Several years ago, when I was paddling with a different dragon boat team my coach forgot to put me in the line up for festival. Instead she had a guest paddler. The moment someone pointed out the oversight she put me into the line up, in the bench the guest paddler had been sitting in. This had a pretty significant impact on my attitude that weekend. I had been forgotten, intentionally or not, so I felt like an outsider to the team. And I was sitting in a bench that had been designated for someone else. It wasn’t where I normally sat. My reaction was both a disconnection from the team and a desire to prove that I, individually, had a lot of power, which in essence further disconnected me from the team.
The thing is that the team in dragon boating has to rule above everything else. If you take 20 world class paddlers and put them in a boat together, if they can’t figure out how to work together, they won’t be able to put in a top time. This is one of the challenges of creating national and all star teams in any sport. You have to get people who make up a team, instead of just being good individuals.
So how does this affect making a dragon boat line up? Paddlers need to feel comfortable in the bench, physically and mentally. Some of this goes back to the last post about the physical considerations like the sizes of different benches. But there are a lot of other considerations built into it as well. Do you feel like you can contribute in that bench? If you always paddle in the front and then you are put into the back at festival, or vice versa, you may be concerned that you won’t be able to deal with the differences in the water – at the back of the boat the water is travelling much faster than at the front because every person in front of you has contributed to speeding that water up. If you are put onto your off side you may be concerned that you aren’t as strong as you could be. If you are paddling behind or in front of someone you aren’t used to it can be difficult to fit your stroke into that position, or you fit but you are thinking so hard about it that you aren’t giving as much power as you normally do.
Another race on an old team that didn’t go well sticks out in my brain. One individual in the boat yelled through the entire race, telling someone they were out of time. There were many issues with this. His calls weren’t in time with the stroke, which messed some people up. No one knew who he was talking to so everyone became quite tentative in their stroke. And we couldn’t hear the calls of our drummer and steersperson. He was confident that he was correct and someone else was out of time, but who in the end had more impact on the quality of the race that we put together?
One last component is what do you do when you have enough people that you need to sit someone every race? We had this privilege and challenge at this past festival. It was so nice to know we had back up but it sure made it more work to make the line ups. Different teams have different strategies. Some teams will sit the same person repeatedly because they aren’t considered to be as strong as the others. Some teams might sit someone because of weight. We went primarily on attendance. So individuals who started late into the season or missed a lot of practices were the ones who would sit. This made each line up very challenging as the weight changed significantly depending on who was sitting out. But the other aspect of this is how do you sit someone, and what do they do when they don’t get to paddle.
This is where I have to give super props to the team. The three people who sat through the weekend (the fourth person sat because they were at work so it was a different scenario) all stayed as part of the team: they participated in the warm ups, hung around at marshalling until we went down to the boat, cheered us on as we raced, congratulated us on our way off the water, and provided feedback where they could so that we could improve. Not one of them appeared to react negatively when they found out they were sitting, they all took it in stride. To me, that says something about our team, which is known for paddling hard and having fun. Whether you were on the water or not, every single person is a necessary part of our team.
I also have to point out our steersperson. Can I just say that I think the definition of team player should be changed to “a person who is willing to wear a speed skating skin suit while dragon boating”.