Dragon boat racing looks like fun. Think of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge in Canada competing against each other. But ordinarily, preparing for a race involves training long before the date of the race. Since it’s a team sport, it’s important for each participant to not only be in shape as an individual athlete, but also to train as a team.
The paddling stroke is divided into four positions, paddle angle of entry, setup position and body rotation, catch and exit paddle position, and three phases, entry, pull and recovery. Team members are expected to perfect each of those positions and phases in order to row smoothly and strongly in a race.
Successful teams begin training in the off-season, which generally runs from November to April, depending on the climate. Individuals should plan on two weight training sessions weekly on two non-consecutive days.
Once a week, the entire team should get together to practice paddling beside a swimming pool with slimmed down paddles. Begin the practice with stretches and five minutes of warm-up. Next, each individual should work on drills to improve the way they handle each part of the paddling stroke. During the second half of practice, the group paddles as a team for about 30 minutes. Paddlers should switch the side of the pool they are sitting on halfway through both the drills and the group practice. Doing this ensures that paddlers develop both sides of their body equally, which is healthy for the spine and for balance and will also help prevent injuries.
Once a month, the coach should videotape each paddler and analyze how they are performing the positions and phases of the paddling strokes. The coach should then set up a plan for each paddler to practice and improve those paddling strokes.
This is the time to get in the boat and get out onto the water as a team to practice. Teams should try to paddle their dragon boat from 5 to 9 miles during each session. The number of practice sessions a team should train for a race depends on their competitive level. If a team is purely recreational, only racing for fun, they should paddle one or two times every week. If they are semi-competitive, they should paddle three or four times weekly, and super-competitive teams should practice anywhere from five or six times weekly up to twice daily for elite teams.
The key to successful dragon boat racing is team synchrony. There is no way to build that in a gym or by practicing paddling strokes beside a pool. It can only be developed by having the team get in the boat, get out on the water and paddle as a team. Synchrony also depends on the caller. To build team depth, it is important to train multiple callers.
In addition, the team should develop a paddling strategy as they train for a race. This includes developing different series of combinations of different paddling strokes.
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Suzanne Thorpe knows the importance of preparation before a big race, especially with dragon boating. When preparing for Ottawa dragon boat festival, she trusts the professional advice from GWN Dragon Boat. They offer a variety of camps and programs to help you improve your skills, and spread the word of the sport of dragon boating. Visit their website to learn more!