Dragon Boating is a Team sport… I love it!

Dragon Boating is a Team sport…  I love it!


I have
coached dragon boat teams since 1994.  The
Gung Haggis Fat Choy Dragon Boat team originally began 10 years ago as the Celebration
dragon boat team – before changing names in 2002 to reflect the Gung Haggis Fat
Choy fundraiser dinner, and embrace the Scottish-Chinese-Canadian
intercultural theme as an extension of the multicultural theme adopted by so many different dragon boat festivals.

the years, I have coached both community and corporate teams. 
Corporate teams for companies such as Electronic Arts (1998, 1999),
Unipharm (1997), Motorola (2001), E-One Moli Energy (1999-2001), GVRD (2003) and
Fiesta West (1994).  This year I am coaching the UA Power Dragons
which one half are employees of Unipharm, some of whom remember the
silver medal they won in 1999 in the Novice B division at Alcan Dragon
Boat Festival.  The other half are employees from Adecco.

The following is an expanded article about “Team Aspects” that I had sent to the team.

The “team aspect” is incredible. 

You can do so many more things at a higher level than as an
individual.  A team of 20 paddlers can pull a water skier.  But you
can't do that by yourself.  It's fun to bounce ideas off each other,
and develop both support for each other as well as friendly competition.

But it is also important that everybody is on the
same page.  If teams can develop a “team culture” and “team philosophy”
– then this helps the team go farther.  It is important for a
recreational team to develop a sense of inclusiveness, and for captains
and other group leaders to make sure everybody is feeling included and
making a contributtion, AND having fun.

At the first dragon boat coaching conference in Vancouver, organized by
Alan Carlsson of the False Creek Racing Canoe Club, I led the workshop
about “History, Sociology and Team Tribalism about dragon boats.” It
was a fun workshop that went over how modern dragon boat racing spread
throughout the world from Hong Kong, to the rest of the world – largely
because the Hong Kong Tourism Bureau gave gifts of dragon boats to
other cities, such as Vancouver for Expo 86. 

In the workshop, I also talked about what I call “Team tribalism,” about how dragon boat teams are
really like individual tribes.  They develop their own culture,
personality, goals and philosophy.  They often see other teams as
competing tribes.  They look to see what other teams are doing to
go faster, fundraise or recruit.  It's like if one team has fire,
other teams want fire.  They might eventually get fire, but that
doesn't mean they know how to use it.  Teams that spy on each
other do not necessarily know how to use the information.  When
teams are able to work together, they are able to build a society.

For many beginning teams with new paddlers, there is a big learning
curve.  Ideally it is important to bring a “team elder” who can
pass on knowledge to the new paddlers and help develop the team
culture.  An experienced coach is ideal.  A coach can share
stories about what other teams have learned while teaching a new team
the skills necessary to both paddle well, and to work together.

We like to say that a dragon boat
team will only go as fast as the slowest person allows us to.  So it's
important that we encourage everybody to improve.  For some first-time
paddlers, they may feel un-athletic, and not contributing to the team's
performance.  They may feel like dead weight on the boat, because they
are not paddling in time.  In my experience, it takes sometimes 6 or 7
practices before the timing really kicks in.  Some people get it right
off the bat – some don't.  But almost everybody gets the sense of the
fun of paddling, and hanging out with a great group of people.

So…. if you are feeling
like you are slowing the team down because you are uncoordinated or
weak.  Don't worry.  We will help support your learning curve.  Timing
and strength will come.  The important thing is that you are making new
friends, learning new skills, and having a great time.

It's been interesting that many strong males who do body building, or
are strong atheletes sometimes have the most challenging time learning
to paddle as a team.  They are used to performing individual tasks
that require strength.  With a paddle in their hands, they often
try to paddle as hard as they can with their head down and their eyes
on the paddle.  Their stroke is strong and long.  In an
individual boat, they would probably go faster than their team
mates.  But in a dragon boat, they are often out of time, paddling
out of synch or paddling with too long a stroke, causing the boat to

It takes time to learn to paddle together.  It takes time to match
the entries, stroke lengths and rates of 20 paddlers together, until
they paddle as if they are one blade entering the water together. 
But that is what it takes: Patience and sensitivity to those in the
boat with you.  We train all the paddlers to watch the timing of
the two lead paddlers sitting in seat one.  We train them not to
rely on their ears, but on their eyes.  The drummer gives them
both visual and voice cues to correct mistakes or to lead them to
better performance.

