During every Olympics, we have a chance to see young athletes excelling as individuals and as teams. A recent bestseller with adult and young adult versions provides a compelling story as well as writing prompts from the infamous Berlin Games of 1936: The Boys in the Boat: The True Story of an American Team’s Epic Journey to Win Gold at the 1936 Olympics by Daniel James Brown .
Much of the book’s focus is on one particular team member – Joe Rantz – and his determination to surmount a difficult childhood. But all the boys on this University of Washington rowing team were from working class families that suffered through the Great Depression. Keeping a seat in the lead boat was their ticket to staying in college. First they defeated the elite schools of the East and then it was on to Berlin.
“All at once, sixteen arms must begin to pull together, sixteen knees must begin to fold and unfold in unison, eight bodies must begin to slide forward and backward, eight backs must begin to bend and straighten. Each tiny action must be mirrored exactly by each oarsman.”
Brown shows just how broad a successful team can be – and the importance of people who may never actually wear a medal - when he writes about the skills of boat builder George Pocock and difficult decisions made by team coach Al Ulbrickson.
“Each had entirely given himself up to being a part of something larger and more powerful and more important than himself.”
1936 Olympic rowing shell, the Husky Clipper, is now on display in the Conibear
Shellhouse at the University of Washington. Photo by
Many young people will have spent the summer on athletic teams, at summer camps or simply watching the 2016 Rio Olympics – any of which can open the door to writing prompts.
· What were you able to accomplish as a team this summer – and not necessarily an athletic team (perhaps a theatre or singing group)? If your team was successful, why? What did each person contribute to the team’s success? If not, what might have changed the outcome?
· Where did you see teamwork helping athletes achieve success in this year’s Olympic games? How did the athletes demonstrate that teamwork? Even younger children who may not be able to read The Boys in the Boat can see and write about the camaraderie (or lack of it) among athletes.
“They had learned that there were things they could do far better together than alone. They were starting to row now for one another, not just themselves, and it made all the difference.”