Question (especially for a novice boat): What defines a winning/champion boat and one that comes up short?
Attitude. There are a lot of things that define champions but attitude is the most important.
You can still be a championship-caliber team if you’ve lost a race. It’s entirely based on how you react immediately after the race ends, how much time you spend reflecting on everything up to that point (training, practicing, and the race itself), and the commitment you make to yourself and your teammates to go back and worker harder. If you give in to defeat, you’ve already lost all your future races. People aren’t kidding when they say champions don’t quit, they never give up, etc. If you lose a race, especially one you knew you could have won or should have one, you’re allowed to be pissed off with yourself but wallowing in self-pity or taking your anger out on someone else (especially the other competitors or your teammates) is unacceptable. Be angry, but use that anger to motivate you the next time you get out on the water. It’s like the saying goes, let your past make you better, not bitter. Don’t let one bad race affect your attitude or the amount of effort you put into training. If anything, your attitude and the amount of effort you put forth should be better and higher than they were before.
Attitude also defines a winning boat. Championships mean nothing if your attitude doesn’t reflect humility and respect. Look at all the gold medalists from the Olympics last year. One of the common threads amongst all of them was that they didn’t just thank their families, coaches, and teammates … they thanked their competitors too. You have to respect your competition enough to bring it 100% every time you go out to race. Following the rules, stuff like that, that’s obvious but going out and racing to your fullest potential while pushing and being pushed by the competition is one of the biggest signs of respect in sports, at least in my opinion.
You also have to be humble. If you win a big race, like Eastern Sprints in a close race (like say, Brown and Harvard), cheering and whooping it up is always expected but there is a line when it comes to celebrating. Cross it and the quality of your win starts being overshadowed by the way you’re acting. I guarantee you in that race, Brown left the water with a hell of a lot more respect for Harvard than they had going in. If those two crews hadn’t been rowing off each other during the race, it wouldn’t have ended like it did. They were each other’s motivation, they were pushing each other, they were fueling each other and you can’t not have respect for a crew that does that for you.
Champions know that they won’t be champions for long unless they show up for practice every day. They know that they aren’t training to beat their competitors on their best day, they’re training to beat them on their worst. They know that taking one stroke off is a sign of disrespect and that quitting shouldn’t even be in their vocabulary. The team leaders (coxswains, captains, upperclassmen, coaches, etc.) also know that know that attitude reflects leadership.