Dragon boating allows soccer players to grow By: Drew Chaltry

Many things are difficult to do on your own — play catch, move a couch up the stairs, eat an entire pizza, fold a fitted sheet. Paddling a dragon boat definitely lands near the top of that list, which is why it is such a perfect team-building exercise.

For the second year in a row, The Villages SC recently joined the Warriors dragon boat team for a morning on Lake Miona. The idea was conceived early in 2017 by Warriors coach Bob Kane, of the Village of Piedmont, and Buffalo head coach Anderson DaSilva.

The Buffalo have used the experience as a team-building exercise, one that DaSilva said was among the most memorable moments of last season for his players.

“We had a few guys who came back from last year and they talked about it as soon as they arrived,” DaSilva said. “‘Hey Coach, are we going to do dragon boating?’”

This year, several new players had the chance to try dragon boating for the first time, including Gabriel Cabral, who served as the drummer at the front of the boat, translating the steerer’s commands from English to Portuguese.

“I had never done it before and most of the team hadn’t either,” Cabral said, “so it was a cool way for us to learn how to work together.”

Aside from just being fun for the players, dragon boating requires the team to find ways to work together off the pitch, which is critical for a group that comes together for just three months out of the year.

“This really helps us. We can’t just have field practice to make our team better,” DaSilva said. “We need another activity, especially one like this that requires communication and timing.”

According to Kane, dragon boating is the perfect sport to facilitate teamwork.

“Number one, it’s team oriented,” Kane said, “and when you come on with 20 paddlers, you have to give a part of yourself.”

Sandra Skopaz, the captain of the Dragon Sisters, said dragon boating takes away all illusions of individual talent.

“You have close to a 500-pound boat with 20 people in it that’s close to 40 feet long,” Skopaz said. “No one paddler can do that on their own. You need every paddler in the boat to be in sync and working together to make it move.”

That point hit home with the players, many of whom initially were surprised at how difficult it was to move the boat without getting in sync.

“Soccer is a team sport, so this is a good example of how we have to work together,” defenseman Vandyke Gyau said. “If one person doesn’t do something right, it doesn’t work.”

The Villages SC isn’t the only group around to utilize dragon boating as a team-building activity. The Warriors also have taken the staff of the Waterfront Inn out in the boats, along with other teams in the Grand Masters Dragon Boat Club.

When two book clubs in The Villages read the book “The Boys in the Boat,” which tells the story of the 1936 U.S. Men’s Olympic rowing team who came together to win the gold medal in Berlin over Adolf Hitler’s German crew, boaters from This Boat Rocks met with the clubs to demonstrate some dragon boating basics and even took club members out on the boats.

“Just doing it themselves gives them a different approach and exposure to something they haven’t done before,” said Susan Chicoine, founder and coach of This Boat Rocks. “For the book clubs in particular — that they were actually able to go out on the boat — they were able to relate to what they were reading about.”

Even without a direct connection like the book, Chicoine recommends dragon boating to people looking for a team-building activity, a challenge or even a way to stay fit.

“It’s just such a cool thing to do,” Chicoine said.

Of course, the paddlers always enjoy the chance to share the fun.

“It’s team building for us as well,” Kane said. “It’s a chance for us to do something different and promote the sport.”

Drew Chaltry is a staff writer with The Villages Daily Sun. He can be reached at 352-753-1119, ext. 5233, or drew.chaltry@thevillagesmedia.com.