How to Create a Dragon Boat Team Mission Statement

All too often teams are formed based on a love of paddling, aspirations to improve overall fitness, and a desire to be out on the water. There is a lot of heart, but not necessarily a lot of thought put into the global structure of the team. Having twenty people willing to come to practice is not enough in the long run. As your team begins to grow, it is important to define the type of team you would like your club to be and to set out ground rules for the members.

A mission statement can be extremely helpful in this regard. Simply defined, a mission statement is an outline of the goals of a club and a contract for ethical behavior which everyone on the team agrees to follow. It is the job of the Board of Directors, Executive Committee, or other team leadership to enforce the mission statement.

In my recent post about ringers, I explained the difference between two types of teams, recreational and competitive, as well as the spectrum that exists between the two. Developing a mission statement will help your team to understand where on the spectrum your team lies and will help eliminate any ambiguity about your team’s objectives.

Fast & Furious from Fort Langley, BC. Photo provided by Cindy

An effective mission statement has several important qualities:

  • Establishes a model and vision for the future. To create an effective mission statement, it is helpful to consider what you want your team to look like in the future. How do you want your team perceived by others? As a social group? As a competitive group? As something in between?
  • States ethics and objectives clearly and succinctly. We aren’t all lawyers and we certainly aren’t all used to wading through long documents to find the information we need. Make it short, sweet and to-the-point to reduce any ambiguity or uncertainty on the part of your members.
  • Communicates a sense of direction. Establish a reason for being a member of the team. This isn’t the time to gloat about all the accomplishments of the team, but rather to explain what members might expect to get out of their participation with your team. Social activities? Fitness? Exposure to a national team coach?
  • Develops team ethics and objectives. What behaviors are you expecting to see from your members? What behaviors will be unacceptable? Establish core values that make sense for your team’s goals.
  • Motivates. A motivating mission statement gives members the conviction and determination to work together to achieve the team’s objectives.
  • Calls for action. Everyone on the team needs to “buy in” to the mission statement and work diligently to maintain its effectiveness. The leadership must model the behavior laid out in its ethics and there must be consequences when a member violates such ethics.
  • Acknowledges that no one is a professional. Everyone participates on a dragon boat team for different reasons. But keep in mind that no one on the team is being paid to do so. Remember the value of the team as a whole and what it can offer its members.

A-Hi Dragons, Hungary. Photo provided by Tom

When creating a mission statement for your team, a few things need to be considered:

  • Take it seriously. The whole point of a mission statement is to communicate the team’s philosophy and beliefs. Therefore everyone involved in developing it needs to be serious not only about creating but also about using it.
  • Expect that it will direct behavior.  A mission statement should help guide paddler’s behavior and, as such, expectations should be clearly stated within the statement.
  • Use it as a reminder. If ethical issues arise on the team, the mission statement will serve as a reminder of the team’s direction and thus decisions can be made in the best interest of the team which align with the mission statement.
  • Create it to lessen uncertainty. Your mission statement should be clear enough to inform paddlers of the team objectives. If the team is a recreational one, make that clear. If the team has decided to be competitive, make sure there is no ambiguity about it. Then stick to it.
  • Manage impartial decision-making. It is crucial for everyone on the team to understand the direction of the team so that decisions for the club can be made objectively. Teammates may understand, for example, that their team is a competitive one. However, when it comes right down to it and they are sitting out for a race, they may be suddenly hurt by the decision. Having the mission statement in place allows for decisions to be made without emotions getting in the way and teammates are less likely to get upset if they can be referred to the mission statement.
  • Require effective leadership. There is no point in having a mission statement if the leadership of the team will not enforce it. It requires the Board of Directors, Executive Committee and/or coaches to make some difficult decisions in order to adhere to the objectives of the team. If, for example, the team has decided on a competitive direction, then the leadership needs to be prepared to make cuts for the race roster and perhaps deal with the hurt feelings that might result. Each action taken needs to align with the team’s mission and therefore those in charge need to consistently question, “Are we doing what we say we are doing?”
  • Request that all members have a complete commitment. When members join your team, they need to be made aware of the mission statement, as well as the expectation for all members to act in accordance with its ideology.

Having a mission statement in place certainly won’t make your team immune to every problem, however, it will absolutely provide clarity for your members in terms of team objectives and expected ethics. By eliminating ambiguity, your team can focus on more important things like training.

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3 Discussion to this post

  1. Marlene Jenkins says:

    Excellent post. I have been in this situation sort of and so have my teammates. The five of us were encouraged to join a senior C women’s boat. We are the newest members on the team and the other ladies had been members for at least 3-4 years before us. It is hard work and we are all improving but so are the experienced paddlers.We have had the feelings of no being good enough when we have to sit. Those feelings are getting better. What is confusing is when you go to a regatta and you have a full boat plus a couple extra and 3-4 of the women who are senior C are asked to help out in the Senior B crew then also paddle with the senior C crew and you have to sit because they are better? What the heck. So how do you deal with that one?

    • Paddlechica says:

      Thanks for your comments, and for your question. It can most definitely be frustrating to sit out during races. Has your team defined itself as a competitive team? If so, then the fact that some paddlers are paddling on both the senior B and the senior C boat should not really be an issue if they have proven themselves to be the best for the boat. If, however, your team is an all-inclusive team, then of course there are some issues with paddlers racing on both the B and C boats because they are obviously getting more race time than others. If you have an all-inclusive boat, then everyone should be getting the same amount of races, more or less. It all comes down to what the mission of the team is. Based on what you have said, it sounds like the team’s goal is to win races (and thus the team defines itself as a competitive team). If that is the case, keep your focus on your training, keep working hard, have honest discussions with your coach to see what areas you can improve in, and set goals for yourself to be paddling on that race boat soon. Keep in mind that many of those women have been paddling for 3-4 years longer than you have. Be patient with yourself, but keep your eye on your goals.

      • Marlene Jenkins says:

        Thank you for your positive input. I will stop being so hard on myself. Being 68 but like a 50 year old body can be frustrating. My goals are set and I will get better. I am a team player and yes we are competitive . The object is to win in the end. If I could only be easier on myself. I will stop thinking that I am not good enough for the boat. Near the end of the season I will be in touch an let you know how my goals faired.

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