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 paddlers 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 photographed 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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13 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. 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. Jo says:

    Our club has a post about seat positioning, reasons why, naming each section etc. Needless to say, it revealed new info that I had not known or understood before. I decided to surf away and see what other advice is out there on the same subject. I chose your link and v happy I did. You explain it quite differently. I am slowly (a bit like that,’cos I like absolutes and realizing that even technique, reasons etc are explained somewhat subjectively depending upon personal bias, or who was your first coach) learning that indeed no one blog is 100% accurate but it can be if as a coach and a team, we remain quite committed to following the advice of that blogger and believe in them. Your descriptive ability which allows for interpretation depending upon what team goals are, different strengths etc, should encourage all paddlers/coaches to take it all in but realize that a situation on their team could differ from the optimum. Therefore, I would like to know how you can advise coaches in particular, team captains (who in our part of the world represent the paddlers to the coach, with asks, concerns etc) to take the information that they receive from say you or other experts and know that they have to adapt partially or sometimes only, to the dynamics of their team. As an example I have recently joined my 2nd team. My first one was for 5 years. This team is in its 2nd year. There seems to be a disconnect in communication between the coach, the paddlers and the steer. There are differing opinions on what each seat brings or should bring, straighten the top arm or not, start sequence (which surely should be fluid as the experience and strength of the team develops?), front stroke, mid stroke and so on. Confusion. Everyone is a volunteer. Due to your communication ability to lay it out simply and clearly I believe a blog to this area of experience would be very helpful. another area of confusion is “what are the components of the stroke – 3/5 or what? Every one in either boat has always differed in what they understand. We have brought in a Coach who has competed internationally and essentially is trying to demo, guide a revisiting of stroke, as well as how to approach a race – to establish start sequence, finish and I am not sure what for the middle. So many issues and it is mainly about establishing who is who in the zoo, discipline in the boat, off the boat, having routines established and so on. I hope that I make sense. When I was a newbie, definitely I was treated the way I see most newbies treated – to the back of the boat and stay in time. Only focus on that. Since then whenever I recruit women for DB to one team, I do so with them understanding that I am going to be in the back of the boat with that person for a couple of sessions to ensure that they are given basics – holding the paddle, basic common instructions, the staying in time bit, how, why, consequences, do not stay in if out of time and how to exit the water cleanly, lean and move with the rhythm of the boat to allow easy reentrance in time. Focus on that with lots of encouragement and WOWs. I also show them “HOW” I have come to believe the stroke should look like, in order that they know see in their mind, from the beginning what they are working towards. that they are not expected to do it, but to understand that as they build one piece on top of the other, commit to doing it properly (or exit, reset, go back in) then they will be able to achieve. Now I could be doing it all wrong. But, it is better than them getting in the boat, the coach not having been introduced, not being shown how to hold the paddle, and having someone say “just keep in time”. Usually the steer. For your info I am almost 63, began paddling at 57 in very bad shape and overweight, on a Breast Cancer Survivor Team. I have lost 60 lbs, have muscles I haven’t seen since 16, lots of deficits (fake knees, ready for the L one to be replaced again) shoulder issues with reach due to multiple surgeries, a newly crafted, very artistically, Breast. Perhaps u have a blog for the Paddlers who are less than 5 years in the sport and coaches too. I don’t know. I discovered you here. Love what you say and how you say it, so am reaching out for some sane, sensible and practical advice for our captain and coach. cheers

    • Paddlechica says:

      Thanks for your comments and for reading the blog! It sounds like you have some very common situations arising on your team. And, as you mention, since we are all volunteers for the most part in this wonderful sport of paddling, it can often become more complicated than one would imagine because everyone wants their voice and opinion heard. You are right in saying that a team should decide on something (a stroke, a technique, a coach, even a race schedule) and stick with it. There are many opinions out there as to what the “best” technique is, but constant flip-flopping back and forth doesn’t help anyone, and only leads to confusion. If it turns out that whatever your team decided didn’t work out for the season, then by all means make plans to change it for the next season. But switching around mid-year is chaotic, at best. So, where to start? Hopefully your team has chosen a coach and a captain and they should be the decision makers (perhaps with input from other administrators or a board of directors, depending on how your team is structured). Trust your coach and captain to make decisions in the best interest of the team. Otherwise, a new coach and/or captain needs to be selected. Best of luck!

  8. Denise says:

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

  9. Patty says:

    Wow…great info and insight!

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