Extraordinary Team Blog

Boys in the Boat: A Great Case Study on Building an Olympic Team

Posted by Kristin Arnold on January 28, 2015

My mother casually mentioned that her latest book club selection as an interesting book about how the US rowing team came together to win Olympic Gold in Berlin in 1936.

I had never heard of Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown.  It’s a New York Times Bestseller (I must be living under a rock), so I immediately went to the closest bookstore (that would be the Hudson Booksellers at the airport!), bought it and promptly devoured it on my flight.

It’s a biographic tale based on historical facts and the memories of one of the crew, Joe Rantz (who the author interviewed extensively).

I think the author took great pains to weave a compelling story with the turmoil of the era – and because he stays so truthful to the story, I must confess, it limps along at times.  That being said, the overarching description of bringing the team together is classic and there is much to be learned here. (No surprise, it is slated to become a movie soon).

I love this description of the team: “Even as rowers must subsume their often fierce sense of independence and self-reliance, at the same time they must hold true to their individuality, their unique capabilities as oarsmen or oarswomen or, for that matter, as human beings. Even if they could, few rowing coaches would simply clone their biggest, strongest, smartest, and most capable rowers. Crew races are not won by clones. They are won by crews, and great crews are carefully balanced blends of both physical abilities and personality types.”

This is a story about how a great team achieved that “balance” and flow.  It’s worth a read.