4 Ingredients of a Persistent Dragon Boater
A few weeks ago, I steered a race for my Florida-based team. It was a beautiful race venue, but that particular weekend there were several conditions which proved to make the steering challenging; the ever-changing winds, the tippy 10-man boats, and strong currents all played a factor in making the races more interesting, especially from a steer’s perspective. No one was immune to these elements and yes, there were a few incidents throughout the weekend. Steering mishaps during a race are indeed a steer’s worst nightmare.
What inspired me to write this blog post was one steer in particular who had obvious persistence. Despite a few mishaps, she got right back up and steered again, race after race. Her boat even flipped over when another boat veered off course and hit them and yet she still persisted. Her tenacity really impressed me.
It’s not easy to get back up there and steer a boat after any kind of problem. You feel pressure from your crew, the other steers, and even the officials, which is all in addition to the pressure you are already putting on yourself. It’s enough to make anyone want to quit. Those steers who push themselves past any obstacles are sure to come out stronger on the other side, yet getting past the incident is the hardest part.
Many people give up after a few attempts at steering, particularly if things don’t go well, and especially if something happens during a race. Losing control of a boat is a terrifying and nerve-racking feeling. But if you quit at that point, those bad experiences are what will stick in your head.
It may have been years ago, but I will never forget the second race I ever steered. The race course wasn’t overly clear and I was having a difficult time seeing my lane markers for lane one. I was looking down the wrong lane and thought I needed to head a bit to the right, but then I realized that wasn’t the case. In an attempt to correct the mistake, I oversteered (as is typical of newer steers) and I ended up veering WAY out of my lane and off the course. Thankfully I somehow regained control and we made it down the course in our lane. I got off the boat and apologized to my team, especially rows 9 and 10 who heard me cursing like a sailor while I tried to get the boat back on course.
I didn’t want to steer another race after that incident. Shaken and embarrassed, my steering confidence had dropped to an all-time low. To make matters worse, there were 5 or 6 guys on the crew who were experienced steers; we had decided to use their power on the boat as paddlers instead of using their steering talent. I felt ridiculously ashamed of my mistake and wanted to hand the steering off to one of the more capable guys on the boat. Thankfully, they were all wonderfully supportive and encouraged me to persevere.
If you stop and think about it, so many aspects of life can relate to steering. Pushing past the tough times is what has the potential to make us even more successful in our endeavors.
And persistence doesn’t just exist for steers. It is clearly evident in paddlers as well. It’s certainly easy to give up when you don’t make your team’s race boat, when you aren’t the fastest on a time trial, when you don’t do well on a fitness test, or even when all those body parts start aching from a hard training session or a race. As a paddler, how do you react to any setbacks or discomfort? When you have a rough day at training, do you give up and convince yourself that you will never get it? Or do you show up at the next session focused and eager to attack the issues you previously experienced? Do you give up easily because you can’t handle a little pain (I’m not referring to actual injury, but rather the pain of pushing yourself to new limits)? Or do you embrace the physical pain with the mindset that it is a sign of growing stronger and is only temporary? Do you let your mind wander and forget why you are training? Or are you mindful of your objectives in order to keep yourself relentless?
A few weeks ago I wrote about motivation, but it is important to recognize that motivation and persistence are two very different things. Motivation is the drive to pursue an outcome, while persistence is the capacity to continue even when the desired outcome isn’t immediately attainable.
How is it that some people are able to handle adversity so well while others in the same situation might give up? Persistence is essential to our success as athletes. Four main elements are the key to persistence in our sport:
1) Having a goal in mind and understanding the path to achieve that goal.
Knowing what the end result could or should be helps us to see the course that needs to be taken. When athletes know where they want to be and recognize what they need to improve to get there, they are more likely to persevere. Anyone can set goals. It’s easy for a paddler or steer to say they want to be on their country’s national team, for example. But the awareness of what needs to be done to get yourself to that goal is what will sustain the determination.
The ability to bounce back after any kind of setback helps us to get back on course towards our goals. Athletes who are flexible enough to modify their course given a current situation or circumstance will be far more successful in their tenacity than those who are rigid in their approach. Imagine a newer steer who has only practiced held-tail starts, for example, but upon arriving at the race course, he or she discovers that the race organizers have planned to use nose-cups at the start line, as they use at Worlds. How that steer approaches this minor setback is a good indicator of his or her resilience.
3) Having ambition for excellence while being mindful of the difference between excellence and perfection.
Striving for perfection often sets the bar so high that one gets discouraged in attempting to achieve it. Striving for excellence, on the other hand, is recognizing one’s own personal levels of accomplishment. I recognize that I will likely never have a perfect stroke, but I can certainly work on adapting and developing an excellent stroke for my own size, body type, strength, and endurance level.
4) The ability to learn from past mistakes.
Learning from our mistakes or failures helps keep us on the right course. “The sign of a great athlete is that they have a high tolerance for failure . . . and they learn to view failure as feedback,” Alan Goldberg, a sports psychology consultant based in Amherst, Massachusetts says. “It provides valuable information on what they did wrong and what they need to correct.” Unless you plan to be perfect in everything you do, accept that mistakes are part of the learning process and appreciate the lessons they bring.
So, the next time you are dealing with adversity of any kind whether as a paddler, a steer, a coach, a drummer, a captain, or any other role on the team, keep these four elements in mind and remember the story of the tenacious steer who never gave up.