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All I Really Need to Know I Learned in a Dragon Boat March 24, 2013

Posted by starshipexercise in Dragon Boat, General Exercise, Uncategorized.
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As any dragon boat paddler will tell you, dragon boat racing is the ultimate team sport. We count on each other to show up and give 100%, both physically and mentally. The mental part of our sport is just as important as the physical part. If you get your head straight on the boat, chances are you’ll have your head straight in life, too.

Focus in the Boat

Some dragon boat races are bigger than others. At the biggest festivals, there can be as many as 8 or 9 dragon boats lining up at the start. There are tillers and callers on all the other boats, and they will be loud, and maybe wearing funny hats. There may be drunken morons nearby doing donuts in speed boats, and there will likely be race officials shouting nonsense at your tiller through a megaphone.

Whatever you do, don’t be distracted by the spectacle going on around you. You’re there to race. You don’t want to be like the dog in Up (Squirrel!). You want to be more like the seagulls in Finding Nemo, and the finish line is “Mine!”

Life Lesson: There are a billion idiots with megaphones out there. Stay focused on what matters.

Race Our Race

We say this a lot at races. There are likely a lot of boats that will be faster than us. But there’s no point in comparing ourselves to the other boats. If we’re looking up to see where the other boats are, we lose timing and cohesion on our boat. All that does is slow us down.

Off the water, I rarely compare myself to others.  Sure, most people are faster, prettier, skinnier and smarter than me, but comparing myself to them certainly won’t make me any faster, prettier, skinnier or smarter…or happier.

Life Lesson:  If you’re busy comparing yourself to others, you’re just slowing yourself down and missing out on your own potential.

Heavy Water

You can paddle at a thousand and crazy percent, but if you’re not pulling heavy water, you’re not contributing any power to the boat. The farther back you sit in the boat, the harder it is to pull heavy water. By bench 10, the water is literally rushing past you. It’s altogether too easy to just let inertia take over, and dip your paddle in at the same time as everyone else. But what are you contributing?

Braking power.

To pull heavy water on the dragon boat, you have to very mindfully flex your core and intentionally create resistance between your foot and the blade (there just happens to be a boat and some water in between your foot and the blade). Make every nano-movement count to maximize the amount of water on your blade. You have to get that blade fully buried in the water BEFORE you pull back, and you have to do it all very quickly, and in time with the rest of the boat. That’s very hard to do. But you have to try.

To pull heavy water in life, you have to find those places where you feel resistance, and make a decision to channel that resistance into something constructive. Also very hard to do. But, you have to try.

Life Lesson: Don’t sit on a doily and lily-dip through life. Contribute something worthwhile, even if it’s hard.

Leave it on the Water

This is what we say when we want to make sure no one is going to save any energy for later. Every drop of power should be used up in every stroke. You should feel like jelly, physically exhausted, when you get off the boat. This is especially important in practices. Unless you’re giving 100% at practices, how will you know what you’re truly capable of in a race?

Unless you continually challenge yourself, how will you know what you’re capable of in life?

Life Lesson:  Being a bad ass takes practice. Don’t save up your best effort for later.

Watch Your Leads (or, Eyes Up for Timing)

Dragon Boat racing is a team sport. Timing is the most important factor in team performance. If everyone is entering the water at different times, we’re just slowing each other down. Want to go fast? Paddle in time! Want to paddle in time? Watch your leads!

The lead strokes sit in bench one, and they set the rate for the rest of the boat. But it’s not about the leads being large and in charge, and everyone meekly following along. The caller, bench one, and bench two are in constant communication. If the leads are out of sync, we call each other on it. If bench two is fast or slow, we let them know. The caller watches us, and we watch the caller. If things are getting out of hand, someone will yell “Watch the rate!” And we constantly ask for feedback from the entire team. Too fast? Too slow? We seem to have better results when we work together to figure out the optimal race rate for our whole boat.

You get better results when you collaborate with others. Pay attention. Listen to people. Put their needs ahead of your own, sometimes.

Life Lesson: Don’t be a self-absorbed asshole.

It’s a Water Sport

Inevitably, we get wet. Sometimes someone will launch a typhoon at the person in front of them, and flood their butt crack with cold lake water. There’s always laughter, and the one who splashed will say “Sorry!” The appropriate response here: “It’s a water sport.”

We knew we were signing up for a water sport when we got in the boat. You can’t set yourself up to get wet and then complain when you get wet. It’s a water sport. We get wet. Duh.

Life Lesson: Take responsibility for the consequences of your choices. Duh.

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