Written by Katie Cooper (ACS Athlete)
Rowing clubs across the country depend on a wealth of volunteers to get athletes (often juniors) on the water. There is a huge difference between facilitating access to this and effectively coaching a group of teenagers.
I came to rowing in my 30s and I didn’t coach explicitly for the first two years. I simply trained and competed and was very lucky to have access to a consistent professional coach via both private and club sessions. At the end of the 2019 season my coach offered me the chance to work alongside him with a small group of juniors and that summer I took my powerboat license and the journey began.
The most important thing for me in starting my coaching journey was utilizing my coach as a mentor. Having not lived the sport as a junior it wasn’t a natural transition so I was open to advice, support and sought answers constantly.
His first bit of advice; kit. A good set of full waterproofs (Musto sailing suit), your own life jacket, sunglasses, waterproof gloves and a snood. Nothing is more miserable than sitting on a launch soaked to the bone. Second; take a small tool kit out with you, you never know when a rigger is going to come loose or a footplate fall off…
Practicalities aside, my day job was in teaching so I wasn’t worried about communication with the athletes, I just wanted to ensure they were getting a good deal out of each session. I knew from experience how the head coach worked, I knew what basics he would expect to be instilled, the style of rowing he wanted the athlete to follow and the mentality expected. Overtime they would progress into his group so it was important to maintain consistency and allow for a seamless crew transition.
For the first few weeks, I mirrored sessions that I knew he would run, I checked in pre and post session as to what he wanted from the outing. This was more about me and gaining assurance and over time this tie was cut. I wasn’t given the session plan, I was given control. Initial doubt turned into confidence. They began to feel like my group. I could amend a session to the needs of the athletes and add drills where I saw fit. The one thing that didn’t change was making time to check in with the head coach. Conversations changed from what to do in a session to now looking at crew formations, seating arrangements and technical questions.
The open dialogue allowed for me to learn, to gain imperative knowledge. You do not need to be a professional coach to take out juniors, but you do need to instil the qualities expected from the squad/club. A mentor is key to allow for your progression, for the more you grow, the better the coaching the athletes will receive. Having a consistent approach through a club in coaching will allow for effortless transition for an athlete.
Now we are not on the water, I still call up on my coach to learn new things. This has included rigging, blade length, and gear ratios alongside the land side of coaching; creating a plan, scheduling ergo tests and race selection for the year. Coaching is more than the two hours you might spend with your group during a session. Just like anything in life, practice makes perfect, be willing to learn, make mistakes and most importantly – ask questions!
It is all worth it when they get their first win!