Colonel Stas Preczewski, better known as Coach P., was the coach of the Army Crew Team for the United States Military Academy at West Point. He was responsible for managing two teams of rowers for the 2000 meter race. They were the Varsity and Junior Varsity (JV) teams and consisted of eight rowers per crew. The 2000 meter races are considered to be very rigorous and could also be compared to playing two basketball games. Because rowing can be so exhausting, the sport requires a lot of endurance and strength to be successful. It is also important to focus on the psychological aspects of this sport. According to a survey that was done by the U.S. Olympic Committee, coaches with at least four years’ experience felt that psychological aspects should be focused on as part of coaching a successful and winning crew. Teamwork was considered essential for all of the rowers. If a rower only thought about his technique, it could potentially slow the entire boat down because the team would no longer be synchronized. All crew members must also have trust in one another.
The Army Crew Team of 2001-2002 had gone through extensive training year-round to prepare for the National Championships that are held in spring. In winter they spend time building strength by lifting weights and perfecting technique by practicing on the Ergometer, or ‘erg,’ which is a measuring tool for rowers to determine individual technique and endurance. In the spring they went on a retreat to Atlanta where ultimately Coach P. would determine the members who would fulfill the Varsity and JV teams. Coach P. determined the teams by using a system referred to as ‘seat racing,’ the same method that is used in selecting rowers for the Olympics. He determined the members of the Varsity team by taking the top eight scores for individual strength, with the exception of two men. One was more self-absorbed and was only concerned with his own success, and the other did not have a strong technique.
After he chose the teams, they raced each other and the Varsity team won, which confirmed his evaluation. Immediately when they got back to training on the Hudson River, the Varsity team was unhappy because they did not beat the JV team by a greater margin at the retreat, and Coach P. thought that they were just striving for excellence. However, throughout the spring, the JV team was consistently beating the Varsity team. Coach P. was concerned with this and did more testing, which revealed that the Varsity team was stronger and had more endurance then the JV team. He could not figure out why this was the case. He, along with his assistant, determined that there were many more team disrupters on the Varsity team, and there were no team disrupters on the JV team.
They then brought in members from the Center for Enhanced Performance, who could help with building team and individual performance. The JV team took well to this and employed the techniques for building new attitudes and confidence, but the Varsity did not seem to do this and felt that any positive display towards one another was too ‘touchy feely.’ The JV team continued to beat the Varsity team. After each race the Varsity team would heavily critique one another on an individual level. The JV team only focused on displaying inspirational sayings such as “we will succeed together, we will fail together.” The Varsity team and Coach P. were looking for answers.
The Varsity team was not winning races because they did not know how to work well with each other and work as a team. This is something that the JV team was able to do very effectively. It has been proven through many findings in research that people perform better if they exhibit teamwork (Chieh-Wen, Yi-Fan & MingChia, 2010). When a team works together, it enhances the quality of the work and instills trust and satisfaction in the team members (Chieh-Wen, Yi-Fan & MingChia, 2010). It was very apparent that the Varsity team was not happy with the outcomes of any of their races, including the first race they had against the JV team. Throughout the season the Varsity team was not working well together, which translated into poor performance.
Trust is also very important for effective teamwork. Welch and Welch (2011) state in the article “How to Build a Winning Team” that when a winning team “is infused with trust, people play to their better angles. They share ideas freely (p. 2).” Clearly the Varsity team had opinions about each other, however, they were not encouraged to state their problems directly to each other, they were to direct the questions to Coach P. Each of the members of the Varsity team were selected because of their strength and endurance, so most of them thought that they were the best, and it almost seems as if they did not trust that any of the other teammates were as good. This could also be explained when Coach P. examined both the JV and Varsity teams strengths and weaknesses and determined that the Varsity team consisted of many team disrupters, or people that either talk too much or criticize others during practice.
The article called “Nurturing Interpersonal Trust in Knowledge-Sharing Networks” (2003) also talks about two dimensions of trust. One dimension is benevolence, or the idea that people feel that they are being cared about and have an interest in their well-being and the other is competence, which is that the person has relevant expertise and can be depended on to know information (Abrams, Cross, Lesser, and Levin). These are two important aspects to teamwork that are clearly an issue impacting the Varsity team.
The Varsity team also felt that at one point in the season Coach P. was trying to create a rivalry between the two teams which is why they had to row against each other in practice so often. A member of the Varsity team felt that it was unnerving that they had to compete against the JV team, almost like making them off of their game. They had no clear direction as to where the team was going, no proper leadership to direct them. “In groups that had high levels of collaborative behavior, the team leaders clearly made a significant difference (Gratton, Erickson p. 106, 2007).” It is important to have leadership and direction. The Varsity team did not have any members who did this nor did they feel that their coach was always supportive.
The problem lies with the lack of teamwork within the Varsity team. They did not have proper leadership or trust to be able to be a winning team. The Varsity team continues to be beaten by the JV team due to the lack of teamwork. Being in synch is what rowing is all about, and they are not able to do this. The dictionary defines teamwork as “cooperative or coordinated effort on the part of a group of persons acting together as a team or in the interest of a common cause.”
Coach P. must determine what to do with the Varsity team and he is faced with three options. The first option would be to switch the Varsity and JV boats. Second, he could switch individual members from each boat. Finally, he could keep everything as is, and try to increase the Varsity boat’s performance so that they start to win. Each option will be evaluated based on several criteria. The ultimate goal of Coach P. and all of the team members is to develop a winning team. Each option must be evaluated on whether the chosen team will maximize its performance and win races.
