This article first appeared on paddlechica.com.
Dragon boating is a bit like a a cult. A good one, but nonetheless it is cult-like. And because of that, there are some truths that just aren’t spoken about enough. When I was brand-new to the sport, I wish someone had told me all of this. Not that it all would have sunk in at the time, but at least I would have been forewarned about this crazy, wonderful, painful, exhilarating, addictive sport of ours.
1. Your butt will never be the same. Ever.
Face it, from your first day on the boat your posterior has been rubbed raw, blistered, or calloused beyond recognition. No one wants to talk about it, but everyone experiences some level of rear end discomfort while they are figuring out the stroke technique. If it’s not the skin that is being irritated, it’s the “sit bones” that are just plain sore. I even wrote a blog post about it. It’s real.
2. Your obsession with perfection is often what stands in your way of improving.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t focus on technique or concentrate on things that need work, but obsessing over them and putting all your focus on your weaknesses will never be a step towards improvement. I’m still working on learning this lesson.
3. Mental toughness can be more valuable than giant muscles.
I’ve seen big strong people wilt after 200 meters and I’ve seen small, scrappy people persist through the longest of pieces. That’s not to say that you shouldn’t build your muscles, but don’t neglect the mental aspect of your training. Your mind will want to quit far sooner than your body. Don’t let it.
4. Your actions speak louder than your words, (so hold yourself accountable to those off-the-boat workouts the coach assigns).
If your team is competitive, or hopes to be soon, it’s up to you to improve off the boat as well. The team gets stronger when each member puts in his or her work. If you’re not holding up to your end of the bargain, you are letting your team down, and just talking about doing the workouts certainly doesn’t count.
5. Everyone else on the boat is hurting, too. You’re not special.
I know it’s easy to focus on your own pain and suffering, but keep in mind that the entire boat is hurting as well (I’m not talking about injury pain, just good old-fashioned muscle soreness). Don’t maximize your suffering while assuming everyone else is fine and dandy. Moving a boat is a collective effort full of collective pain. Suck it up.
6. You will be sore, but it will be worth it.
Soreness goes with the territory. Each time you train you will be sore afterwards. Accept that as fact and enjoy the benefits that come from your growing strength. It is worth every ounce of soreness you feel.
7. Talent means nothing without consistent effort and practice.
You can be the best paddler on your team, but if you don’t put in the time and energy to improve, you will quickly be passed up by your teammates. Not to mention what kind of an example you are setting for others on your team. Do you want a team full of slackers? Or do you want a team full of people pushing harder to be their very best?
8. Inspiring others to be better is crucial to a solid team culture.
Be the one on your team who motivates your teammates in a positive way. As each member improves, the team gets stronger. In the long run it benefits everyone.
9. Your ambition is useless without execution
Many people have aspirations of being a better paddler, perhaps even on the national team. But unless you are prepared to put in the countless hours of training, you won’t even come close to your goal. Have a plan to achieve your dream, then make sure to follow through.
10. First place is nice, but you are walking around with a target on your back.
Success can be temporary and fleeting, so keep pushing your limits. When you think you are at the top of your game, look behind you. Someone is always ready and willing to take your spot if you don’t keep pushing.
11. Training is like homework – it’s better to keep up with the daily work than to try to cram at the final hour.
Building muscles, building endurance, building technique, it all takes time and evolves over a period of time. Don’t expect to work really hard right before a race or team testing and think that you’re going to do well. Put in the time and effort from day one to develop properly.
12. What happens doesn’t matter as much as your reaction to what happens.
You win some, you lose some. It’s life. How do you react to your successes and disappointments? Bragging about winning or making excuses for losing…neither is an appropriate reaction. Be humble when you win. Be complimentary to those who beat you when you don’t come out on top. It all boils down to good sportsmanship. In 20 years it is likely that no one will remember who won the race, but people will certainly remember someone with poor sportsmanship.
13. There is no “I” in team.
Well…there is, but…