Participating in sports, especially team sports, can actually teach a range of life lessons, which, if given the attention, could result in positive changes in behavior. This brief essay emerges out of an extremely potent experience that I had as a passenger in a dragon boat.
I was invited to a mentorship programme to observe dragon boaters being mentored and trained to become coaches in their own right. I arrived at the very modest facility located at the mouth of the Salybia river to find that the boats were already in the river with mentors and mentees were going through their paces. The sheer beauty and serenity of the location was quite captivating. I immediately understood why parents, many of whom sat quietly on the banks of the tranquil shallow river, were investing in their child’s ability to take advantage of this novel opportunity. But this was just the beginning of the real lesson for me.
It was a real struggle to get into the dragon boat despite the brief lesson in entering given to me by the senior coach. After my shaky entry I quickly settled in paying close attention to the instructions given to the steersman, the young man being mentored by the senior coach. I looked closely as well at how the paddlers responded to the instructions and directions of the steersman. This steersman was making errors, which almost sent the shallow boat crashing into the mountainside that bordered the river’s mouth, at least on three occasions. Though he erred, not one paddler complained. Instead, they sought ways to assist in salvaging the session for the benefit of all within the boat. I believe this occurred because both the mentor and mentee had a common vision or shared goal.
There were details about the human anatomy that would not escape my trained eyes. Looking closely at the paddlers I realized that none of them possessed the ideal athletic built. They could have hence opted for a different alternative to their dragon boating aspirations. Yet here they were, at one with nature evidently feeling a deep sense of belonging to this sport that could easily attract elite performers thereby relegating them to mere bystanders. But these youth were not to be undone; they stayed in the shaky boat and followed the directions of their steersman. That sense of ‘team’ poignantly emerged as the primary concern. They were in the same boat together, committed to completing the task together. They were one.
At first I wondered if it was the tranquility and beauty of the surroundings that kept the youngsters interested, or if it was an opportunity to escape Sunday morning rituals, but the coaches affirmed another suspicion. Young people truly connected to each other in this non-traditional sport. Although at the elite level a significant amount of training is required, youths who may believe that they did not possess the prerequisites for sports such as football or cricket could still found a fit in dragon boating.
They evidently viewed the boat as an equalizer; surrender their skills, abilities and any notions of grandeur to the direction of the steersman, and paddled for all they were worth. They were required to maintain the same rhythm and truly became one with the oar and with each other because deviations in paddling motion could create an uneven glide and results in a reduction in speed. The act of lending support while at the same time being interdependent was the glue that seemed to keep the youths interested. I took away several memories and lessons from this pristine experience, namely:
- One need not be particularly gifted to become an important element in a team.
- Before joining you must know the vision and goals of your team so that it leads you to become a better person in the end.
- When you become a member of the team you must embrace the vision and goal of the leader and follow wholeheartedly, supporting him in every way to ensure that the team reaches the final destination.
- Finding your fit enables you to function and add value to whatever team you may find yourself in.
- Once part of a team it is important that you maintain form, as any break in form, or, you may wish to say a disruptive behavior, interferes with the cohesion needed for the team to become one and optimize its forward momentum.
I look forward to returning to Salybia for another lesson in dragon boating.