I have just finished an enjoyable weekend coaching the Tyred Swans, an Auckland Masters rowing group. Like most Masters they are short on coaching and are always keen to learn and get feedback – thanks guys it makes coaching you a pleasure.
It occurred to me that groups like this are often inhibited by the good old Kiwi reserve and love of understatement. This thought was prompted by a vignette when I was coaching the bow half of a quad and the stern pair were sitting idle. The bow pair made a good change as a response to some coaching and the boat went faster. I could see that 3 seat had noticed and was excited by the change and said to her ”Say what you just thought.” and she then told me the boat was going better. I then prompted her to tell the two crewmates in the bow what she had felt.
Giving praise like that is not something we do enough of. Typically we are reluctant to be seen as big noting, as implying that we know better, or are being patronising by praising a crew mate. We all know the difficulties that can occur when a crew member offers negative feedback, suggests that it is not their fault, but yours. What I am suggesting is that crews can use positive feedback to generate virtuous circles. If someone makes an improvement and are praised for it they are likely to take responsibility and keep the change for good.
Most of us were brought up to talk little in the boat, “Shut up and row.” was heard often in my youth. I think, to the contrary, that we are missing an opportunity, missing a chance to help each other improve and thus improve the crew. Praise from a peer, from a crew mate, can be very powerful; and praise when it is due, when a change has made the boat faster, is surely the best motivator of all. Even better is when it comes from someone in the boat who can really feel what is happening rather than from the remote figure in the coach boat.
For crews who are short of coaching it is a way of covering for the lack of external feedback, for crews with a coach it is still useful. Well earned praise is potent.
So why don’t you try it next time you are on the water? If a crew mate makes a change for the better tell them!