Better Exit Poles

Parc del Segre, La Seu d’Urgell, Catalunya, October, 2020 (photo by Joe Jacobi)

The job of an elite whitewater canoeing athlete is to navigate their racing canoe through turbulent and ever-changing river currents. Their goals are most likely to include speed, precision, and a place on the medal podium.

To accomplish this, one opportunity to gain an advantage stands out above all others —> Upstream gates.

In this sport, a gate is a pair of poles about three feet apart and suspended from cables above the river’s surface. Such gates, usually 20 of them spread out over a distance of 200 meters, mark specific points on the water where an athlete must pass between the poles.

While about two thirds of these gates are “downstream” gates and navigated in the same direction as the flow of the river, a third of the gates require a complete a change of direction — an upstream passage between the poles that happens against the flow. Typically, these gates are placed in calmer spots within the river.

(The photo accompanying today’s post shows an athlete passing through an upstream gate.)

As high tension events can be separated by the smallest of margins, grinding out fractional gains while paddling harder “downstream” at top speed is rarely an effective way to a mange the force of the river. How much faster can you really go? Probably not much and such efforts give away a LOT of energy in exchange for minimal improvements.

However, when the race course — or life — requires a sharp change of direction — an upstream gate — speed must be reduced… and eventually, accelerated again.

Within that change of direction and speed, the opportunity appears.

When a person, team, organization, or community face a major pivot, understanding how de-accelerate just a little less through an upstream gate allows them to keep valuable energy. This is not an act of force but an act of balance and patience.

To proficiently leverage this captured momentum transitions into a more effective acceleration on the exit away from the poles… with balance and patience.

The result? We exponentially capitalize on the variations of direction and speed.

Why do better exits from the poles matter?

Because, at the moment of sharp transitions, balance and patience open a more efficient and opportunistic re-entry into the powerful flow of the river — and life.

Which is a more appealing option than the fractional gains of just grinding harder.

Especially as our next upstream gate approaches quickly.

With gratitude, — Joe

Connect with Joe:

5 With Joe Performance Coaching

I coach established and experienced professionals, who feel stuck in place, to thrive in transition and bring focus to what matters most without compromising their lives.

My personal experiences winning an Olympic Gold Medal, serving as CEO of a national sports organization, and my current “Simple, Slower, and Less” lifestyle in the Catalan Pyrenees help to form accountable and transformative collaborations that see my clients create their next and most impactful chapter.



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Joe Jacobi

Olympic Gold Medalist, Performance Coach, & Author helping leaders & teams perform their best without compromising their lives.