I’ve suffered from depression all of my adult life. A few days ago, I felt sadness, pain, and worthlessness unlike anything in recent memory. I wanted to end my life and was the closest I’ve been to ever following through. Fortunately, I did not.
Depression is a serious and rising global problem with 264 million people of all ages suffering from it and 800,000 people dying from suicide each year (World Health Organization, 2020). To me, 264 million people out of the world’s 7.8 billion seems insignificant, but we should realize that the statistics will only count actual diagnosed cases (those created through an organized, reporting health care system) and not people who remain undiagnosed or who take their lives before being diagnosed.
Regardless of what the statistics say, my point in writing this is to spread awareness for a mental health disorder that is often mischaracterized, misunderstood, and often invisible to everybody except the person suffering from it. As dragon boat is a team sport involving relatively large groups of people, chances are extremely high that multiple members of YOUR team suffer from depression and that fellow paddlers may not even be aware.
“How are you?”
“Good and you?”
How many of you bust out this script multiple times on a daily basis? I know I will say these words as automatically as smiling, shaking a hand or giving a friendly hug whenever seeing friends, acquaintances, or even family. Even if I’m hurting on the inside, I hate the idea of sharing that pain with others who appear so…normal on the outside. Even if they are also hiding depressive symptoms, it hurts me to think about pushing the weight of my sorrows upon them. This is, as I’ve come to realize, a common challenge with depression. That being said, this realization doesn’t help my ability to overcome my reservations with casually sharing my true feelings at any given time.
The same phenomenon would happen all the time when I was a paddler. I’d be surrounded by 19+ other people I loved and cared for. I knew they ALL cared for me but through all the meals, jokes, blood, sweat, and tears we shared, I never once let on that I could be feeling symptoms of depression. Conversely, I never saw anybody else showing signs of depression and felt like I must be the only person on the team grappling with those feelings.
When I was coaching, things become so much worse for me internally. I felt like the role of “coach” required me to insulate myself somewhat from the rest of the team; as if I was a leader who needed a level of inaccessibility from those I lead in order to maintain authority, impartiality, respect, and an air of professionalism. Stress was a daily opponent. Stress over meeting weekly performance goals, recruitment strategies, moderating team dynamics, creating workouts, race day planning, and the self-doubt and frustration that came with any perceived shortcomings or apparent failures ate away at my soul without anybody (I think) ever seeing it. I wore a good mask, a good smile, and used an encouraging voice every practice and race that I attended. When I finally gave up the coaching role and simply paddled for a season, I was almost happy to hear and see my replacement’s stress and frustration with the new role. To think of somebody suddenly be acutely aware of my own struggles was oddly fulfilling (sorry Huy).
Dragon boat is a sport that is accessible to all sorts of people at every level of fitness. It can offer incredible amounts of camaraderie, love, and support between all members and all teams. To be a dragon boat paddler is to be part of a global community. One of the greatest strengths of dragon boat is also its greatest weakness. Teams are just SO large with gatherings so loud, boisterous, action-packed, and “happy” that they often don’t provide a comfortable way for people to connect and share personal challenges.
Call to Action
As a dragon boat paddler, I challenge you to take the time this week to connect with a fellow teammate you don’t often talk with and offer the time and space to get past the usual pleasantries of the usual “Wassup.” You don’t have to pry, try to “fix” them, or give feedback, just actively listen.
For team leaders, I challenge you to plan a team event this month to break into small groups of 3-4 and give 5 minutes per person to voice their replies to general prompts like, “this week I struggled with…”, “something I felt good about today was…”, or “something I feel inside that nobody knows about is…”. Make rules that anything that is spoken about stays confidential, does not leave the small group it’s shared with, and isn’t brought up outside the event unless by the person who shared it. I think such an opportunity can provide teammates a safe space to relate to each other in ways not generally seen with team events and can really strengthen the bonds between everybody; helping team cohesion and maybe, just maybe, saving lives.
If you are considering suicide and reside in the US, the Suicide Prevention Lifeline is always ready to listen. Call them at 1-800-273-8255.
I want to live and I know you do too. You are not alone. I also want to hear from you directly, even though we may not have ever met in person. My number is 1-415-987-6328.
