Max Karlsson ASP Review, Shifting Focus-Changing Goals…

When I first talked to Dennis after the 2015 Freestyle Worlds about Joining ASP I wasn’t entirely sure whatI was getting myself into. All I knew was that he was extremely fun to paddle with, was considered somewhat of a mad scientist, but had an amazing track record (especially with Claire O’hara). I saw an amazing opportunity to improve my freestyle abilities with arguably the best coach in the sport.

I started on the program January of 2016, I had decided to make the move from living full time in the US to living in the EU for better training opportunities. I was eager to be living in Prague where they have a world class training facility for both Slalom and Freestyle, which I was training for both at the time.

What I feel I gained most from the program wasn’t technical knowledge of tricks, as I felt I already had a good grasp of most tricks, but various psychological skills such as mental toughness and tactical strategies towards competitions. Some of my favourite sessions with Dennis have been out of the water; the reviews, the brainstorming, the psychological break downs of training methods and competition preparation.

From a training perspective, my favourite and most useful method I gained from ASP was “Breaking the State” meaning when you’ve become frustrated and feel like you can no longer progress through your training; you must step back, separate yourself from what you are doing, visualise, and come back to your certain problem with a new angle of attack. Not only is this useful in training situations but also for split second corrections in competition.

It’s simply about being in the present, without dwelling in past (what happened) or future (what if) thoughts. Just as the perfect body position or shape makes a Clean Mc Nasty or Tight turn through a slalom gate a lot easier, a ‘a positive state’ makes it easier to maintain a strong self-belief in your own tactical decisions.

I learnt it’s just as important to rehearse thoughts as it is to rehearse your competition ride, to better prepare for a range of situations which will allows me to be more responsive and adapt to the demands that I’m facing. Although this process is intended to minimize my outcome thoughts, my experiences have shown even when best prepared outcome thoughts (e.g. will this ride get me through to the next heat, will I flush off the wave) may appear in the mist of some quality process thinking. That said, it’s much easier for me now to re-focus and get back on track.

Another thing I feel that I have gained while training with Dennis is a strengthened sense of visualization through meditation and physical rehearsal. This has greatly enhanced my ability to maintain or regain a positive focus, and build confidence in my practices. A skill that has been useful in acquiring new skills or strategies to enhance performance in training and competition.

My time as a Freestyle paddler has been a long (spanning almost ten years) and enlightening experience, however sometimes goals and focuses change. When I started, I wanted and believed I could be the world’s best freestyle paddler. As time went on, I was training more often in a slalom boat than in my freestyle boat. I feel deeper and deeper in love with the challenge and split second difficulty that is slalom kayaking. I’ve trained hard this last couple of years to make National Team selections, and as I’ve progressed the demands have increased, I now feel to allow my full potential to be explored that I needed to choose between these two amazing disciplines. I decided to take a step back from competitive freestyle to allow more time to train and compete in Slalom, even though I have undoubtedly had much more success in freestyle. I have been a member of the Swedish National Slalom Team since 2016, and have won a handful of local slalom races and the Segre Cup in the Junior class in 2014. Although my slalom results may not match my aspirations, I hope the amount of work I am putting in my training sessions will pay off in the future.

The mental skills I’ve developed as a freestyle competitor have now been transferred to Slalom, and after discussions with Dennis I plan to continue on the ASP programme to support these aspirations.

Everything that Dennis does and continues to do for all the athletes he works with is absolutely amazing, the amount of dedication he has to the sport and its progression, is inspiring.

Photos by Jack Gunter and Joscha Kriegel