Along with several fellow teachers and students from EF International, I have joined a dragon boat racing competition, hosted by Saint Martin’s College in Lacey.
(Don’t know what I’m talking about or need a visual? Link: Dragon Boat Images)
We are very much a “rag-tag bunch” of participants, all ages and sizes (and English-speaking abilities). I don’t think we have any illusions of winning, for the most part, but probably staying afloat and moving in the right direction would be signs of victory.
The event isn’t until the 28th, though we had our first practice this past weekend. It was…interesting. A lot of things struck me. I’m not sure how much of the following is actually about dragon boat racing, and how much of it is not about dragon boat racing.
- You must keep your eyes on the lead rowers. If you takes your eyes off of the lead rowers, you, and the team will falter. It’s tempting to look at the water, to focus on your own paddling. You must stay focused on the lead rower.
- Success is about harmony. If one person gets out of sync, out of rhythm, there can be a ripple (no pun intended) effect that causes other team members to become out of sync, threatening the success of the team.
- If one person is out of sync, you can’t began to mimic their rowing, their actions, because then you too will contribute to the problem. You cannot be dragged down by those around you, but must remain focused on the leader.
- It’s not about strength. When padding, if individuals are exerting too much force, not only might they get hurt, but it can ruin the group performance. The goal is togetherness, not individual performance. The group’s success depends not on might but on focus, on feeling the rhythm of the team.
- Not only does the poor performance of an individual—usually meaning someone who is out of sync—affect the team as a unit; it can harm individuals too. I got whacked a couple times in the elbow by the paddler behind me. It may have been his fault, or it may have been mine. Being out of harmony can bring harm to yourself, and harm to others.
- It’s tempting to blame others when you are at fault. Many were quick to point the finger at others when problems arose, convinced they were not themselves in error. In the moment, that can be instinctive—to protect your image, the perception others have of you, and pass blame on to others. Sometimes you just don’t realize it was your fault, in which case—humility and openness to criticism and guidance is important.
- There are many rules and commands given—but they are not without meaning. The caller/captain/head honcho shouts orders—boat-speak—that must be exactly followed. It’s not a lenient, free-for-all type of atmosphere, where we’re told, “okay, just start going now guys, however you feel like that should happen.” Commands are to be met with precision, not just for their own sake, but for the safety of the group and success in the race. In fact, these commands and our responses are rehearsed and rehearsed. Because, getting somewhere close to perfection does not just give us a good chance to win, but also makes the experience more satisfying. And, as I said, it is an issue of safety. Rules, order—these things are imperative to success, to a positive experience.
- Our commander is intense, shouting, calling you out if you’re in the wrong. There is no place for egos, for defensiveness, for insecurity. You must respond with humility and obedience, knowing this is not about you, it’s not personal—it’s about the guide trying to form you into the best “rower” you can be. And it’s not even totally about you, as if you were the centerpiece of the team. You are a part of a team, and your identity is wrapped up with others. It’s a communal, not an individual activity—though the individual is of immense importance.
- Laughter is important. Being able to laugh at ourselves, to laugh at others, and to receive the laughter of others at our own foibles in the boat (paddling mistakes, balance mistakes, missing commands, et al) is important. It does not mean not taking everything seriously, as if the commands weren’t meant to be followed. It just means…not taking things too seriously.
Such is dragon boat race training. Among other things.