Was Aristotle a Rower?

boatWhy do some sports teams or clubs win more than others?  Why do Manchester United, the Crusaders and the All Blacks, win many more games than they lose?  Manchester City spend more on players than Man. United but United are 19 points clear in the league; the Auckland Blues have a bigger player base than the Canterbury Crusaders but have been behind them for the last nine years; there are more rugby players in England than in New Zealand but the All Blacks usually beat England.

Is winning a habit?  Is it a result of a mind-set?  Do teams win because their coaches are better? Or is it a matter of that elusive thing, talent?

In the short term, for one season, for one championship one team may have more talent.  It seems unlikely though that one team in a competition such as the Premier League should have more physical talent available to it than its rivals have over the long term.  Some teams, or at least their owners, seem to think that coaching is the answer – witness the revolving door parade of coaches at some ambitious clubs as they try to find the magic man to lead the team.

mongrelSo is it mind-set, mental skills, having a bit of mongrel  in them, or perhaps having hired a better sports psychologist that sets the winners apart?  Every pre or post match interview with a player these days subjects the listener to repetition of sport psych mantras; “focus on the basics”, “process not outcome”,  there is on “I” in team” and all the other catch phrases of that eminently quotable profession.

Or is winning a habit?  Do teams get used to winning?  One team I have followed closely since I was involved with them is the Christ’s College  rowing team.  Prior to 1988 they hadn’t won anything significant.  Since then they have won 10 out of 25 of the Maadi Cup National Titles in the eight, 11 out of 25 in the Light four and numerous other major races and titles.

So what changed?  What turned 75 years of mediocre performance into 25 years of stellar performances? Was it inspired coaching?  Over the last 25 years Christ’s have had six coaches for the eight, all have supervised a win.  Is it likely that all six are geniuses?  Do they have more talent available – unlikely in a school of 620 boys when major rivals such as Hamilton Boys and Auckland Grammar have between three and four times as many boys to choose from.  Or do the Christ’s boys have better mental skills; do they have a secret guru teaching them how to control their thoughts?  Not that I know of.


This question ran through my mind at the recent Centenary dinner for Christ’s College rowing.  How does a small school with no obvious advantages come to produce such extraordinary results?  If the difference isn’t in the talent of the boys or the support staff then it must lie in the training and preparation.christcollege

My suggestion then is not that winning is a habit, but that preparing to win is a habit.  “You play like you train” is attributed to Mike Brooks but it was put better in the line usually attributed to

Aristotle: We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.

Those who prepare best usually come out on top.


I learnt a lesson about preparation myself in writing this essay.  I had, like many, believed that the quote was from Aristotle, apparently it is from Will Durant speaking about Aristotle.

2 thoughts on “Was Aristotle a Rower?

  1. rob says:

    Aristotle could coach how to race
    First the cox must steer straight and with grace
    To win’s the endeavour
    Going fast is not clever
    Don’t push ‘til the blade is in place!!!

    [Limerick by: Oarthentic Oars]

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