row2k Features
Collegiate Coaches Corner
Rowing Technique Part 5 - Coaching Influences
September 22, 2020
Erik Dresser,

Following the cancellation of the 2020 spring racing season, row2k solicited the collegiate coaching community to engage in a variety of high-level topics within the profession. We submitted over sixty questions across a dozen topics and thank the coaches and staffs that found time to contribute their thoughts during this stressful time.

This week we focus on the topic of Technique with the following question:


I was very lucky to work as a coach under some of the best in business. When I began coaching at Cal, I was able to work directly under Steve Gladstone. He is a tremendous teacher and always reinforced the basics. Long strokes, stamina and full commitment. He truly enjoyed the process of teaching and he is remarkable at it. After he retired, Coach Mike Teti took over after the Beijing Olympics. He too focused on getting good at the basics and never complicated things. Long strokes, fitness, and show up every day ready to work. He was also tremendous at putting crews together and doing drills that led to the rhythm he wanted.

I was also lucky enough to be around Tim McLaren who was next door at the CRC, and I learned as much as I could from him. The day he explained the concept of “active hang” and compared it to hanging from a water ski rope was a very eye-opening day for me. More importantly, they were all great educators and didn’t have any secrets, they wanted coaches under them to develop.

To this day, I still love watching that 2004 US Olympic 8. Incredible length, connection and rhythm. With that said, it’s tough to show a college crew video of Olympians who are solely dedicated to their craft. When I think of college crews in the era of YouTube and internet video, it’s tough to ignore Coach Gladstone’s crews at Yale.

I have rowed under many coaches in my time and always take the opportunity to row with others when I can. My old master’s coach was integral in much of my coaching style, but I also relate with Kevin Sauer and his style. I have used many of his videos in my coaching sessions.

There is not a coach or crew who does not influence me. There are great ones who I could write a book of notes about and try to copy, and then there are ones who I see and realize I NEVER want to do that! But I can learn from every one of them. So, it could be a quick phone conversation when I am recruiting or it could be watching a crew practice the day before a championship race, but all of them yield ideas. My mentor Dan Roock use to go to big regattas and World Championships with a video camera and just sit on the bank the days before the racing and video different boats rowing by and watch it later to see some of the neat things they were doing.

2015 SUI LM4-
2015 SUI LM4-

The most impressive boat to me was the SUI LM4-. They won a few years in a row, but there was one year that they ran away in that race, and they were stunning. All four rowers were so composed, so similar, it was awesome. I still watch and show that video a number of times a year.

I’ve been fortunate to have excellent coaching mentors. The list is long, but there are four that made huge impressions on me early in my career: Larry Gluckman, Curtis Jordan, Kris Korzeniowski, and Todd Jesdale. The most technically impressive crews to me is a different question. The Italian Lightweight eights from the late 1980s stand out. The Chinese women’s quad in 1993. Katrin Rutschow-Stomporowski in the women’s 1X in 2004. For raw speed it was exciting to watch the 2004 US Men’s 8. All the above had simple, natural, well-connected strokes with very little wasted motion. There appeared to be an absence of technical rigidity, more of a relaxed fluidity between rowers. More recently the current Dutch Men’s quad looks pretty slick.

My college varsity coach was Bill Stowe. We were taught to hammer the catch, including breaking the arms at the catch. I started coaching at my alma mater, the Coast Guard Academy, with Jim Dietz, and I give him all the credit for a more modern approach to rowing technique. More indirectly, Kris Korzeniowski has been a huge influence, dating back to when he was the national technical director. I’m forever grateful to Hartmut Buschbacher for getting me fully involved with the senior national team and teaching me how to coach the highest-level crews. Amy Fuller was another big influence during our nine years together at UCLA and Liz Trond gets credit for letting me hone my coaching of sculling as one of my pre-elite athletes at Long Beach. Then she went from being my assistant coach at Sacramento State to the person I talk to most about all things rowing.

