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Feb 19, 2010

Second part of the Coaches' Farewell SERIES -- John

"Nobody can go back and start a new beginning, but anyone can start today and make a new ending."
                --Maria Robinson

 Space Dragons,
This first paragraph really is for those of you who are new to the team and probably new to the sport. First, I’ll take a few words to introduce myself. I’m John, and a few years ago, I was lucky enough to be drawn into the Space Dragons family. For those of you who have tried paddling once, it may be difficult to see what’s appealing about this activity to drive such fanaticism among the loyal. It’s difficult to explain what brings people back for that second dose of pain. Some common explanations are chemical, personal motivations, gratification from doing something healthy and productive with your free time, but most likely it’s peer pressure from a friend trying to share with you a nebulous sensation that you can’t quite grasp yet. It’s not really important what gets you started, it’s only significant that you do. We’re happy to have you, welcome to the family. Have a good look around you next time you amble out of the parking lot, these people will open their hearts to you with lowered inhibitions and if you let it, you’ll be surprised how easily it flows both ways. I can’t explain why it is like this in the dragon boat community, it just is. I like it that way, and I don’t feel the need to find an explanation.
So, now it’s time to dust off the coaching hat and try to do what I can from here. I’m going to take a page out of Wade’s book and try to elaborate on a theme he likes to talk about. This team has never had a problem with training hard. I’ve never worked with a group of individuals so eager to please. We train long and hard, and we come blasting out of the gates like a stallion in heat. However, I believe there is a tendency to lose focus near the end of the season. People still work hard, still train hard, but come the end of the season, we seem to be on different pages. There are a few things I’d like to put out there to help manage this energy and excitement.
Set goals. As you train for Tempe, figure out what it is you want from this year; as a team, as an individual, and as an individual in the team. Be reasonable, be ambitious, but most importantly, be specific. It’s easy to say, “I want to win.” It’s easy to say, “I want to get better.” But there’s no plan of action, there’s no strategy, and thus, you’re left with nothing to commit to except a desire and an unsatisfied void.
So, whether it’s losing some inches, or being able to recognize the difference you make in the boat, you’re going to need a plan on how to get there. These goals don’t have to be physical either. You might just want to become more involved, to break out of your shell. These are great goals too. Talk to your teammates, talk to team leadership, they all are wonderful resources in helping you determine reasonable strategies. Further, this team has uncovered some amazing social coordinators. There’s so many ways to be involved on every level, just scroll through this blog.
As a team, it’s easier to leave those directives to the coaches and captains. You’ve got a great capable staff. They will watch you, they will listen to you and based on what they hear and see, they will know what you want. It’s important to recognize you communicate what you want from your actions as well as your words. I understand we’ve ‘recently’ adopted a new paddling style. I’m sure the team will be discovering new strengths and new challenges to overcome as a result. 
So, when you get back on the water and you groan, “Oh, my God, it’s been too long.” Start thinking about where you want to be at the end of the season. For those of you setting physical goals, the after-practice “work-outs” are great personal tests. You can measure your progress against yourself and against your teammates as well if you’ve got a competitive streak. Talk to the coaches about what you want to be doing differently, about blocks to your progress, and what the water tells you during practice. 
So I’m going to wrap this up before I continue rambling. The bottom line here is, in the race, and in the season, you’ll want to commit. In a race, there are two extremes on the level of focus. At the base level, you commit to finish the race, to cross the finish line pulling your blade out of the water and heaving for air with everyone else. At the higher level, you commit to pulling with your team from start to finish, being disciplined with your energy management so you don’t waste your energy and you don’t waste your team’s energy. This applies to the season as well. Just as you keep your eyes locked on timing, check your progress frequently. If you’ve set your goals nicely, you’ll be frequently satisfied. Know when to add the extra bursts of effort, and when to take a well-deserved break. Communicate with your coaches and let them know how you’re feeling. Tell them what you’re working on and tell them what your goals are (it makes coaching a LOT easier). I think you’ll all find the longer you paddle, the more you feel you have to learn about it. There are more things to try, more conditions to brave, and your attention to the details becomes more honed. Listen to your captains and coaches. Keep in mind, while they frequently offer the benefit of experience, the most important contribution they make to the team is a unified vision, focus, and direction.
Anyhow, that’s about all the coaching I got in me right now. For those of you who didn’t know, I’m in Chicago, in my first of three years in law school. My visits to California are sporadic, limited, and restrained, so I apologize for not being around, I miss every one of you and I miss the team. Thanks for being so wonderful while I was there. I don’t really like the good-bye thing, because it never really made sense to me. Time passes by so quickly and when you meet up with good friends and/or family again, it feels like you never left. Sometimes remembering the heartfelt farewells feels almost embarrassing when you’re sitting across the table a couple years after the fact. Time is so much better spent making and enjoying memories than closing them out in my opinion. So, I’ll just say, see you all soon.
Much Space Love,

PS: Congrats to Joe & Yonnie, David & New, and Timmy & [G]ina... :]