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What can you learn from elite dragon boat athletes?

Dragon boat racing is a competitive sport. A typical dragon boat crew consists of 20 paddlers, a drummer and a sweep, each playing a crucial role in how well the boat travels. The standard race distances are 200, 500 and 2000 metres. Regardless of the distance, it is a highly intense, demanding and draining activity – for body and mind.

As an eighth-year dragon boater, I have identified many traits shared amongst elite dragon boat athletes, successful entrepreneurs and business owners.

They set goals.

Elite dragon boat athletes set overall, specific and micro goals. Typically, their overall goal reads: to be stronger, fitter and faster; whereas the specific goals read: to bench 45 kilograms, to do 10 pull ups, or to achieve level 10 in a beep test. Micro goals would be to get to the gym three times a week, run twice a week, train on the water five times a week, and to achieve their personal best at every training.

Mental. But this is what it takes to qualify for the Australian national dragon boat team.

You would have heard of SMART goal setting, which stands for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Time-Based. Whether you are in the property or burger business, you must set SMART goals. Having goals ensures your business is manoeuvred toward the right direction. Not only will your goals act as indicators of the performance of your business, but you can also celebrate each specific goal and see that little achievement as the incentive to keep working towards your bigger goals.

They are committed.

Elite dragon boat athletes commit to progression. Forget exercising twice a week, they train at least 10 times a week, day and night. They wake up at 5am in the morning to go out on the water. They then head to the gym after work and lift weights. They watch their nutrition and keep a training log. They say no to things that jeopardise their progression.

Here’s an old saying about commitment: ‘The difference between involvement and commitment is like ham and eggs. The chicken is involved; the pig is committed’.

Forget 9 to 5 and work–life balance. Entrepreneurs work all the time. You must commit to self-development and business growth. Committed entrepreneurs don’t do what they do as a hobby or for pay cheques. As an entrepreneur, you must be driven by your goals and commit to executing your plans. Do entrepreneurs ever take holidays? Rarely. You must be able to identify opportunities and be flexible with your time to make things happen. Mere involvement is not enough to succeed, you must commit.

They are resilient.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from adversity. Dragon boat racing requires exceptional resilience to persevere through the pain, fatigue and stress during a race. Usually a 200-metre race can be completed with quick, explosive power of less than one minute. But a 500-metres race is a real challenge to mental toughness. It starts off with explosive power which leads to the boat’s top speed and athletes have to do their best to maintain the top speed for as long as they can. Fatigue then kicks in, and that is the point where the resilience of the crew is the determining factor of a winning team.

As an entrepreneur, you know that it’s a roller-coaster ride. You are constantly faced with setbacks, challenges and obstacles. Being resilient means you’re able to rewire your brain to see these obstacles and challenges as opportunities to learn, grow and thrive. You then reflect on the meaning of the adversity and lessons learned to keep going on your entrepreneurial journey.

These are just three out of the many traits that I have identified. I will discuss other traits in my next article. Meanwhile, if you have anything to add to this article, leave a comment!