This is a cycling blog that also has a leadership lesson. ‘Beat Frank’ is a solution to the problem of keeping a cycling group together when it has disparate fitness and speed levels. Or, more generically, leading a team with different abilities while maintaining group cohesion and supporting individual goals. Or, more historically, how do you prevent the chubby Scout from getting discouraged and the fit Scouts from getting bored?
Lessons from Chubby
You see, Beat Frank was born about 20 years ago back when I was actively involved in Scouting. Here is a typical scenario, you are out for a Saturday hike with your troop composed of ~20 or so boys (later boys and girls). They ranged in age of just barely eleven to nearly fifteen. Some of the boys were athletic and some were decidedly not.
Boys being boys, the fourteen-year-olds would race ahead, the eleven-year-olds would try to keep up and the chubby kid would plod along in the back. When poor Chubby got to a rest point, the fourteen-year-olds would declare ‘ITS ABOUT TIME’ and immediately take off with eleven-year-olds in tow. The older and fitter boys were constantly resting while poor Chubby, the one who needed the break the most, was constantly plodding without respite.
Over time, Saturday hikes lost their appeal. The fit Scouts would describe them as being ‘boring’ because they were constantly waiting. Chubby saw them as torture and got discouraged. The opportunities to lead, teach and develop the Scouts through a Saturday hike were lost.
Learning from Chubby
Funny enough, I sometimes found the same thing cycling with adults. I remember one particular group in which some twenty-something guys and gals were grumbling having to wait for the fifty-something laggers. The source of their grumbling was that the twenty-somethings were getting cold and bored waiting. In the meantime the fifty+ were riding way over their comfort level and getting discouraged.
Beat Frank is Born!
From both experiences, I refined a game called of ‘Beat Frank’. Here is how it works. On a set course, the group naturally separates into the Fitties, the core group and the Frank . The Fitties go like hell to a turn around point. For cycling, ideally this is at least 5KM ahead and is fairly obvious (e.g. the first stop sign, t-intersection, etc.). When the Fitties get to that point, they turn around and return whence they have come. Once they have passed the last member of the group – typically me (the Frank) – they turn around and give chase.
I ask them to give me head start (this amount varies but ideally at least a minute or up to 50% of the difference between the turn around point and when they have passed me). Once the first Fitties passes me, I speed up, pass as many of the core group as I can and race the Fitties to the turn around point.
The final part of ‘beating Frank’ does not involve a Frank but instead is a competition between the Fitties to see who has racked up the most clicks on the route. So while I might have cycled a distance of 50KM, the most fit may have ridden 60 or 70KM. The result is rather than waiting 5, 10 or sometimes 20 minutes for the group to catch up; the Fitties, the core and the Frank all get to the turn-around/collection within about 2 minutes of each other. Thus the group stays together, the core group rides to their ability and the Fitties get a great work out.
Different Names – Same Game
In Scouting, the name varied and evolved. Generally though the Fitties were tasked to run ahead and come back with ‘Scouting Reports’. The fifteen and eleven-years old in tow would run back and forth screaming and having great fun… while increasing the distance they traveled. Chubby was now the intelligence Scout; he was expected to listen to the reports and report what he had heard to the group once it had assembled. Often the intelligence scout had observations about the hike that the faster kids had missed while running around like mad. Everyone had a role to play that appealed to their strengths and with a result that achieved the learning objectives.
In Scouting and cycling, the competition and cooperation created greater group cohesion and a better experience. The fast Scouts had a good run and then heard a summary of what they observed or what they missed but was seen by the slower kids plodding along. The cycling adults cheered on the Frank or the fast cyclists to the finish line.
Beyond Chubby and Cycling
Beyond the Scout Troop or cycling trip, I believe that there is a lesson here for organizations. Too often organizations either leave behind their chubbies or hobble their fast cyclists in an effort to create organizational harmony. This ‘tyranny of mediocrity’ satisfies no one and fails everybody. By taking a bit of time and a bit of structure to find a role for everyone and at their own pace – the organization, Scout Troop or cycling trip can have a better experience.
Thus by Beating Frank, everyone wins – especially Frank.