Every Seat Counts: The Importance of Your Position in a Dragon Boat

Admit it, at times you have wondered how in the heck your coach created the latest boat layout. You wonder what put you in that particular seat. Good question! A good coach takes many things into consideration when creating the lineup. It isn’t just about boat balance.

When setting the distribution in a boat, a coach must account for the combination of all four strengths mentioned in a previous blog: physical, mental, attitudinal, and behavioral. A powerful (physically strong) paddler with low attitudinal strength (highly negative) must be balanced, even if it means by a paddler with weaker bodily strength but a soaring attitude.

NEVER question why a teammate is in a boat… their strength is needed for that boat at that time.

Different strengths are needed in the five parts of a boat. The ideal distribution of paddler will include quads that have a member with each strength in spades. A “peppy” front quad with high attitudinal strength can be supported by a “brute strength,”  physically strong, front-middle, a “laser focus” mentally strong middle-middle, a “peppy” middle-back, and an attitudinally strong back-back.

Position/ Strength Front-front
(Seats 1-2)
(Seats 3-4)
(Seats 5-6)
(Seats 7-8)
(Seats 9-10)
Physical Average to Above average Above average Exceptional Above average Average to Above average
Mental Above average Above average to exceptional Above average Exceptional Exceptional
Attitudinal Above Average Exceptional Above average Above average Exceptional
Behavioral Above average Average Above average Above average Average
Position/ Trait Front-front Front-middle Middle-middle Middle-back Back-back
Height Below-average to average Average Above average Above average to average Below average to average
Weight Light to Middling Middling to heavy Heaviest Middling to heavy Light to middling
Strength-to -weight ratio Above average to average Above average Exceptional Exceptional to above average Average to above average
Exceptions Seats 1 may need exceptional strength to maintain control of boat pace Seats 10 will need above average strength to assist the steersman, when necessary
Position/ Strength Front-front Front-middle Middle-middle Middle-back Back-back
Physical This quad must be able to start the motion of the boat to move forward by “pulling.” Example: pole vaulters This quad must be able to add might to the pull led by the front-front. Example: spring loaded action This quad must be able to both pull and push the boat forward, if the boat is moving forward well, they push, if it is sluggish at front, they compensate the pull. Example: strongman tire-flipping competitions This quad must be able to lead the back of the boat by “pushing” the front forward. Example: Jet engines (pushing does not equal rushing the strokers) This quad must be able to push the race start behind them by pushing the boat forward. Example: Jet engines.
Mental This quad will cope with the wake, must “read” the feel of the boat, and will need tremendous self-control and sensitivity This quad will lead the major strength phase of the boat and will have a mentally difficult task of communicating the front of the boat to the back, absorbing the shocks of rushing in the back, which is a normal occurrence This quad will suffer the most physically. They ought to finish a race having paddled at the hardest of any other quad in terms of total strength output. Their bodies will hurt in more places. They cannot communicate that pain forward or back. This quad will struggle to find water that is heavy and hard enough to start pushing the boat forward. They will need to vary their strokes the most to accommodate rushing water and variability in front of them. Their bodies will hurt in unusual ways. This quad will struggle to find water that is heavy and hard enough to start pushing the boat forward. They will need to vary their strokes and often body positions to help the steersman.
Attitudinal Usually “locked in.” this quad will have little variation in their routine but must be sensitive to changes behind them at all times. Mantra: Seats 1 and 2 must be the “First to serve”. This quad will be highly variable due to weather and water conditions. They must be highly adaptable and able to “absorb” problems from the front and back and “buffer” to either. Mantra: “The lions at the gates.” This quad must be prepared to suffer and suffer well.   They should restrict physical complaints to a minimum and communicate calm, controlled, but freakish, strength. Mantra: “I am the strong silent type”. This quad will also be highly variable, often switching with front-middle. They must also be highly adaptable to adjust themselves to problems in front in order to find the water. Mantra: “seek strength, adjust, seek strength, adjust.” This quad will experience the most in-group variation and must be adaptable and willing to teach new people while also performing the roles of middle-back. Mantra: “friends in finding the water.”
Behavioral This quad must be prepared to present a positive physical appearance and attitude as they are the most watched and photographed. They must have strokes that are perfectly together, foregoing individual preferences and variation. They must be cheerfully strong. This quad can be a bit less photogenic and may have some aesthetic issues with the stroke. However, they must always have a positive attitude. This quad must be willing to train extensively out of the boat to be as strong as possible. This quad must be “committed monsters.” This quad is also likely to be the subject of photographs and will often be the last people in or out of the boat. They must be, above all, friendly. However, they must always have a positive attitude. This quad must be friendly and adaptable. They must have their heads in the boat at all times, listening, responding, and helping the steersman. They must have sincere focus.

Take the time to consider what quad you fit best in, not just physically, but mentally, attitudinally, and behaviorally. Be realistic. Recognize your talents and your shortcomings. Acknowledge your size and your strength. Have an honest talk with your coach if you are unsure about your position on the boat.

Contributing author: Sara Jordan


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9 Discussion to this post

  1. Thank you
    Fantastic Blog
    Good luck
    My Blog

  2. Sonja Ring says:

    why is half the article written BLACKED OUT????

  3. Helen says:

    Love it. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Ryan says:

    Sonja, trying reading it on your computer instead of your phone…

  5. Eddie Bent says:

    Thank you .xxx

  6. Sara,
    If nearly every position should be seated above average or exceptional level, where are the average guys. And even worse, where are the below average guys ?
    Just a mathematical thing: If every seat is above average, all seats become average in respect to overall team performance. I’d like to see more differentiation in the seating. Althoug I understand what you meant ;-)

    • paddlechica says:

      Thanks for the questions! To clarify, on a competitive team the average or below average people are not making the race boat. The term “average” relates to the entire team, not the 20-person boat. Those who are average to above-average make the race boat. Those who are not at that level do not make the cut.

  7. Denise says:

    Great article. Just started paddling this year and absolutely loving it. This article was interesting and informative. Ty!

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