6 Steps To Starting a Dragon Boat Team

by Chrissy Wessman, Co-Founder of Gushou

You’ve made the decision to start a dragon boat team. Fantastic. Now, where to start?

From recruitment, to scheduling, budgeting, building consensus, and sharing important information, you’ve committed to a plethora of tasks on top of your already busy life. Remember to take things one step at a time and you’ll be successful. If you find yourself overwhelmed, don’t forget, it’s all worth it because, quite literally, you are helping to change people’s lives for the better.

Here are six steps to follow to help you build the dragon boat team of your dreams.

Step one: Recruit, recruit, recruit

Do you have enough paddlers to create a team? This can be the hardest part of your job but if you can find 20 paddlers, you’ve done the hard part. Build a story around paddling, how it’s inclusive, fun, and doesn’t require any previous skills. It’s going to be the time of their lives.

A great place to start is to ask your work colleagues or friends to join you. Sara Tong, captain of the top tier Toronto team MOFOs says, “Social media and word of mouth referrals to us tend to happen quite often. My advice for new teams would be to start within your social circles – you may never know who might be interested in paddling if you don’t put it out there!”

It’s not only about finding any human being to fill a spot. It’s important to find paddlers that will fit your team’s culture. Are you starting a fun loving and social team or is it going to be a competitive team where everyone is expected to cross train and run 5km every day? Make sure you articulate the type of team you are recruiting for. This will set expectations early and help you avoid future disappointment.

Tong, discusses how important the ‘right fit’ is to the MOFOs, “We put a lot of thought into how we build and foster our team culture… Fitness and paddling ability are important of course, but what we look for in potential recruits are people who will gel well with our team dynamic first and foremost… From a recruiting perspective, we want to make sure the personalities that we attract reflect the good humour and cultural norms of the team.”

Step two: Pick a race 

You have some team members now set your goal. There are over 250 events in North America. If you’re a new team, it’s probably easiest to get buy-in from your team members for a local race that hosts other beginner teams. Events typically run one or two days long and may include family fun activities, a beer garden, or even a marketplace of local vendors. Choose an event that will excite your team and will meet your budget requirements. Sometimes a smaller ask the first year will make it easier for people to commit. Of course, if you feel that you can pull off the grandiose event, go for it, it’ll be a blast and very memorable.

To find events, you can use Google, advice from local club administrators, or even the Gushou Event List (try the advanced search options). If you don’t see something there, let your events know to get on Gushou.

Quick tip: The earlier you sign up the better. Many events offer an early-bird discount.

Step three: Schedule your practices

You have a goal, now it’s time to prepare – and practise makes perfect. Find a local dragon boat club or if the event you have signed up for offers practices, make sure to take advantage of these practices. Every practice you can do will help you enjoy race day even more. Dragon boating is the ultimate team sport, it requires the team to be in synch and this is accomplished through practising the same technique and doing it together over and over.

As a beginner team, if you can get 6-10 practices in before your races, you’ll be feeling ‘ready ready’ on race day. (that’s dragon boat lingo!)

Find an ‘available’ day and time (check with club/event) that works for most people on your team and book your practices. Some captains use tools such as Google Forms, Doodle, or Survey Monkey, to name a few.

Step four: Find a coach

Finding a coach can make all the difference to your team’s success. (a topic that can fill many blogs on its own). Similar to finding team members, you need to find a coach that is the right ‘fit’. Does your coach have the technical expertise, enthusiasm, and genuine interest in seeing your team improve and reach its goals? There are many good coaches but their styles of coaching can vary. Do you want a charismatic and enthusiastic coach that will focus on positive feedback or are you looking for the militaristic approach of a coach that pushes you to your limits and instills fear in each and every person? Of course, these are two extremes but preferences range and it is important to find a coach that will make your team thrive. When you do hire a coach, make sure to set expectations and goals for the season.

Step five: Enlist help

From registrations, budgeting, and collecting payments, to ordering racing shirts and organizing pot-lucks, there will be a of things to fill up your time so it’s wise to enlist the help of other eager team members. Often, teams will build a team committee that will be responsible for the administrative tasks of the team. This will make your life easier and also streamline the experience for everyone.

Step six: You’re ready! Have fun and enjoy being a part of this wonderful community!

You’re now part of an incredible community. Enjoy the experience and connect with other teams and paddlers to enrich it even more.

Happy paddling!

If you’re looking for a great way to help you organize yourself as a team captain, make sure you check out Gushou’s team organization platform. We’re about to launch some pretty mind-blowing features, so be sure to sign up!

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