A friend of mine on the women’s crew team recently told me that her favorite part of rowing is that there cannot be a superstar on the team; everyone is relied upon equally to effectively power the boat across the water. If one person messes up and catches a “crab,” the whole boat is affected. This is why it’s imperative that all rowers work together and each takes accountability for her actions.
Of course there is going to be a more high-profile rower on each team — the rower that is always in the top boat, gets the best split times and is looked to for leadership. However, that one rower does not have the power to make or break a race.
This led me to question whether all other sports depend on a superstar to drive the team. In sports like basketball, soccer, baseball and water polo, for example, one is able to look at statistics to determine success and ability: the player with the most points, rebounds, goals or saves. These players are typically the ones who are relied upon to create the greatest offensive output and will lead the team to victory or failure.
Rowing is unique because that much pressure and expectation cannot be placed on one teammate. But are teams that rely so heavily upon one athlete ever successful in the long run? I don’t think they can be.
After the Stanford women’s basketball team dismantled Arizona on Friday night, I realized that one player — like senior All-American Chiney Ogwumike — can only carry a team up to a certain point. After that, it becomes necessary to get help from elsewhere in order to find long-term success.
All 15 members of the squad played on Friday, with scoring coming from 10 different players, three of whom scored in double digits.
“It was nice to get a lot of people in the game and have them contribute,” said head coach Tara VanDerveer. “Chiney always plays well for us, but she’s very unselfish and she knows she needs other people to play well around her.”
This mentality represents a key change from last season. Last year’s team was a one-trick pony with Ogwumike leading the way, and point guard Amber Orrange picking up the slack towards the end of the season. The Card won the Pac-12 conference and tournament titles but fell short of what would have been its sixth Final Four appearance when it lost in the NCAA Sweet 16.
One player cannot propel a team all the way. With Ogwumike playing up to the standards of national player of the year and multiple teammates stepping up and doing damage as well, the Card has dominated every game it has played this season — a loss at No. 1 Connecticut aside — and is expected to get much deeper into the NCAA tournament this season.
But what about Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant? The Lakers have fallen apart without Kobe, so he must have been the only glue holding the team together, right? But remember that Kobe always had an experienced team behind him when the Lakers won the NBA championship — Shaq, Derek Fisher, Pau Gasol, Robert Horry, Horace Grant.
And look at Lebron James. It wasn’t until he moved to the Heat and joined other superior players, such as Chris Bosh, Dwayne Wade, Shane Battier, Mario Chalmers and, later on, Ray Allen, that he got his ring.
There will almost always be a player who stands out as the best on the team and leads the way for the rest; however, he or she can’t do it alone. As rowing has demonstrated, you may have the best rower in the nation on your team, but he can’t win a regatta by himself — he would just end up rowing in circles.
Ashley Westhem has been with the women’s basketball team in Arizona all weekend. Ask her about her block of Tara VanDerveer during the staff basketball game at awesthem ‘at’ stanford.edu.