« Australia Update #5 »

Today we really get into the racing.  After yesterdays trip to the Zoo, I could feel it was time to begin paying attention to our bodies a bit more.  Today we would race the heat for the schoolgirls eight and, to be honest, I was a bit confused with my emotions.  I would love to win that event in the same dominating fashion as we took the heat for the U19 eight.  However, while that might make it easier to spend more of the trip sightseeing and continuing the adventures of the past few days, it would have been pretty anti-climactic when it comes to the real reason for the trip.  To have a positive training effect on the girls and their rowing, we needed to be placed into pressure situations.  In fact, before we left Saratoga I remember telling the girls this same thing.  I told them how important it would be to make sure we faced the pressure of a tight race before we ended up in the final and facing pressures we had not felt since August.  While these thoughts tossed around in my head, the kids spent the morning at Pymble studying.  Today we finally got every thing sorted with the morning routine.  The girls found the café on campus and the wireless internet was finally working reliably for us.  Being such a beautiful day, and with no coffee allowed in the Library, Lexi chose to do her reading on a bench in the garden – life is rough here – not.

At 11 we packed up the van and hit the road for SIRC.  This time we found a great stop for lunch along the way – well lunch and shopping.  It is pretty amazing how any stop can become a shopping stop.  Even if they are only given 30-40 minutes to find lunch.  Once to the race course I will have to admit I was not in the right state of mind, I was excited to race, but not prepared for the kind of challenge we would be presented.  (In the USA most times the U19 eight would be a much faster category than the Schoolgirls category).  I was not really happy at the thought that it could be easy, but I was not fully prepared for the thought that it could be hard (as much as I hoped it would be).  It was also difficult to wrap my mind around the 4 crews advancing to Semi-Finals (we are used to 2)… talk about a lack of pressure.  All these things piled up in my mind (and I am sure some of theirs) and we went about our pre-race business as normal, but something was missing.  When we got out on the water, and up to the start to face Melborne, Walford, and 5 others, we did not remember to play to our strengths or to row our own race.  With the background of the heat for the U19 and our quick move to the lead we tried to win this race off the start.  Off the line in the 50s and struggling to settle we found ourselves very ineffective, spinning our wheels and tiring ourselves out.  This crew, when they are in their rhythm, is tremendous, but it would be like the Chicago Bulls of the 90s and the triangle offense trying to play like the Phoenix suns of that era.  You have to establish your own game and execute it.  That is the most challenging thing of this early season racing.  Usually our “game” is well practiced and tested and refined by the time we race our championship level events.  This week we are hurrying to squeeze a seasons worth of seasoning into 5 races.  Well, there is one sure thing about the fly and die strategy… it always dies at the end.  It was before the 1K that McHart recognized the mistakes we made and quickly shifted the emphasis into “qualify” mode.  With our fatigue from the previous day (and weekend) overcoming that early mistake would have probably knocked a few of them out for the rest of the week if they had been able to fight back into contention.  So, through the line they went, third and frustrated.

As much as I would have liked to dominate AUS racing and continue the celebrity status we were receiving after the U19 heats… This was actually a much better result!  It is moments like these that make a crew.  We lost that race by 10 seconds and we had some lessons we needed to learn from that.  In my estimation, the losses we have had over the past few years are the reason this crew is as strong as it is.  Wins are fun, but the losses teach the lessons necessary to achieve at higher levels. 

Digressing for a moment, I heard a tremendous interview a few years back in which a business expert was explaining why there is an inordinate amount of former top athletes in CEO and Director positions of the major companies.  I had expected him to talk about teamwork and leadership and relational skills, etc… but that was not his take on it at all… If I can paraphrase, he basically said:  top athletes react to failure much differently than the rest of us.  They understand failure as part of the process and whereas others shy away, they learn, strategize, resolve, and get back to it.  Every person and business faces failures along the way, those who can respond like a top athlete to those failures will bring success everywhere they go.

So, post-race, we had what I can already envision as a season changing meeting.  In fact, most of our best seasons have had this kind of meeting at some point.  We need it to get better.  This is why it is SO important that we seek out competition that will challenge us to ever increasing levels.  You know how fish are said to grow only as large as the pond they are in?  To be a big fish in a small pond is like that.  Entering races you are sure to win restricts the growth potential.  This may be the most challenging part of coaching in these days of grade inflation, instant gratification, and “everyone deserves a medal”.  I remember most vividly my greatest growth periods in academics, career, and in sport and I remember the failures that spurred those growth periods.

So, this is what I was hoping for with this trip.  I know, that sounds crazy, but that loss we perfect.  Actually I would have preferred a 6 or 7 second loss… If forging strengthens metal, too much too quickly can also do damage.  These girls, however, are tremendous when faced with this type of hardening.  They reacted to 10 seconds as if it was only 3 or 4 and endured the forging.  Tomorrow we will be stronger.

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