Rob Said

Nonrandom thoughts and mindful metaphors

A Team with Swing

I recently finished reading The Boys in the Boat, by Daniel James Brown. The book tells the story of the University of Washington rowing team that won gold at the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. It is a fantastic story that everyone should read.

120718_FRC_01_rowingteamEX.jpg.CROP.rectangle3-largeThe nine athletes who rowed into history that year didn’t start out as a particularly strong team. On the contrary – Coach Al Ulbrickson had initially chosen an entirely different group of rowers as the varsity squad. But the boys in the second boat had a bond that went deeper than their oars. Unlike their Ivy League counterparts on the East Coast, all of them were sons of working class families struggling to survive in the Great Depression. All of them needed rowing as much as – or more than – the sport needed them.

Of the many things I learned from this book, none has stayed with me more than the concept of “swing.”

In rowing, each member of the nine-person crew has different responsibilities and skillsets. The two rowers who make up the stern pair are responsible for setting the stroke rate (the pace). The bow pair has responsibility for the stability of the boat. The middle four rowers are typically the biggest and strongest of the crew – they are known as the “engine room” or the “powerhouse.” And the coxswain, at the very back of the boat, is responsible for steering the boat, deciding the right stroke rate, and determining strategy during a race.

Very rarely, a crew achieves near-perfection: the ability to row in complete synchronization, with no wasted energy – fleeting moments where the results of the whole exceed the capabilities of the individual rowers. Not only is each athlete performing at their physical and mental best, they flow together seamlessly, as if they were one mind and body. In these moments, the team is said to have found its “swing.” And a team with swing is unstoppable.

To find their swing, however, these boys in the boat had to know each other deeply. Swing required that they row with their hearts, not just with their muscles. The author captured this best: “What mattered more than how hard a man rowed was how well everything he did in the boat harmonized with what the other fellows were doing. And a man couldn’t harmonize with his crewmates unless he opened his heart to them. He had to care about his crew.”

Wow – what a lesson for us. Finding your swing as a team requires the convergence of skill, leadership, execution and harmony. That last part starts with knowing what makes each of your teammates tick and caring about each of them deeply. No amount of technical proficiency, work ethic or good management can overcome the absence of harmony and friendship.

Love your team. Find your swing. Be unstoppable.


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This entry was posted on August 8, 2018 by in Uncategorized.


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