Every paddler is important.  Every paddler must paddle in time
together.  If a paddler misses a stroke or two, the opportunity is
lost for the boat to be strong in that moment.  A race stretching
anywhere from 2 to 3 minutes is a series of aproximately 120 to 200
paddle strokes.

the breast cancer survivors age 50+ are getting into dragon boat racing
now.  One of the things that they discovered is that the dragon
boat team experience mirrored many aspects of cancer social support
groups.  Over my years as a cancer survivor I attended different
social support groups and studied it as part of both health and sport
psychology.  Social support is a big part of being a team. 
It helps individuals go through the tough times, and feel that they are
not alone, as well as encouraging individuals to do their best. 
Breast cancer dragon boat teams are now going to the National and World
Championships.  If they can do
it.  We can do it.

See below
for and article and picture that ran in a Portland Newspaper.  Suzi
Clouthier is a friend of mine that paddles on the Wasabi Women Team
Huge team
.  She has medaled at World Championships and comes up to
Alcan every year.. 

picture below looks like men's teams.  The team closest looks great! 
Look at their rotation and straight outside arm. Perfect!  Great
deltoid, tricep and latissimus dorsi muscles!

team in the middle is finishing their exit.  Men's teams go really
fast, so that is why their paddles are so far back for their exit.

team in the back is out of time.  They are a boat length behind the
other teams, and probably panicking.  This is the moment the timing of
the team breaks down, and they start to paddle as individuals instead
of working together. Seat 3's head is down, and is already starting the
stroke before Seat 1 has finished recovery/reach and started the entry.

Smooth as silk, fierce as dragons

The U.S. Dragon Boat Racing Championship in Tampa fuses athleticism and teamwork with
moments of Zen.

By STEPHANIE HAYES, Times Staff Writer
Published August 27, 2006

[Times photo: Chris Zuppa]
Teams from around the country compete in the 2006 USBF U.S. National
Dragon Boat Racing Championship in Garrison Channel.

TAMPA – For Suzi Cloutier, it's about the perfect “Zen moment” when the paddlers are exactly in time with the beat of the drum.

For Janet Jastremski, it's about forming bonds with other breast cancer survivors, and coming to terms with
her diagnosis.

dragon boat racing. And, okay, technically it's about commemorating the
death of the Chinese poet Qu Yuan. Legend says he thumbed his nose at a
corrupt government 2,000 years ago by jumping into the Milou River.
Fishermen paddled to try and save him and beat drums to ward off hungry
The dragon boats invaded Tampa this weekend for
the 2006 U.S. Dragon Boat Racing Championship, which will determine
national champions. Members of Team USA will compete in the 2007 world
championships in Sydney, Australia.

Team categories include
youth teams, age 50 and older and breast cancer support groups, to name
a few. Jastremski, 58, came to Tampa from Philadelphia to compete with
Hope Afloat, her team of 60 breast cancer survivors.

The team seemed like an athletic way for Jastremski to join a support group. She never imagined the hard work involved.

“I'm going to be out there with these middle-aged
ladies and we're going to be paddling around,” she said she thought. “I got the shock of my life.”

steerer and 18 to 20 paddlers are on board during a race. A drummer
beats a rhythm for the paddlers, who race for speed with other boats.
Most dragon boats are at least 40 feet long and 700 pounds, and, well,
look like dragons.

“It's 22 people doing the exact same
thing at the exact same time with a lot of power,” said 38-year-old
Cloutier, who came from Portland, Ore., with the Wasabi Women team.

Cloutier and friends posed for pictures in front of a giant steel
dragon sculpture in Cotanchobee Park, between Garrison Channel and the
St. Pete Times Forum. They planned to watch races Saturday and get back
on board to compete Sunday.

“When you're on the boat, you don't get the perspective of what it looks like,” said Wasabi teammate Kristin Anderson, 30.

Dan Smith, a 38-year-old from Harbour Island, watched the
races and talked to some teams about joining up in time for next year's championship.

“It caught my attention,” he said. “I love the fluid, in-sync energy of it.”
To hear Jastremski tell it, it's even better on the water.

you're all working together and if you're all in sync, the boat will
lift up and glide across the water,” she said. “It's exciting.”

races continue today from 6:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. There is a dragon boat
trade show from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Cotanchobee Park, 601 St. Pete
Times Forum Drive. The event is free for spectators. Visit

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