January provides the opportunity to reflect on the previous year and the experiences we enjoyed and learnt from, both in our working and personal lives. What experiences in 2011 enabled you to grow and develop? For me, it was leading a team of Diocesan students to victory in a Dragon Boating Challenge.
I started coaching Dragon Boating in 2007 after being invited by Busting With Life, a woman’s breast cancer survivor’s team. I had just spent the previous year as their sweep, working with the coach of the corporate dragon boat team I had been a member of for seven years. Apart from five years of waka-ama outrigger canoe training, I had little coaching experience to offer but trained under an excellent coach. With a little trepidation, I then proceeded to take Busting With Life to win three consecutive nationals competitions.
Dragon Boating and breast cancer research has an interesting history which can be read in the Canadian Medical Association Journal. Besides the physiotherapeutic benefits researched here, I can attest to the social benefits, and I have no doubt there are psychological benefits to a team sport amongst members who have gone through traumatic experiences and live in fear of its reoccurrence.
Over the years my team of women have become family. One is the sister-in-law of Jo Robertson, the Leadership Programme Director of Diocesan School for Girls. When I was asked if I could help with coaching year 10 girls in a Dragon Boating Challenge, I was more than willing. Not only was this an opportunity for the girls, the Auckland Dragon Boating Association (ADBA) and the sport in general, but it was an opportunity for me to test my abilities to convey what I had learned in leading a dragon boat team. This was not just a coaching exercise. I was not being asked to baby-sit. I was being asked to teach these girls what it takes to succeed.
Leadership is a quality that HealthLink actively encourages in its employees and since the Dragon Boating event was in syngery, HealthLink had no problem donating my time to the cause.
At Diocesan there are 170 students in the Year Ten group, split into eight houses. Each house formed one dragon boat team each. About 140 of the students actively participated, so team sizes varied from eleven to eighteen paddlers. There were four dragon boats, so half the girls were on the water at any time. The other half were given ‘land’ training, demonstrations and exercises to improve their paddling and team work.
I guided the team in the picture from the start of the program, providing them with the ‘expert’ knowledge. They as a team implemented their team structure and practiced with another sweep (the helmsman of the boat). I later asked about what worked and what they had difficulties with and gave them further advice. With that foundation, I took them on the water and gave some further coaching then acted as their sweep for their two races against the other seven teams.
It wasn’t all hard work and competitive drive. When the girls got tired (it was a hot and humid day), they all turned 90 degrees, put their feet out over the boat leaned back-to-back and cooled their toes in the water. The support teacher even joined in. I got the impression Diocesan teaches its students to work hard but also how to relax and have fun.
I will point out this team was not the most enthusiastic; nor the most athletic. They were the smallest of the ‘houses’ with only eleven paddlers. One paddler even felt unwell and pulled out. They faced a number of challenges but they built up their confidence, and on their own initiative pulled in two additional paddlers – a teacher and one of the Dragon Boating Association members. As a result they competed and won their final race against larger teams of eighteen paddlers!
It just goes to show that despite the odds, with the right knowledge, skills, belief and teamwork, success is possible. The winning team was not renowned for its athletics, unlike one of the houses in close competition. Bringing the underdogs to such a competitive level was due to creating an environment where the natural leadership in the group came to the forefront. That environment started with providing knowledge. With facts, the group could make decisions effectively. The group began to believe in themselves and the possibility of success. Even with fewer numbers, I gave them ‘secrets’ for success that gave them the belief winning was possible. Then the final element was opportunity. They saw their weakness and when the opportunity arose, they grabbed the opportunity to improve.
The win was the icing on the cake of a very rewarding day’s coaching. I was very impressed with the girls who made the role of teacher a pleasure with their sincere efforts and polite behaviour. I would like to thank Diocesan, HealthLink and the ADBA for a fun day on the water.