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Stuck In a Dragon Boating Rut? 10 Reminders For You

Posted by Kristin Stickels on
Stuck In a Dragon Boating Rut? 10 Reminders For You

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If you are anything like me, you go through periods in your training where you might feel a bit stuck. No matter how hard you’ve been training nor how focused you are, you feel like you aren’t making progress. It can be frustrating, no doubt.

Here are 10 things to keep in mind the next time you are feeling sluggish in your paddling development.


1) Feeling stagnant is a sign that it’s time for a change. Whether it’s a change in your diet, a change in your workout routine, a change in the frequency of attendance at practices, or something else entirely, it is likely that shaking things up and getting out of your normal approach to training will help you experience paddling in a whole new perspective.


2) Even small steps are progress. You may not see it. You may not even feel it. But the smallest improvement is still progress. Perhaps you have increased your flexibility and, as a result, increased your rotation and reach. That is growth. Acknowledge it!


3) You don’t have to have it all figured out to make improvements. You might be struggling with certain components of the stroke but that doesn’t mean that you aren’t advancing. Making progress with leg drive, for example, will still improve your overall paddling.


 Thames Dragons, UK


4) Nothing will change if you change nothing. So often I see paddlers who are stuck in their form, unwilling to make any changes. They are married to their stroke and that is that. If you are looking to improve, trust your coach and work to make the requested changes in your technique. Remember, the way we think we look when we are paddling is likely quite different than the way we actually look. Your coach sees how you really paddle and can identify things that you need to work on. Be willing to make those changes.


5) New beginnings can feel like endings. I’ll never forget the time that our team went through a messy “divorce” where half of the team split off and made a new team. At the time, it was painful and hurt a lot of feelings. It felt like the end of an era. It was. But it actually turned out to be one of the best things that could have happened for everyone involved. Instead of our team being stuck in an endless argument of whether to be competitive or not, those who wanted to keep the team at a competitive level remained on the team, and the rest of the paddlers formed a more all-inclusive team where everyone made the race crew regardless of ability. What felt like an ending at the time was actually a wonderful beginning for everyone. One large argumentative team became two separate teams: one highly competitive team and one more social team.


6) Great things happen when you avoid negativity. Stay away from those on your team who may be perpetuating negative vibes. You know the ones I’m referring to. Being negative about race crew selections, practice structure, guest paddlers, fitness tests, etc. will certainly not advance your technique. Steer clear of it all, stay focused on your goals, and support your coach’s decisions. Buying in to negativity is sure to stagnate your progress.


 Dubai Sea Dragons, UAE

7) Trust what your coach tells you. If you read my posts, you know that “listen to your coach” is a common theme. Why? Because I have seen how hindering it is to a paddler’s progress when he or she does not listen to the words of the coach. The quickest way to stagnation in your training is to ignore what your coach is telling you. Whether it’s a compliment or a critique, your coach sees your paddling technique and knows how you perform. If you are constantly questioning the words of your coach, you will quickly find yourself in a rut, stuck with muscle memory that is detrimental to the development of your technique.


8) Overthinking leads you nowhere. When we overthink things, we tend to lose focus entirely. I’m sure you’ve experienced it before: you start concentrating on your rotation and your leg drive disappears. Or you are working on burying your blade at the catch and suddenly you find yourself out of sync. That is entirely normal! What you don’t want to do is overthink things to the point of making yourself ineffective. When we overthink things, we tend to be hard on ourselves, which leads to a lot of negative self-talk. Nothing stalls progress like telling yourself that you suck at paddling or that you will never get the hang of it.


9) An excuse is floating somewhere between you and the next stroke you need to take. As the saying goes, if you really want something you’ll find a way to make it happen, otherwise you’ll find an excuse. This certainly applies to paddling. Making excuses about why you can’t attend practice, why you can’t reach farther, why you aren’t in sync, why you didn’t do well on a time trial, or whatever excuse you might give will certainly keep you in a rut. Give up the excuses and get yourself refocused on your goals.



Coorong Dragon Boat Custom Design

Coorong Dragons, Australia 


10) If you work for it, it will come. Put in the time and effort. Seek out opportunities for growth such as training camps, more team practices, or more chances to paddle with other teams (see my previous post on promiscuous paddling). No one becomes a better paddler by sitting on the couch eating pizza. Take the initiative to up your game and you will certainly break out of the rut you may have found yourself in.


We all experience stagnation in our training once in a while. It’s how you handle it and what you choose to make of it that counts. Give in to it and your paddling career will take a dive. Break out of it and you will find yourself back on track in no time, likely performing even better than before.




Kristin Stickels is a three-time Team USA member of the US National Dragon Boat Racing Team. She is the coach of the Miami team Puff, the Florida Tarpons women's team and the local Breast Cancer Survivors' Team (SOS).

She is also an avid outrigger canoe paddler and raced through the Panama Canal on a native cayuco boat from the Atlantic to the Pacific.

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