Getting a Grip

Recently I had a brief conversation with one of the top coaches in collegiate rowing (if your metric = racing success of his boats) about the transition from athletic performer to athletic coach.   The conversation on this topic could have been longer, but Lunghu is often a laconic kinda guy in situations where verbal brevity can actually increase information throughput (it’s that exformation phenomenon), and anyway both our schedules were dictated by events beyond our control.

He described his own experience as a young assistant to his first true coaching mentor, a former Olympic medallist who took over a struggling Division I women’s program with the goal of getting the team back on a winning course.   As someone who had rowed and raced at the elite level of the sport, she initially had great difficulties adjusting to the reality that not all of her athletes shared the same approach to rowing and level of commitment that she herself had lived and breathed during her entire career as a competitor.   At first, it was tremendously frustrating for her to see rowers who weren’t giving everything they had, who weren’t supporting the other rowers in the boat, who wouldn’t push themselves a little (or a lot) further beyond the point where it started to hurt.   Eventually, she came to accept the fact that some of her rowers would come to the team already equipped with the mindset and tenacity to compete at the highest level, that others might perhaps learn from the example of their coach and teammates, but that some rowers would never be able to make that leap.

Lunghu then remarked that  –after all–  it’s part of any coach’s function to impart that spirit of ferocity and tenacity to [his] rowers, but acknowledged that by the time you get down the roster to the “C” boat and beyond, it’s gonna be a struggle to get the message across.   What Lunghu didn’t tell the coach was that one of his own assistants had inadvertently turned Lunghu into a much more tenacious rower, although she’d used a very unorthodox method and wasn’t even aware that she’d done so.   Wasn’t the time or place to tell that tale…

Pain is inevitable.  Suffering is optional.

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