The Power Of Shared Experiences
The Boys In The Boat
Daniel James Brown’s non-fiction novel, The Boys In The Boat, tells the story of a diverse group of men from lower income and middle class families that came together during the 1936 Olympics to win the gold medal in rowing. These boys from the logging, farm communities and middle class families of a depression era Washington accomplished a goal that to that point had only been there for the monied young men from well established university programs in the East.
The book is set in the shadows of the depression and the rise of Hitler in Germany. The author tells the story of Joe Rantz, a young man with no rowing experience, who was alienated from his family, and rowed only to get a scholarship to the University of Washington. Joe was a strong and independent young man. He had little experience working with others, or benefiting from other’s strengths in order to accomplish his goals. Throughout the story, Joe struggles to ascend to the 1st boat, due to his erratic teamwork.
Lessons on Teamwork
In The Boys In Boat, George Pocock, the sage builder of the rowing shells, sees that Joe Rantz pulls his oars like he is the only fellow in the boat. As if it is up to Joe to row the shell across the finish line all by himself. “When a man rowed like that,” George said, “he was bound to attack the water rather than work with it. And worse, he was bound to not let his crew help him row.” George advises Joe to think of rowing as a symphony and if one musician was out of tempo or tune, the whole symphony would be ruined. “What mattered more than how hard a man rowed, was how well everything he did in the boat, harmonized with what the other fellows were doing.” He has to care about his crew. He has to care about others winning the race, not only that he wins. “Joe, when you really start trusting the other boys, you’ll feel a power in you that is greater than anything you ever imagined,” George concludes.
After Joe Rantz understands and accepts this advice from George Pocock, he is able to ascend to the 1st boat. Additionally, he finds that his effort matters more to his teammates. The addition of Joe to the first boat, leads to that boat's ultimate success. In this story, the takeaway is clear. In order for Joe to be a valuable member of the team, he must want the success of others, let his guard down with his teammates, and trust bonds developed through shared experiences.
In his telling of this story, author Daniel James Brown, shares with us that the boat isn’t just the shell, or the shell and the rowers, but it’s everything that is accomplished together and in harmony by the builder of the boat, the rowers, and the coaches. In this way, the boat is a metaphor for everything that goes into teamwork.
To understand this metaphor of the boat is to know that teamwork isn’t just about the company, or those working on a project, but the sum of all the parts, working together to accomplish a goal. This theme is explored throughout the book. By the time we get to the part of the story where the boys are competing for the gold in the 1936 Olympics, we’ve been pulled into a deep understanding of why these boys, with all their struggles and differences, won the gold. They were a team. Their shared struggles and experiences had brought them together. They rowed as if one, in one direction, and did it better than any other team at that time.
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