Also is there enough time to make the changes necessary to win? Timing is important because there were only four days until the National Championships. Can there be a positive relationship between team members with each option? The important aspect to focus on is whether or not the relationships can maintain or be mended. Having positive relationships are directly related to the importance of teamwork and whether or not positive teamwork will happen at all.
The first option to be evaluated is the possibility of switching the Varsity and JV boats. The team members on the JV team were assigned to that boat because their performance, individually, was not as good as the members who were initially chosen for the Varsity team. With the exception of two members on the JV team, they consisted of members who were not nearly as strong, had less endurance and were also technically not as good as the Varsity team. It would be fairly easy to make this adjustment so timing would not be an issue since and could be easily done within four days. Will the relationship between both of the boats change if the boats were switched?
There is a possibility that the JV teams relationship would change because they initially thought that they had nothing to lose being on the JV team. If they were to be named the new Varsity team, personalities could change because of the increased stress level since they no longer will have the ‘nothing to lose’ feeling. Even one of the members from the JV team were not chosen for the Varsity team initially because of his focus was on individual performance, and he was also critical of others, and these reactions could be reignited if the switch was made.
Coach P. could switch individual team members between boats. Based on documented results, Coach P. specifically chose the Varsity boat due to their strength and endurance. Since there were a few members that were also very strong on the JV team, the switch could still keep the performance at a high level. The rower that struggled with technique could maybe improve on performance if he were with other members that were just as strong. Being in synch is something that is extremely important in rowing, and if a team is not able to do this, they will not be successful. Timing could be an issue with this option since they only have four days to learn how to work with one another.
Trust could be a problem as well since they have not worked with each other on a consistent basis. Because of the short amount of time that they have to work with one another, it can also have a negative effect on the relationship of the team. Psychological factors are important to the success of any rowing team and they could be compromised, especially the original members of the Varsity team. They will feel even more beat down. Coach P. has already tested this option and the JV team members had a difficult time getting along with the Varsity members.
Finally, Coach P. could not make any adjustment between the JV and Varsity teams and try to focus on getting the Varsity team to work with one another. The members of the Varsity team were evaluated at the Atlanta retreat by Coach P. and he determined that they were the strongest, had the most endurance, and had the best technique. This is the reason that they were chosen for the Varsity team in the first place, so the performance potential is definitely present in each of the Varsity team members. Timing is something that could be an issue because it might be questioned as to how can the Varsity team learn to work with each other in four days if they were unable to work well as a team up until then? Four days is a very short time frame to develop trust in one another. This is also important in determining whether or not the relationship could be mended.
Coach P. has already tried to work on building a more positive relationship that would enhance performance when he brought in a person from the Center for Enhanced Performance to specifically work on building their confidence in one another. When Coach P. initially selected the teams, he did not see that there were ‘team disrupters’ even though he did see that in members that he did not select for the Varsity team and purposely put them on the JV team. This shows that there may be potential in mending the relationships, if Coach P.’s initial analyses were correct.
Recommendations and Plan of Action
Coach P. should keep the Varsity team as-is and try to build on the teamwork. The main reason is because in his initial analysis at the Atlanta retreat he had determined that they are in fact the strongest, have the most endurance and technically are the best rowers out of the sixteen men. If he were to switch the boats, it is almost like settling for second best since he knows that they are not the best performers. The relationships are also something that could be of issue in the other two options. It is unknown that the relationship will maintain if the JV team boat were switched, and it was clear that if individual team members were switched that they did not work well with each other through the initial tests that done by Coach P. Coach P. needs to realize that he needs to stand in front of his team to help influence them to perform better and find ways so that they can work well together. “Research findings demonstrate that perceived team support significantly influences teamwork behavior and trust (Cheih-Wen, Yi-Fang &Ming-Cha, 2010).”
Since they do not have trust in their coach at all times, based on discussions that they had when they were pinning their failures on their coach, how can they develop trust in one another? Coach P. has put a lot of pressure on them to be a winning team. Along with that pressure, comes more criticism. Coach P. asked that each of the team members only go to him when they have negative things to say about another team member and the Varsity team would email him on a consistent basis. Open and honest communication is extremely important when building trust with one another and if Coach P. is only asking his team to come to him with negative comments, this is not endorsing an open and honest line of communication (Byrne 1999). It does not seem that the Varsity team was able to build any personal connections. Learning what one another has in common on a personal level rather than just a competitive level could help with building that trust (Abrams, Cross, Lesser & Levin 2003). If Coach P. would help with facilitating more personal relationships, they may learn to work well together, even possibly quickly.
The process of teamwork “requires spending time together as a team and making that time enjoyable. By coaching, training together, establishing common goals…and having fun together” teams can accomplish a lot together (Byrne, 1999). They need to find something that is fun to do rather than just concentrate on the seriousness of competition. Personal connections can help develop a care for one another and also more approachable when there are more serious issues that are needed to be discussed (Abrams, Cross, Lesser and Levin, 2003). If the Varsity team is able to laugh together, they will be able to communicate on a more positive level and develop teamwork. In the future, Coach P. should focus developing personal connections with his team earlier on. They will develop trust and positive teamwork that will translate onto the water where they can be more in synch.
The Varsity Army Crew team did not know how to work well together as a team albeit they were great performers individually. They were not able to beat the JV team, who exhibited a great amount of teamwork even though they were not as strong performers individually. The varsity team was too critical of one another and had no personal connection. After evaluating several options as to what Coach P. should do days before the National Championships, it was determined that he should try to work things out with the Varsity team so that they could work together more cohesively. If they are able to work together as a team, their outstanding strength, endurance and technique should translate to success as a winning team.