The Best Calls Ever

Of all the things you say, you never know which will make the difference.

Your most well thought-through and treasured speech can go in one ear and out the other, while the passing comment that you don’t even remember saying can have the greatest effect.

I have seen this principle in action from both sides of the fence.

Some of the best coaching I ever had was the cast-away aside at the end of a session or an unnoticed (by the speaker) thought, buried deep in a well-planned point.

Similarly I have had people tell me that once upon a time, I said something to them which really resonated, while I have had to smile sweetly and pretend that I can remember saying it in order not to offend. [To be fair it is quite possible that the really good stuff was told to them by someone else and only attributed to me…!]

Of course, none of that should diminish from the value of the comment or the skill of the person making it.

As with many things, I think, perhaps, that your deepest insights come when you are not consciously thinking about them – from your peripheral vision, as it were. Just like a physical skill is hindered if we think about it while executing, the same can be said for coaching – which is a skill that needs to be practised as much as any other.

You can’t have a pearl of wisdom buried in another thought if you don’t deliver the main thought in the first place…

An example from my time as an athlete was while training in my single scull in Nottingham with Allan Whitwell coaching me. He had been following me on his bike about 100m behind. In fact I was wondering if he was watching at all. Then as I was turning for another circuit of the lake he asked me:

“How are your finishes today?”

To which I replied (in true rower style)

“ Err, um, not sure. I don’t know really, I wasn’t thinking about them.”


Allan just turned to ride off and simply said:

“Oh. No reason”

I will leave you to work which sculler, of all the scullers in the world who were training at that moment, was thinking about his finishes hardest for the next hour or so.

Now, I don’t know if Allan planned that or if it happened off the cuff. But I am sure that he didn’t realise how long it would stay with me and how many times I would refer back to that moment during some training session in the far future.

He probably still doesn’t, as I never told him (in true rower style!).

~Tom Kay


2 Replies to “The Best Calls Ever”

  1. I remember Sticks (in bow) calling across to the UW crew in the closing few hundred meters of the Windermere Cascade Cup race in 1998 ‘they’re gone’ and I think we instantly took about a seat on them.

  2. Before leaving the jetty for the final that your main picture was the result, Allan Whitwell crouched down and spoke quietly, ” Toby, not many people get a chance to do what you are about to do. Do not be denied your chance. Don’t be denied!”

    That was it.

    Pretty, Pretty, Pretty Good. Has stayed with me ever since!

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