Be the “Worst Rower in the boat”

Our work in elite sport means that we get to learn some important things from some truly great performers.

This includes being around extraordinary athletes such as Sir Steve Redgrave, 5 times Olympic champion.

Sir Steve once said that he was committed to being the “worst rower in the boat”. Interesting commitment!

And there’s a lot in that quote, so read on…

Reading time: 4 minutes

“In the boat”

If you weren’t committed to high performance then being the worst rower would be easy. Simply don’t turn up for training, adopt an unhelpful mindset, let your technical skills get out of date, don’t put any effort in, keep making the same mistakes. If you did those things consistently you’ll pretty much be the worst rower in no time. Job done!

If Sir Steve had put all his energies and determination into simply being the worst rower, he’d have probably achieved that aim quite quickly! So the “in the boat” bit of the quote is pretty important.

Competition within a team

In competitive team sports, the competition is not just external competition. In a squad, everyone is working hard to ensure that they remain in the squad and achieve an actual place on the team.

That hard work happens every day – in training, in competition and in rest & recovery. Of course, the hard work doesn’t stop with being selected. Each squad member has to prove continually that they merit being selected for the team.

There’s always another squad member who would like your shirt! So earning it is only half the story. Keeping it is another. In the world of elite sport, just because you once earned the shirt or vest doesn’t mean it’s yours for keeps.

Sir Steve clearly wanted to be “in the boat” – so simply being in the squad would never have been enough. Worst rower maybe, but always in the boat he wanted to be in. For a sport like rowing, there are always other athletes who would have happily relieved him of his seat in the boat. So what?

Supporting and challenging

Being the worst rower in the boat meant that Sir Steve was committed to ensuring every other team member was better than he was. That way – given his extraordinary talent, abilities and capacity for hard work – they’d be pretty good. And the boat would be likely go quite quickly with him and a bunch of people who were all better than him!

To fulfil his commitment to being the “worst in the boat”, Sir Steve would need to use all his experience, knowledge and drive to ensure that each other team member was better than him. He’d have to do everything in his power to ensure that he was surrounded by team members who, quite simply, were better than he was.

Being the best you can be too

Of course, he’d have to stay in the boat. So at the same time, he’d have to work just as hard at keeping himself great.

He would have to be making sure his skills were continually improved and that they were relevant, ensuring his tactical awareness and experience was brought to the fore. He would have to be making sure that his physical conditioning was the best it could be, that his attitude was world class and that he rested and recovered with a quality that was easily good enough.

All this to secure his seat in a highly competitive environment. A world class him and crew mates who were of a great standard – now, there’s a powerful combination!

How is it for you in your team?

So what about you? Think about your team? Are you the worst rower in the boat?

How do you use all your skills, talent and experience to ensure that each member of your team is better than you while keeping yourself relevant?

How do you make sure you don’t let the standard drop – not just because someone else might want to take your shirt (we get that the rules are a little different at work), but because you are totally committed to being the best version of yourself you could possibly be.

And when you take a look at you and your team, who needs changing – them or you?