BY BILL MANNING
PHOTO BY PETER SPURRIER
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Too often, coaches waste energy wishing things were simpler, better, or just different. There’s a natural tendency to focus on what’s missing rather than what we have. In rowing, we wish for better athletes, more equipment, less wind, more time—all kinds of changes that would make producing fast boats easier.
The best coaches make the most of the current situation by focusing on what they do have rather than dwelling on what’s lacking; they embrace the challenge as their own. Never let what you can’t do prevent you from doing what you can. Perspective is everything; see the opportunity that accompanies every challenge. Can’t win? Then commit to showing how much closer you can get to the winners. Coaching the novices when you believe you should have the varsity? Then commit to winning the novice event.
Limitations come in many shapes and sizes but all can be addressed, and sometimes solved, with a positive attitude. The coach’s attitude is paramount and infectious. The athletes will adopt the same attitude—positive or negative—as their coach. Actions, words, tone of voice, and body language all directly influence the athletes. So do expectations. Expect a good attitude and athletes will rise up and adopt one. Accept complaining and it becomes infectious, bringing everyone down.
Identify the one big impediment, the limiting factor. This could be anything on or off the water that most dramatically limits success. Focus on this rather than distributing effort over a range of things for lesser gains. By addressing the biggest problem first, the greatest improvement can be achieved. If necessary, start with smaller items to build positive momentum and a sense of accomplishment, but do not let them deter or delay you from tackling the most significant challenge.
If unsure where or how to begin, then ask for advice. Google may be a good place to start, but reaching out to other coaches to take advantage of their experience and perspective will help more. Almost everyone enjoys sharing their knowledge, and rowing coaches have plenty.
Once where to begin is established, be just as willing to ask for help. This includes asking athletes. Most will respond positively when the request is framed as “we” have this problem and together we can address it. Overcoming a challenge together conditions them to do the same on the water.
There is always something. If we wait for the perfect situation, we’ll only ever be waiting. Act now with the conditions as they exist. We regularly ask our athletes to perform in challenging circumstances. We should challenge ourselves to do likewise.