aged through the younger programs. The program runs once a week and currently has five participants engaged.

Newly trained team members are also more prepared to speak to the club at community events.

“It helped when we were out running programs on the river somewhere, and there were people asking questions; the volunteers are better able to respond to the questions and know what’s happening, and can communicate that. Same with our instructors as well, when they’re out and and people ask them questions. They’re much better at communicating what’s happening, what’s going on,” explained Taylor.

Five youths competed at the national championships in Ontario this year, a huge accomplishment for the participants and the program overall.

“We had a great season this year, better than it’s been even even pre-COVID!” Taylor said.

Going forward, Waterwerks hopes to see this new cohort of training instructors continue to support the program, and thus offer more programming. We can’t wait to hear how they continue to grow over the coming years!

Tangible takeaways

When asked what advice he would give to other programs looking to continue to grow, and have the resources to grow, post-pandemic, Taylor provided the following:

  • Start talking to your younger participants early on about coming back and instructing the next generations; the sooner you mention that, the more the message sinks in and will likely be remembered when they get to the instructing age!
  • Keep everyone involved in your club, whether with coaching opportunities, volunteering, or community events; host social activities, barbecues, and fun community events to keep participants, parents and staff engaged beyond training time.
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