Thoughts from the Boat

I expect I will return to the boat off and on in this blog.   As I mention in my Bio, I was once a rower.  I rowed crew in high school and college.  Actually once a rower is not true.  Rowing becomes a way of life and one never stops being a rower once fully involved although I have not been on the water for years.

Rowing is used often as an example of perfect teamwork.  Even those who have not rowed can work out that each rower from their body movements to the unison of the oars through the water, needs to be in synch.  As such perfect teamwork.

Along with this teamwork there is leadership.  Because of the focus on teamwork though we often do not think of leadership in a sport such as rowing.  For other team sports we do often talk about leadership and publicly identify the leaders on specific teams.  These leaders do what they need to do to influence their teammates toward reaching their best performance.

From my experience each successful boat I rowed in had its leader.  Often it was me and many times it was others.  I have been in boats that should have been fast and competitive.  The technical ability and experience of the rowers said as much.  Yet, these boats did not perform as we expected.  As I look back, the lack of a leader was the issue.  This is where I became aware of the  need for myself to grow and behave as a leader.

The leader for my sport was never the coach.  He was responsible for the technical training and boat selection.  Of course he would work to motivate his rowers and set us up to understand and reach our goals.  As such, a leader, but my point is that you need to get into the boat to really lead.  In an eight man shell the leader could be anyone 1 through 8. For those in the know we can think of the #8 seat or stroke seat as the leader.  In practice this person is often the leader due to the fact that we all need to follow his lead with our rowing.  Yet it often held that the boat leader sat in the middle of the boat.  He had the positive traits of a leader from communication skills to trustworthiness.

All rowing coaches work to get their teams to visualize success.  We walk though in our mind the perfect stroke and unison with our teammates who are also focused on the perfect stroke.  The boat leader though is the one that can make it happen.  He is right there stroke for stroke with his teammates.  He can stop the boat to speak to the team and make adjustments to get the feel just right.  Trust me for all the power involved there is a feel that is so important to propel a crew shell at top speed.

All rowers seek the perfect stroke where it  all comes together.  The concept is called swing. Swing at its essence is when all the moving parts in the boat become one.  The feeling is nearly effortless and the boat rising up in the water.  Eight rowers become one.  It is rare and fleeting.  The best crews, while racing fast and winning races, still do not achieve it often.  In seven years of competitive racing, I experiences swing only a handful of times.  I am convinced that great coaching and technical ability set the groundwork to allow for swing.  Yet the leadership within the boat made it happen.  We each knew our roles and who in the boat needed to speak to keep us on the path.

Rowing, a great example of teamwork, leadership and the motto of “we move together”.

If interested here is a link to a rowing blog that describes swing very well.

http://inner-rowing.blogspot.com/2011/10/swing.html

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5 thoughts on “Thoughts from the Boat

  1. Pingback: Today’s Motivations.. What Makes Great Leaders? « Media Meme

  2. Craig Luce

    Wish others would chime-in on defining *swing– [and homologues, if there ARE any].
    Yes, its very elusive; Daniel J Brown’s “Boys in the Boat” 2014 does NOT quite grasp it. I’ve only felt it twice– each for less than 20 seconds– in *years of rowing.
    What is a parallel?

    1. Thanks for the visit. Yes, swing is elusive and I too felt it only a few times in my years of rowing and never in a race, only on a quiet morning row. Good to see the book is now a national bestseller.
      All the best – Michael

      1. Craig Luce

        Thinking about it since commenting, I’d really like to feel that “Swing” again– a feeling I’d venture most people never experience– let-alone with eight allies in the boat.
        –Yes, cox counts(!):: (perhaps most responsible?).
        A life-lesson I never experienced on the GT track team or winning State in HS football.
        “Empathy”, “synchrony”, “compassion”, “oneness” are *all in there.
        –Yeah, rowing can contain complex metaphors for life in community.

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