Will it make the Boat Go Faster? Out-learning, not out-working…

I wanted to motivate my Year 11s in my new school after a difficult Year 10. I have been listening to the BBC podcast “Don’t Tell Me The Score” for a couple of years now, where Simon Mundie asks “What can sport teach us about life and how best to live it?”. The story behind many of the podcasts are inspirational, and I was going to use several – including “Facing Fear” by Gareth Thomas – in assemblies.

However, I wanted to introduce my Year 11s to Growth Mindset, and give them a framework to show that they should believe in working hard (performance) and not worry about exam results. So I chose Clarity by Ben Hunt-Davis, broadcast during lockdown on 16 Apr 2020. In the interview, Ben tells how he and his rowing team chose to work smarter and with a very clear and precise goal to get better at what they were doing. In their case rowing to win a gold medal at the Sydney Olympics… hence the question – Will it make the Boat Go Faster?

I was rewarded at the recent sixth form options evening having one of my Y11s clearly explain to her Mum that her objective was to work hard and get better at learning rather than aim for a particular grade next year…

You can listen to the podcast here, with highlighted sections below; the video of the Olympics final here; and buy the book here.

Choice sections:

19.40 We thought that resilience was going to be really important.

20.15 The goal became far, far more focussed. We became pretty ruthless about making sure everything we did was helping take us in that direction. But we couldn’t control whether we won or not. We have no control over how fast The Aussies, Germans, Americans, Dutch, anyone else in the world were going to go. All we could do do is control how fast we went, our boat speed.

22.55 We started doing things differently in October 98. Rowing like most sports is about rhythm and timing. Our first regatta was in Belgium in May, a World Cup regatta and we hadn’t done any work on starts, or race sharpness. We just wanted to generate the right rhythm for the middle of the race. Our goal was 1800m at this rhythm. We finished and people were shouting at us and we didn’t know what we had done wrong. We had come second! We realised then that concentrating on the performance stuff could work.

24.40 We worked incredibly hard on learning. We worked really hard on a learning culture. We were not going to out-work people, but we needed to out-learn people every day.