Right now in the Bay Area, most adult recreational dragon boat teams are winding down for their “off-season” due to local races stopping until around April. Many paddlers will decrease the frequency of water training (if not cutting it out entirely) over the next few months. If you are a recreational paddler who has practiced and raced from April to September this year, you may be excited to have all this free time to go on a week long vacation for once or sleep in on weekends without the guilt of missing water time with the team. Don’t get me wrong, the long gap between local races is a perfect time to enjoy yourself away from dragon boat, but consider how your time spent will affect your return to the next season.
I read a great article by a cycling coach detailing his views on this very subject. You can read it here.
Essentially, all Bay Area paddlers should recognize that we are not professional paddlers in any shape or form. It is highly unlikely you are overtraining for dragon boat specifically and, as such, don’t need the time to recover from the sport like pro athletes can. Realize also that if you decide to take a break from dragon boat this winter, will you inadvertently be taking a break from exercise in general? Doing this can mean that you will come back next season weaker and more prone to injury than you are right now.
With this understanding, I recommend that everyone enjoy their time outside of a dragon boat but still challenge yourselves to enhancing your fitness in ways you could/did not while during the dragon boat season. After all, being a recreational dragon boat paddler may mean you struggled to allocate a few hours per week for paddling alone, never mind time to cross train. Work on enhancing your core stability, losing weight, stretch your tight paddling muscles, cross train in another sport entirely! The possibilities are endless but all beneficial to keeping good fitness while paving the way to a better and healthier start of the next season.
It’s that great feeling when you set out to accomplish something and through a combination of blood, sweat, and tears that you see that goal met. Being a coach is being a leader. This is somebody who formulates a strong plan and sets goals and methods to lead the team to success by the season’s end. I previously wrote this article on goal setting and, over my later years of coaching, have found several key points that I’ve found essential to include.
1. Know what the team wants
I came to a point in my coaching career where I thought I knew myself and where I wanted to be, but that place was not necessarily where the team wanted to go. As a leader, I made the mistake of assuming that the goals I set were shared among everybody. Of course, those goals failed and it’s no mystery why! The saying “You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink” sums up the need for a coach to fit themselves into the team’s unified goal. In elite sports, what team plans to NOT make it to the championship? None. On recreational teams, such as with dragon boat, the team’s vision of meeting a goal may not be to win, but merely to participate and spend time with other teammates. Trying to push a recreational team towards a singular goal of winning a championship is as inappropriate as setting a competitive team towards a specific goal of finishing last. A coach can suggest goals but cannot force a team to adopt them.
2. Know what to do
After a team accepts the goals a coach suggests, a plan must be established. Imagine an olympic weight lifter whose training for the games was decided randomly by rolling a die of random activities. One day, the athlete lifts heavy weights and the next day lifts weights as quickly as possible. The next day the athlete tries to lift half the weight, twice as many times and then doubles the weight to lift half the reps, etc. Without a logical progression in specific training or a rationale as to why to choose certain activities, there can be no consistent progress towards any goal. Random practice results in random results and is not a good way to meet a specific goal. I recommend writing out a specific plan to get your team from where it starts the season to where it needs to be.
3. Know what you want
As a coach, you are a person with a certain background and certain biases. You have feelings and desires, strengths and weaknesses. Ask yourself, what do you want to accomplish for yourself as a coach and why are you coaching in the first place? Knowing yourself and understanding your reasons for making decisions is essential for your personal longevity as coach and success in leading the team effectively.
4. Know how you are doing
The ability to test and re-test is a critical skill to use mid-season. As you follow your plan, you need to know one thing: is it working? What lets you know you are headed in the right direction? Finding a reliable test, be it team fitness challenges, time trials, mid-season race results, etc, provides you with a compass throughout the season that can guide you to sticking to the plan or modifying it along the way.
5. Put it all together
A team is a collection of individuals. Get each individual to accept the goal and the path to meeting that goal. Have them commit to what you say it will take to meet that goal. Follow the plan to get where you need to be. Adapt your plan as needed to address unforeseen challenges. Make sure YOU are not contributing to the team falling short of its goal. Don’t forget, have fun!
