As the coach of the Canadian skeleton team, every once in a while I come across a book that I think everyone on the team would benefit from. This time it’s “Chariots and Horses” by Jason Dorland.
Jason was a member of the Canadian 8-man rowing crew that finished 6th at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. On the surface you may ask why you would want a group of Olympic medal-hopefuls to read a book written by an athlete who didn’t live up to his own (and the team’s collective) expectations. In fact, there are a few really good reasons.
First, it’s a very candid account of some of the very harsh realities of amateur sport – namely, that not everyone wins, and at some point, it’s all over. One of my all-time favourite quotes is that of Wayne Gretzky when asked why he always played for team Canada every time he was asked. ”Because some day they won’t ask.” I feel it’s important to make sure athletes are aware of the fact that representing their country is both a privilege and a limited time offer. One can’t just be ‘going through the motions’ and expect to reach their full potential. At the Olympic level, you need to work very hard at all aspects of sport, not the least of which is the mental side, and this is where the book really hits the mark.
Ever since he began in the sport of rowing, Jason had been taught that there is really only one goal – to win. As discussed in previous posts like Why Do We Compete?, everyone tries to win but what Jason talks about is much more unforgiving. The t-shirt slogan, “second is the first loser” typified what Jason believed. There was no room for personal bests or raising your game to achieve the next level. It was just about winning and nothing else to the extent that Jason admits wanting to physically pummel his opponents sitting in the rowing shells across from him.
As mentioned, Jason’s crew ended up finishing 6th in the final in Seoul and for over a decade, it was a very difficult and emotional pill to swallow. But that experience was what started Jason on the path to a very valuable realization. In his words, “the ultimate paradox in coaching, and in life for that matter, is that when we focus less on winning we increase our chances of improving our performance and ultimately winning more often.” It was quite a journey that Jason endured to arrive at his conclusion but it’s how he now coaches the next generation of young rowers – and the results speak for themselves.
I enjoyed this book immensely for how well and how candidly it was written, but because it deals with the topic of mindset and the importance of coming to an understanding of what allows you to achieve your best possible performance, I’ve ordered a copy for each of the athletes I coach. It’s not a common thing to find a book that addresses this aspect of sport. Neither is it common to hear the perspective of the one that didn’t win, when in reality, they are often the ones who have learned the most from their experiences.
Congratulations Jason and thank you for sharing this great perspective.
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