What I Learned About Leadership From My Daughter’s Rowing Team

My daughter is an avid rower, and I have learned so much I never knew about this amazing sport. See, I’m a runner, mountain biker, and snowboarder. Tying my feet into a boat that only sits 3” above the water with 7 other people doesn’t seem like such a good idea. But this sport gets my respect. Did you know that an 8-man shell (named for their thin hulls) is over 60’ long but weighs less than 200 lbs.? Amazing! It is the oldest intercollegiate sport in the United States, dating back to when Yale challenged Harvard to a rowing race in 1852. Incidentally, the race is still held each year on the Thames River in Connecticut.

What has attracted me to this new sport is the STROKE position. “The stroke” (a team member in that position) of an 8-man boat is the closest seat to the coxswain (“cox”) and implements the cox’s instructions. The STROKE sets the pace that the rest of the boat follows. The rest of the rower’s follow the STROKE’s lead for the most efficient and fastest pace. The STROKE position is filled by an athlete who is solid and consistent. They can hold a consistent pace and rhythm.

Training on dry land for rowers is on a rowing machine. Dryland training is called Erging. Erging can be painfully boring. Sitting stationary for long periods, straining every muscle. Teams train together, with someone holding the STROKE position and setting the pace. So, if your mind wanders, you just have to look back at the stroke.

There are places in our lives where we pull STROKE. Maybe it’s financial leadership at home. Maybe it’s our focus on healthy eating and fitness. Maybe it’s supporting the kids in their homework. Maybe it’s on our volunteer activities. Others look to our leadership to set the pace and rhythm of activity. It is our strongest place where we can lean into our strength to support, give guidance and lead by example both for ourselves and others.

But then there are the other places. Where we struggle. Where we can’t figure things out, feel lost or overwhelmed. Or we get distracted. And often we do these things all by ourselves.

Who pulls STROKE for what you need? Who could you partner with that could provide insight, mentoring or guidance where you’re stopped? Who could you follow (to emulate their habit) that demonstrates the best practices you are aspire to develop?

Before you know it, you will expand the areas of your parenting and life where you are the STROKE for both yourself and others!

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