Best motivation I heard all month
is an excerpt from the video “How Bad Do You Want It.” Here it is below:
And I’m here to tell you, number one, is that most of you say you want to be successful, but you don’t want it bad. You just kinda want it. You don’t want it badder than you want to party. You don’t want it as much as you want to be cool. Most of you don’t want success as much as you want to sleep. Some of you love sleep more than you love success and I’m here to tell you that if you’re going to be successful you’ve gotta be willing to give up sleep…Don’t call it quits. You’re already in pain, you’re already hurt. Get a reward from it. Don’t go to sleep until you succeed.
So go get some! Don’t sit around waiting for something to happen. Good things happening to you starts with just you.
Congratulations to all paddlers for a fantastic race at Treasure Island this past weekend. Huge thanks goes to those who helped us steer our heats so smoothly and precisely.
With this race concluding the season for our mixed crew, several things come to my mind. First, we just completed what I believe to be our most challenging season ever. From the strength and commitment of just a few paddlers at every practice, we’ve managed to pull together a solid crew for every race this season. Though every team at some point faces the same challenges in keeping practices productive and seats filled, SFL has always seemingly managed to do more with less. It’s a team trait that has made us great when rosters were full and kept us in competitive lanes this season.
Second, 2013 will mark SFL’s 10th anniversary. With 2 paddlers remaining from this crew, SFL has clearly been through its fair share of member turnover through the years. Be it for 1 race or 1 year on the team, every former member of SFL who has graced our boat is sorely missed. I do find it satisfying to see that many former SFL paddlers become coaches and leaders on other Bay Area teams and valued members wherever they choose to find themselves in dragon boat. As familiar faces leave the team, new faces present themselves every year; adding to the rich tapestry that is SFL.
As volatile as the roster has been over the years, the strength of the team comes from its strong bonds among teammates. Our members don’t paddle for the flag we wave, the jersey colors we wear, or the medals to be won. I would paddle my hands raw to get the team over the finish line because I know everybody on this team works just as hard alongside me. We are eclectic in our backgrounds but united in our fighting spirit towards a common goal — doing our absolute best as SFL paddlers regardless of finishing place.
The end of this 2012 season will, undoubtedly, see some of our members to other teams or to time away from the sport in general. As 2013 draws near, I am eager to greet new faces and meet new challenges as one team: united.
Until then, team. 10 years strong. You make it happen. We make it happen together.
We love you long time Long Beach!
Congratulations to a race well run, paddlers of SFL. This is why I coach.
The Suen Feng Loong (SFL) Dragon Boat Team has returned and it’s time to hit the water for an exciting 2012 paddling season. Start shedding those holiday pounds, get a good workout, and meet some crazy people.
New to the sport? Experience the fun and excitement of the sport first hand as our experienced paddlers and coaches show you how to paddle safely and efficiently.
Already a paddling god? Come realize your paddling potential and value as a team member on a individual-oriented team that emphasizes both performance and fun. Learn what makes our team different than all the rest.
FREE to try. Paddle and PFD (life jacket) provided.
See you on the water!
Your performance as an athlete stems from the very basic principle of practice. If you practice hard and wisely, your physical performance will follow. The question becomes, how do you stay motivated? In steps the mental component of performance. They say “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.” All athletes have been there, trying hard and hitting that damn “wall.” When I hit my wall, hesitations pop up in my mind like “why bother pushing this hard?” Sometimes that question wins me over and I (in retrospect) sadly give up. Other times I end up thinking briefly about what I actually want to accomplish and how much it means to me, rather, how much it means about me. I think of the things that inspire me and that gives me great strength to push forward.
We’ve all felt like this I’m sure.
I recently just happened to watch a few scenes from a documentary about Joe Namath. A little bit about me, I don’t know but perhaps 5 things about football as a game and certainly don’t know my history of the sport but this documentary painted this man in a way that I found inspirational. The way they portrayed him was a man of great personal confidence and resolve, honor as a sportsman, and humility as a person. Whether that is actually accurate is always up for debate, but those qualities are things that I strongly value in myself.
Thinking of those values really fires me up and when I’m on, I am ON. Have you ever had that feeling that you were invincible or couldn’t get tired now matter how painful or grueling the event was? Thinking about things that inspire me puts me in that state of mind.
So, if you are hitting that wall or about to start an event, take a moment to think about something that really drives you to succeed. I’m sure you’ll be amazed by just how little can phase you in your pursuits.