Students in Service and Leadership at Harvard

Teammates, Mentorship, and Respect

          Through interviews with several upperclassmen, I found that the most critical means of contentment throughout the college experience is a positive introduction to college by older girls on the rowing team. In their combined interview, Adrienne Bielawski and Genevieve Shaw told the story of their four years as part of the Harvard- Radcliffe Lightweight rowing team. They explained that the basis of every meaningful relationship between teammates is respect. Endless hours every day doing grueling workouts create a more significant bond between teammates than more calculated connections facilitated by coaches or captains. The “RVL Family” system, does not work to accomplish these more meaningful relationships. According to Ada, “Artificial support is unfortunate but better than the alternative.” She and Gen think that support this year is not genuine. Their concerns over calculated efforts to cultivate interpersonal relationships on RVL stem from deeper concerts that a crew team “is not a sorority.” As Gen said, “Boatmates are irrespective of age” and meaningful relationships are rooted in earned mutual respect. Key values defined by our coach are less important than natural bonds that can only come from hard work accomplished with unity.     
          Ada referred to her freshman year as her “golden age of rowing”, citing positive leadership by upperclassmen and a healthy relationship with her coach in her reasoning. Ada remarked that the captain of the team at the time was “the best team captain ever” for the culture of respect she created for the team. At that time, the team environment created space for teammates to do the work required to develop as athletes. Ada remarked that there, “was no messing around, out of respect for the seniors.” Though freshmen were purposely excluded from some social events that fall, enforcement of social hierarchy on the team allowed for upperclassmen to represent themselves as distinct and knowledgeable resources to younger girls. Ada and Gen’s sophomore year was hardly similar in culture of RVL, racing results, or leadership. That year, a coaching shift disrupted the spring season and put upperclassmen at odds with their new coach. A more negative team culture was further perpetrated by fierce competition among new freshmen and older teammates. Gen said that seniors would abuse their relationships with younger girls to, “shut down the freshmen,” who threatened the older girls’ position in the boat. Eventually, the girls who were freshmen that year quit rowing or moved to the heavyweight team. Ada and Gen attest this specifically to the “bad example” set by upperclassmen that year who “verbally abused” the freshmen and taught them bad habits related to the 130-pound weight restriction associated with lightweight rowing. Ada and Gen’s junior year was similarly impacted by competition that threatened boating of upperclassmen in charge. A rivalry between a senior who had been on the team all four years and a senior who walked on to the team that year was, “destructive of boat culture,” and made it clear to Ada and Gen that “a few people can really shape team culture.” Today, Ada and Gen hold themselves personally responsible to create a positive team environment for younger girls on the team, much like the environment that was created for them when they were younger.
          Last fall, during a team 2k erg test, Ada was erging next to a senior who was struggling during the workout. At some point, Lizzie, who was sitting next to her, realized she wouldn’t succeed, saw that Ada was close to setting a personal record and began to cheer her on. Ada says, “it blew her mind” but in that moment, Lizzie had done exactly what Ada described as what older girls should do at a certain point in their rowing career: she prioritized Ada’s young ambitions and supported her in a critical moment.
          As upperclassmen work to foster positive team culture, they often project the good things they remember from when they were younger. Ada, Gen, and other seniors on the team work to foster the sort of environment where younger girls can depend on upperclassmen while also showing utmost respect for them. RVL’s class of 2018’s positive introduction to rowing in college made them invested in the team and kept them on it for all four years. Ada remarked that, “We support each other, and the support is what gives us purpose. It’s why people stay and why people struggle to leave.” So, despite changing culture as leadership has changed hands, ongoing support from teammates has kept core members of the team together.
          On being a senior in college, Ada noted that, “During senior year, you are so aware that it is your last year the entire time. Now, I feel like I’ve proven myself and that I am lucky to have gotten so fast, so my job is to reach out to the younger girls on the team to help them in any way. This doesn’t come naturally to me and I really have to work at it.” Gen agreed and added that it’s important to, “Check in but not dictate.” It is very evident to me every day at practice that Ada and Gen makes a conscious effort to lead by example and make sure that freshmen feel like they can reach out to them for advice.

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