Trust, Teamwork, and Leadership Canoe Games

Carrying a Canoe to the Water
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It is quite common when working with youth to instill in them values and life lessons through the use of activities and games. Ropes courses are a prime example of where this happens. But not everyone has access or the resources to book a ropes course. There is an option that is much more accessible but not often thought of and that is canoeing. When coordinated properly, canoeing provides a variety of games for youth to participate in while learning life lessons.  Here is a series of canoeing activities that teach trust, teamwork, and leadership skills to youth in middle and high school.

What You'll Need

You will need the following equipment for this activity:

  • Canoes – 3 People per canoe
  • Paddles – 2 Paddles per canoe
  • PFDs – 1 Life Jacket per person
  • Blindfolds – 1 per person

Progression of Activities

  1. Break students up into groups of three. There will be a front paddler, a back paddler, and someone sitting in the middle. Each person can rotate through the positions so that everyone gets a chance to try each role.
  2. Before anyone gets into their canoes, give some basic instructions about how to paddle a canoe and safety rules. At this point, help the students get into their canoes.
  3. Let the kids paddle around. For many students, this will be their first paddling experience. Let them paddle out for a little while. Fifteen minutes should be enough. Tell them to come back to shore when they hear a whistle and see you waving a colored towel or bandana.

Canoe Games

First Game: Standard Race

Have Students paddle out and around a spotter boat or buoy or to the shore across the water and then back again. Time the event. The point is to get them used to working as a team toward a common goal.

Second Game: Blindfolded Person in Bow

For this youth canoeing game, have the student in the front will be blindfolded. The student in the back cannot speak. The student in the middle is the navigator giving instructions to the canoeists. They should paddle out and back again. Be sure to observe the kids interactions within each canoe for teamwork, communication, and trust themes.

Third Game: Blindfolded Person in Stern

Have the people in the boat switch positions such that the person in the middle is now paddling. For this game, the person in the front can see but cannot speak and the person in the back must be blindfolded.  The student in the middle is the navigator giving instructions to the canoeists. They should paddle out and back again. Continue to observe for teachable moments in the youth interactions. 

Fourth Game: Both Paddlers Are Blindfolded With No Planning

This is by far the most difficult of the activities. Both paddlers must be blindfolded. The person in the center is the navigator and must give directions to the paddlers. Everyone in the canoe can speak. For this activity simply give the instruction to be blindfold the paddlers and then say go, not leaving much time for deliberation. This youth canoe activity is especially helpful in illustrating the themes of trust, teamwork, communication, and distraction.

Fifth Game: Both Paddlers Are Blindfolded With Planning

Repeat the above game but allow the teams in each canoe to discuss a plan of how they will communicate and to even reposition who is in each seat if they want.

Sixth Game: Switch Seats

Tell them to switch seats so that everyone has had the chance to be blindfolded and paddle and everyone has been a navigator. Repeat the fifth game.

Ending the Activities

Once the games have concluded, it's time for a free paddle. Give the students time to simply enjoy paddling without the stress or competition. 

Once done paddling, debrief the youth canoe activities. Have the students dry off if they are cold then sit somewhere in a circle and have a discussion about the activities to flesh out the lessons they should have learned. Certain themes should come to the surface, namely teamwork, trust, communication, and distraction.