The joy and despair of crew selection decisions

Around this time of year crews are selected for summer racing in the Northern Hemisphere and by national team selectors for the World Champs and Olympics.

Selection is a tense, nervous time for athletes and it has a particular set of social issues that affect coaches, selectors / club captains and the group of athletes under consideration.

When you get picked for a crew

There’s little nicer than getting confirmation that you are in the crew you want for the summer season.  Here’s Sarah Gray telling her local newspaper about her recent trial.

“Extremely nervous … emotionally and physically stressful” was how the 21-year-old Wanganui rower described last week’s national trials and the anxious wait for the team announcement. “There were nine of us going for four places, so it was a bit tense. I was happy when the week was over.”

When you don’t get picked for a crew

The relief of getting the final news is palpable in Sarah’s quote above.  But of course in any selection there will be both winners and losers.  Some people will not make the crew, she adds.

“We were all busy congratulating each other but for everyone who is in the team, there is someone who has missed out.

“That’s very hard because we all know one another and we are all friends.”

Matthew Pinsent, interviewed recently said that he fears “the disappointment for talented British rowers who miss out on places for London 2012 could be so acute that it will be something they never get over.”  And we all know that nobody remembers who was in a losing Boat Race crew – something Sir Matt knows as he was a losing President in 1993.

And what happens if a ‘favoured’ athlete doesn’t have to trial?  There was quite a lot of online reaction to Zac Purchase’s announcement on his blog that he did not have to attend the GB trials – one other lightweight squad member commented

This is an arrogant blog and insulting to the rest of our Lightweight team.

ouch!

So how should a coach ‘name’ the crew?

It is not easy for a coach either.  He may have picked the athletes he wants but how to communicate that to the squad of athletes?  Is there a ‘good’ way to announce good and bad news?

  • Take the ‘losing’ athletes aside and speak to them first
  • Announce the crew to everyone simultaneously
  • Allow losing athletes to speak one on one to him 24 hours after the announcement

The problem with the first is that everyone knows who isn’t in the crew because they have been taken aside.  The second means it’s hard for the winners as they may feel they can’t look pleased while their friends are suffering and some may show emotions they would later prefer to have concealed.

One coach we spoke to said they like to allow the third option to happen after a public announcement or public posting on a message board of the decision.  This allows private emotion and hard questions to be asked and answered in a confidential meeting.

Another told me about Harry Mahon when selecting a quad from 7 athletes – asked each man to write down who he thought the best 4 athletes were and give it to him.  And most of them agreed with his choice.  I think this may work well in some situations.

Raf Wyatt suggested another version of this which she uses –  to ask the squad to write down “Who you’d like to be in the boat with you if you are in the last 500m of a race and sitting half a length down on the winners” – which nicely adds an element of skill, fitness and psychological toughness to the selection decision.

What about you?

Are you an athlete – what is the worst way and best way you’ve been told about selection decisions?  Are you a coach and do you have a recommendation that we haven’t described?

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