Only 25 days left until the Olympic Games in Rio. Luckily for those rowers selected they can focus on racing to their best at the Olympic Regatta.
But gettign to that point has been testing and arduous for both the athletes and Coaches. Athletes were selected, and others were not. How much support have the non-selected athletes been given now that the ship has sailed for Rio?
The period of selection will have been the is the most dreadful time of a quadrennial for any Chief Coach. You will have had to tell rowers that their dream of becoming an Olympian will not happen, this year. For some of them that will also mean it will never happen.
Being an Olympian is membership to the most exclusive club in the World. And you only get there on merit. Your Dad can’t buy your place. Performance matters.
In contrast there are athletes of a very high caliber who do not get selected. Athletes who on their best day could hold their own with most Olympians; yet they never get that chance. So with that scenario in mind as a chief coach your duty is to run a process that is as fair as possible.
What does fair mean?
Some would say it is not possible to be fair, others would say it is only important that the athlete feels it is fair. Others will run a first past the post system which is clean and clear, but may not give you the best crew. Which is the best way of doing this….?
I think the simple answer is that there is no best. A basic principle in my mind would be to be consistent and base decisions on performance and not on personal relationships.
As a starting point, no athlete is ever going to like the Coach when they are told the bad news. They will hate the Coach for sure. If the selection has been done well, then they may grow in time to respect that decision, even if they still do not like the Coach. They may still disagree with the selection, after all every athlete that was dropped was good enough….
Often the selection is too close to call based purely on the numbers. So the Coach has to make a judgement call. That sucks for rowers and coaches alike.
“My Olympic dreams gone all because the coach judged I was not good enough”, that feels pretty personal!
I am not trying to defend coaches who pick favourites, or say that we should pity coaches. They chose this profession and have to take the rough and the smooth. But how much support and education do Coaches get around managing this kind of news.
Often the situation is made worse because the coach who is so anxious about having to select the last few places that they keep testing, waiting as long as possible until time runs out. Having the courage to make a decision, no matter how difficult it may be, and delivering the news in a human way does not come easily to many.
As tough as it may be for the Coach to deliver such a message, it bares no comparison to how tough it is to be told such a message. It is something athletes carry with them for a lifetime.
These same issues are prevalent in School, Club and University programmes around the world. The pressures may seem less from the outside, but to athletes at all levels the determination for be selected is just as great.
In an ideal world performances are consistent, the choices obvious and the crews self selecting.
Sometimes this happens, but not often.