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  • Writer's pictureCoach Knickerbocker

Pull The Goalie!

Are any of you podcast fans? Or Hockey fans?

If so, and if you don't already know about the podcast Revisionist History, I strongly recommend it. The podcaster is the author and journalist Malcolm Gladwell (Tipping Point, Outliers).

Recently I listened to one of his podcasts, Malcolm Gladwell's 12 Rules for Life. In it, he describes one of his 12 rules as "pull the goalie". The distillation of this rule is essentially that, in order to succeed or "win" (in this example, in hockey), you sometimes need to make the unpopular or unlikeable or seemingly irrational choice to pull the goalie. If you want to fast forward to this specific point then head to mark 12:56 of the podcast.

Much of Sports has become a data game. Baseball and basketball have evolved towards a more explicit use of data in order to determine the makeup of teams. It is this data that, as described in the podcast, has indicated that pulling the goalie at a specific time threshold in a tie game is the best approach to winning the game. But the time threshold that the data suggests is absolutely inconceivable to anyone who watches or plays or coaches hockey (refer to the podcast).

Let me be clear at this point that I am a huge sports fan, and I will watch just about anything. Anything from Formula 1 racing to Golf to Ski Jumping.

You probably know what's coming.

But Hockey?

Not so much.

That being the case, I DO know that to pull the goalie obviously leaves one exposed, while at the same time giving that goalie-pulled-team an advantage.

So what is your "pull the goalie" approach to your rowing, and to your life?


Here's how I see it.

Pulling the goalie means doing something that others (or maybe even you) would consider outside the expected approach, possibly reckless, risky, an unpopular decision, maybe a bit irrational, in order to give oneself (or the team) an advantage and possibly the win.

When was the last time you encouraged yourself to make the unpopular decision, either unpopular with yourself or unpopular with others, when it came to your pursuit of success?

If you knew that this unpopular strategy would give you an advantage in whatever it was you were pursuing, would you do it? Unapologetically?

If you want to be more competitively successful in your chosen sport, it may mean that you have to decide to put yourself first, which is sometimes an unpopular choice for those around you. The same can be said for being professionally successful or for making life choices that speak to you and not to those around you whose opinions you may internalize.

Pull the goalie.


The tricky part about this form of "pulling the goalie" is that you may not have any explicit data telling you to go for it. No computer model saying, YES, do this thing because the numbers bear out a good result. So in fact this is an even more risky proposition for exactly that reason, no actual data points.

But here's the thing. One can use data and computer models to determine a best approach, but in the world of the human psyche, and determining what may be right for you and your personal pursuit of greatness, there are no numbers, no computer models. Each of you is unique in her approach, what she wants, how she wants to get that thing, and what exactly she is willing to sacrifice in order to...fill in your blank.

Pull the goalie.

I like to encourage the approach of stepping back and getting a 30,000 foot view of one's athletic and competitive self. Especially if you have been rowing for years and repeating the same schedule, training sequence, mental chatter, only sweeping or only sculling, etc.

If you are an individual who plays it safe, or thinks of your world in black and white, than I would imagine you may be less likely to philosophically or practically pull the goalie.

But in my world there are many grays and a bit of technicolor. Meaning sometimes the risk ends up rewarding not just me, but those around me. Which may not have been the initial belief. Sometimes what looks as if it's a risk is actually not, but I don't realize that until it's done and I can look back and review the action taken. Then there are also those moments when the reward is fleeting and the risk taken remains an everlasting ghost.

Whatever it is that you want to accomplish, there will be, at some point in the process, an opportunity to pull the goalie.

Do it.

Don't hesitate because of what people will think or how people react or even what you are hoping may happen.

Do it because if you don't do it you will never know what might have been possible.

Pull the goalie.

Coach Knickerbocker

Row Hard, Row Well, Compete, Have Fun!

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