The Queens of Turd Mountain


A guest post from Troy Howell Queens of Turd Mountain 

n.b. the phrase is not mine.  I first heard it from Wes Ng at his 2016 Joy of Sculling presentation, and whether or not it’s original with him, I thank him for introducing it to my lexicon and for giving me something to think about over the past few weeks and to write about this morning. 

Too many coaches take it as a given that intra-squad competition is always and inevitably a good thing.  Like many oversimplifications, this is true unless it isn’t.  More accurately, it’s true if certain usually-unmentioned conditions are met.  And it is certainly a counterproductive falsehood when you allow it to make you the Queen of Turd Mountain.

The concept doesn’t require a great deal of illustration, and once grasped, should not be easily forgotten.  Put simply, intrasquad competition works best when and only when the people who are not winning are truly emptying the tanks and making those who are winning give their best effort.  A quote-unquote “victory” over an opponent who is content to make the competition look good to someone watching from the bank while racing well within current capabilities is pretty close to meaningless. 

rowers after a race success

When “turd mountain” gives a meaningless win

Imagine a high school track team with five guys who can all run the mile in around 4:50.  In training, there’s one of the five who usually wins short intervals, another guy who usually wins longer intervals, and a third guy who almost always sets the pace for long runs.  The other two guys always finish in the middle, with an occasional but infrequent surprise.  And they go through the motions of beating one another up a bit in all workouts, but they all keep running in the 4:50’s and the guy who almost always wins keeps almost always winning – except when they go out of town and face the five guys from other schools who can run 4:42. 

If the goal is to run faster than anyone else in the state or even just to keep improving, those five guys need to stop being the Queens of Turd Mountain and shake up their pecking order.  They are not doing each other any favors by training in a way that they content themselves with feeling comfortable being fast relative to one another.  They need to get back to earning their status daily and going faster than they’ve ever gone before.  

The real racing rowing athlete

A few years ago, we had a sculler in the Craftsbury SBTC program who habitually seemed to find a way to break loose from the field during pieces and just walk away.  When she had to empty the tanks to win a piece by half a deck, she did.  More importantly, when she got a length up halfway through a piece, she kept her foot on the gas and expanded her lead.  The situation didn’t seem to matter – she always and inevitably put everything on the table, and it was a ton of fun to watch.  I remember one representative workout when she was crushing it as usual. 

I looked over at Larry Gluckman (listen to Larry on RowingChat),  knowing that we were both thinking more or less the same thing.  “She wants to make a statement,” was Larry’s terse summation.  She was the very antithesis of the Queen of Turd Mountain: the athlete who says “Okay, if you guys aren’t coming, I’m going ahead without you, because the point of this exercise isn’t just finishing in the lead – it’s to make the boat go as fast as I possibly can, right now, and every time I get the opportunity.” 

And if you’re fortunate enough or skilful enough as a motivator and creator of team culture to have more than one or two people in your program who are looking to make a statement, being the Queens of Turd Mountain won’t be an issue and intrasquad competition will serve its intended purpose – the creation of fast boats rather than more grist for the manure pile.

Troy Howell is the author of Achieving Ease and Comfort in the Boat – in the Rowperfect shop

Achieving Ease and Comfort in the Boat by Troy Howell Troy Howell of Craftsbury Sculling Center’s book

Listen to Troy Howell on RowingChat  including a link to the fantastic Ease in the Boat video (bottom of page).


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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. John Yeatman

    Why ‘Queen’ not ‘King’ even when it’s applied to a male team?

  2. Troy Howell

    Just out of faithfulness to narrative consistency and the way I first heard the story. The question is a fair one to raise, though. To have used Kings in the context of a male team might have called to mind the playground game “King of the Mountain” and potentially introduced a note of genuine triumph that could have spoiled the effect. Princes? Summiteers?

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