by Chrissy Wessman, Co-Founder of Gushou
You’re sitting under a tree, away from your team members so not to be distracted while trying to put together a jigsaw of paddlers in a masterful dragon boat line-up that will get you to the finish line the quickest while balancing fairness and diplomacy to everyone. Time is ticking though and, while you had a pretty good line-up last night, now Susie and John are stuck in traffic and won’t make the first race, Joe’s shoulder hurts and he can only paddle left, and someone who was slotted for the last race needs to leave for a wedding before that.
Has anyone been in this position or some version of it? I have – whether it has been a rec team, A-division team, or even the international collegiate team racing in China. The good news is, it always works out! However, there are a few things that will help you prepare for the challenges of creating a dragon boat line-up on race day and even on practice day.
#1: Agree as a team on strategy
The importance of communicating goals and expectations as well as ensuring buy in from each person at the beginning of the season cannot be highlighted enough. Is your team looking to win the A-Division, improve their personal best from last year, or ensure that everyone has fair paddling time? This is crucial information when putting together a line-up as you need to know whether you’re going to focus on the strongest, most experienced dragon boat line-up or on a fair distribution of paddlers where everyone sits no more than once.
Many teams want to ensure it is fair and set up a ranking system based on attendance, attitude, and fitness scores or improvements. In this situation, when there are over 20 people, those with higher scores get to paddle the most during practices or race days. Of course, this takes a concerted effort and I would advise creating a subcommittee to help track these items.
Whatever the criteria, as long as each paddler has agreed, there shouldn’t be any upset feelings over line-ups on race day. It is ok for a paddler to feel sad that they may have not made the cut this time but they shouldn’t feel it was unfair and should know the opportunity is there as they continue to put the work in. Creating a dragon boat line-up with a clear purpose and without the added stress of fraught paddlers will make this job much more fun.
#2: Paddler Positioning – Be Open To New Possibilities
In general, the front six paddlers – the ‘Pacers’ – are usually experienced paddlers who can hold a rhythm. The middle eight paddlers – the ‘Engine’ room – are the larger and stronger paddlers (where the boat is the widest). The back six paddlers can be where new paddlers sit or, if you have a competitive team, where dynamic paddlers can sit as this is where the water is moving the fastest. We call this group the ‘Rockets’. This third section of the boat should not be overlooked as I’ve been on winning world championship teams where the rockets have made all the difference to winning the race at the finish.
This is our general framework when making dragon boat line-ups, but some of the most progressive coaches such as Blake Hara, who has won the closest of races at the IDBF Premiere World Championships, has won by playing around with the ‘usual’ line-up framework. Depending on how boats ride and conditions, it may make sense to have a heavier front of the boat. Or perhaps, if you have a really strong core of paddlers, you may want to have a six person engine room and eight person rocket section so that your finish is going to be that much better. These are things you can play around with as your team gets to be more adaptable and is able to react quickly and instantly.
#3: Adaptability – Left and Right / Front and Back
Too often paddlers get stuck in ‘their’ position in the boat. Guess what? It’s not good for anyone. By padding in different positions in the boat, each person gains an appreciation for what their teammates are doing way ‘up’ – or ‘back’ – there. It also allows paddlers to interact with people they may not otherwise interact with which can help team dynamics. In terms of creating dragon boat line-ups, it allows you to move people around in the boat when necessary and, who knows, you may find some paddlers are stronger in a different position then they have been conditioned to.
Left and Right is another way to switch up the paddling experience. Usually, the most seasoned paddlers are the ones who have the most trouble with this. They have spent years perfecting this one side, why would they switch? I’ll tell you why. For one, it’s great for injury prevention. Two, as good as they are, they may have some bad habits. Oddly enough, when they switch it’s like paddling for the first time; without the bad habits but with all the knowledge of a seasoned paddler. Three, paddling on the other side will actually make their dominant side paddling better. And… four, when making line-ups, your job will be so much easier when you need to fill a left seat and only have right side paddlers left to choose from.
It’s about good paddling methods and being a team player!
#4: Highlight the Importance of Attendance and Timeliness
The best thing my coach ever did for me was to leave the dock at our given start time: with or without a full boat! Even if it was 5:45 am and paddlers were coming from all distances. We got it… and we weren’t late again. Being late doesn’t just affect one person, the entire team who has rushed to get to practice on time is now wasting their precious water time waiting for just a few members.
This is a good lesson to learn at practice and sets the tone for race day. Obviously, the impact on race day is even greater so paddlers should be made aware of the importance of being on time and even early for practices and races. Sometimes push-ups or jumping jacks as a fun consequence can help.
Of course, you can’t control everything in life, but with a few less lates or no-shows, line-ups will be easier to create and the time to load the boat will be minimized; meaning less stress for you and more water time!
#5: Streamline Line-Up Creation and Communication
On practice day, the usual lineup-making process involves shuffling people around on land or telling people to take their usual seats. Race day may involve paper and pen with a lot of scribbles or clothes pins with weights and names and then sharing the line-up in the huddle before race warm-up. However, maybe it’s time to think about being progressive and using online tools such as Gushou to streamline this process so it’s quick and everyone is on the same page before they get there. Gushou has features that will allow you to create rosters based on attendance, as well as create line-ups. You can drag and drop your paddlers into boat positions using their weights and paddling sides while tracking boat metrics. Once you’re ready, you can choose to share the boat line-up with team paddlers who will be able to view shared line-ups on their phones.
Dragon boat line-ups don’t have to be difficult to create, you just need to have the right processes and tools in place to make it easier. If you’re ready to streamline your roster and line-up creation through tools built for dragon boaters, check out Gushou’s Premium Team Management features for free with the 21-day free trial.