Athlos Book Club: The Boys in the Boat

In the Boat

“The ability to yield, to bend, to give way, to accommodate, was sometimes a source of strength in men as well as in wood, so long as it was helmed by inner resolve and by principle.”

George Yeoman Pocock
Master Boat Craftsman and Rowing Expert

Athlos staff recently enjoyed a highly engaging book club discussion on The Boys in the Boat by Daniel James Brown. This phenomenal story of the 1936 U.S. men’s Olympic rowing team is a great showcase of the three Athlos Pillars of Performance.

During our small group discussions, the Performance Character traits of humility, integrity, grit, leadership, focus, social intelligence and optimism were highlighted. The mantra of keeping your head “in the boat,” which the rowing team embraced, is a perspective that several Athlos employees connected to our team aiming to remain focused on helping to create great schools.  The “mind, heart, and body” approach that the rowing coaches integrated transformed a group of random young men into world and Olympic champions. The Athlos pillars certainly mimic this philosophy, especially as the pillars are integrated and woven together throughout the elements of a school.

Another core idea sprinkled within the story was that we all bring strengths to a team and we all have our own baggage. The author shared numerous examples of how everyone on the eight-person team had self-doubt, regardless of the strength and stamina each possessed. Building on both strengths and perceived limitations, the rowing coach directed all energy to a common goal. Tapping into his own social intelligence prowess, the coach was able to turn a slab of clay into a masterpiece through the gritty, focused training exercises practiced on choppy waters.

Athlos co-founder Ryan Van Alfen connected the rigorous, challenging training of the oarsmen to the work that Athlos is doing in overcoming large obstacles to create a company striving to be a champion; a model of what can be done in education. We’ve individually experienced choppy waters, become mired in self-doubt, and felt like a weak link at times but just like the rowing team, tapping into our communal strengths and keeping our heads “in the boat” leads to powerful results.


Written by: Dave DenHartog


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