Choosing the Dragon Boat Team That’s Right For You

Teams vary from highly competitive at one end of the spectrum to all-inclusive at the other end, with everything in between. Finding the right team for you is often a difficult process. Some paddlers find themselves wanting more of a competitive challenge, yet the club they belong to has more of a social focus. Other paddlers want to be on the race crew more often, yet their skill set isn’t developed enough and so they find themselves as a “spare” quite frequently. Some paddlers truly believe that they want to be on a more competitive team, yet aren’t quite willing to put in the time and effort required to be on such a team. Still others are frustrated with the lack of focus or motivation of their team, yet are unwilling to even inquire about a more competitive team.

Sure, it can be difficult to change teams, especially when you have created a bond and friendships with the paddlers on your team, but it is important to find the right team for yourself. In order to discover your ideal team, a brutal level of honesty and self-reflection is required. Below are seven important criteria to consider. Be truthful and impartial when contemplating each topic and you will get a solid idea of which type of team is really the best for you.

German Dragon Boat team

Neckardrachen team in southern Germany. Photo: Holger Visser

1. Goals

What are your goals in participating on a dragon boat team? To broaden your social circle? To learn a new skill? To meet your life partner? To lose weight? To increase your physical strength? To satisfy your competitive spirit? To collect medals? To travel internationally while competing? To be active? All of the above?

Considering your goals will help you choose a team that best suits you. If you are a highly competitive person and yet you are on a team that is more focused on social activities, perhaps it is time to re-think your choice of teams.

2. Time

How much time are you willing to devote to the sport? This includes not just a few practices per week, but also things like races (both local and out-of-town), training camps, and individual gym training time. Those on a more competitive team will be required to devote much more time to the team than those who are on a more recreational team.

A highly competitive team will likely require at least three on-water sessions, as well as gym sessions four to five times per week, plus training camps and extensive racing, perhaps even internationally. A recreational team, on the other hand, might practice once or twice weekly on the water during the paddling season and not require anything further.

In terms of hours spent, the time commitment per week on a more recreational team might be as low as 2-3 hours. On a competitive team, the time commitment might be closer to 10-15 hours per week, or even more. When you add in weekend regattas or even week-long training camps, the time spent with your team is increased even further.

3. Family Support

Is your family or social community supportive of your choices? Are these choices realistic for you within the context of the other activities or responsibilities in your life? Sure, we can all tell stories of the super-mom who does it all: she works full-time, has just delivered a baby, gets right back on the boat and helps her team win a National Championship. But is that realistic for most of us?

Being on a highly competitive team often means being a bit selfish. It means prioritizing paddling over family and friends, so things like family dinners, social gatherings or even friends’ birthdays take a backseat to training and races. Will your family or circle of friends be understanding of this?

Puff Dragon Boat Team in Miami, Florida, United States. Photo: Aixa Ramos

4. Budget

How much of your budget are you willing to devote to dragon boating? Aside from team membership dues, it is important to consider things like gym membership, gas expenses driving to and from practices and races, flights and hotel expenses for out-of-town training camps and races, team uniforms, gear such as paddles, PFDs, cold weather clothing, etc.

A more recreational team will typically have lower membership fees and require much less in terms of a financial commitment due to less practices per week, fewer expectations of gym training, and will likely compete in only a few regattas over the course of a season.

5. Team Involvement

What level of participation are you prepared to accept? Are you satisfied training with a highly competitive team, but perhaps not competing on the race crew? Are you content to be a spare in the majority of races in order to remain part of the team? Would you feel slighted if very strong paddlers who don’t regularly train with the team (so-called ringers) were brought in to paddle for races, while you are required to sit out?

Or would you prefer paddling in every race, whether or not your team wins? Are you OK with participating in smaller races for fun? Would you rather be on a team that makes a point to include every paddler on the race crew no matter if they have attended practices or not?

Outer Harbour Women

Outer Harbour Premier and Senior Women in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Photo: Ed Nguyen

6. Testing

Are you comfortable testing in front of your teammates? Most competitive teams have some component of testing involved in their program, whether on a paddle erg, an outrigger canoe (1- or 2-man), or fitness testing such as a weight test or cardio test. Testing is not designed to be a punishment. I like to think of it as a way to show how all my hard work has paid off (or a way to to find out where I need to work harder).

If you are not comfortable testing in front of your teammates, perhaps a more all-inclusive team that does not require testing would be a better choice for you. Most teams that are more recreational do not have testing procedures in place because all members are part of the race crew, no matter their ability.

7. Team Commitment

How committed are you to your team? Are you willing to practice in the freezing cold? In the rain? In the excessive heat? Or are you more of a “fair weather” paddler? Will you go to bed early in order to be ready for a training session in the morning? Or are you likely to skip an early morning weekend practice because you had a late night of partying the night before?

A competitive team obviously requires much more in terms of commitment than a recreational team. If you aren’t ready to devote a large part of your life to dragon boating, a recreational team might be a better choice for you.

Now that you’ve read through all seven criteria, take some time to consider whether you are better suited to a more competitive team or one that is more recreational. Evaluating yourself honestly on these seven points will help you determine where you will best fit on the broad spectrum of teams.

Thank you to Kim for the suggestion of this blog post. Have an idea for a future post? Contact me to let me know!

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