I believe any good Dutch crew sets the standard for being technically impressive. I think I have coached a lot of good technical crews throughout my career, but I’ll never forget Thor Nilsen seeking me out at the world championships to compliment me on my coaching of the U.S. junior girls quad.

I’ve been lucky enough to work with and around great coaches all my life. My relationship to my team is modeled after my working relationship with my collegiate coach Kris Sanford; the way she challenged me and empowered me at the same time. The way I approach training and see the stroke is based on my years working with Justin Moore. He was a great teacher, had a way of making you think about the “why”. Currently I’m spending a lot of time watching the Dutch women.

Jack Smith coached Middletown High School and put me on the right path. One of the summer crews had high school kids Tim Clifford and Phil (“Otto”) Stekl sitting behind me; from stroke one it was brilliant. Allen Rosenberg had this way of expressing things that made one think deeply. I found Harry Mahon’s words and videos after his death, but he is one of the geniuses. The man behind it all is Steve Fairbairn, not everything, but the ground rules of technique and how to be a coach.

There are a number of current coaches whose crews are lovely to watch: Yale men the last couple of years, Texas women last year and Cal the year before that. One of the most efficient crews I have ever seen were from PNRA in 2015 at Canadian Henley, coached by Ted Sobolewski. All these crews move immediately off the front with absolutely no wasted effort. Others include watching John Biglow in the 1982 Head of the Charles and the Polish women’s 2x (Fularczyk and Madaj) in 2014 at Amsterdam live and up close, going 6:39 and coming in second!

The grandfather of my coaching tree is former longtime chairman of rowing at the NYAC, Vinny Ventura. He coached Kevin Murphy who taught me how to row and having been coached by both, there are many similarities in their approach which is the foundation of my style: hard work and remember to keep it simple. One time I was coming off the water having just won a race in my single and Vinny asked me how it went and I immediately went into everything that didn’t go well whether it was my start or my inability to maintain the rate I was looking for, and in the middle of my rant he interrupted me and said, “you won the race, right?” I said, “yes,” and then he walked away. Keep it simple.

I think I've been influenced by every one of my coaches over the years and have taken little bits of the technique or coaching philosophy to meld into my own approach. The basic principles of what moves a boat don't change: length of stroke, power and endurance, crew cohesiveness and confidence, and not slowing the boat down. How you approach each of those aspects can be different or the rhythm of the stroke can vary but the core of it can't really change that much. I think the British 4- from 2012 or some of the Aussie 4-s from the past decade can be held up as examples of length, power, efficiency, and free speed.

My coach in college spent a lot of time with Kevin Sauer and the UVA program, so a lot of my coaching comes from that style. I personally like the team connection of the US Women's team and Olaf Tufte's catches.

I’ve been really lucky to have rowed under some incredible coaches in high school, college and on Team USA, but I think the best coach has always been the single or the pair. The boat will never sugar coat it, and it will feel so fluid when it’s right.

The list of coaches that I have stolen drills and ideas from is really long. The list of rowers that I've watched, and then tried to interpret what they're doing, and then tried to teach it, is also really long. The list of assistant coaches that I've had that have influenced me is also really long.

2015 GBR W2-
2015 GBR W2-

Over the years there have been a lot of talented crews, rowers, and coaches that have called the San Francisco Bay Area their home. I'm very fortunate to be able to be a part of this mostly collaborative environment. I think the GBR W2- of Glover and Stanning is one of the more impressive and fun to watch crews. Not a ton of experience or huge ergs, but two gold medals!

Justin Moore, he does a lot of part/whole drills. And challenges the boat to get the drill together. I think you have to learn how to figure it out sometimes when it's not so perfect, because that's happening in racing. We don't get time-outs!

Most impressive, at junior worlds in England and saw a 4- go by, and saw what it truly means to be suspended by one athlete. That for me was the moment that I saw connection at its highest level. It has stayed with me ever since.

I think that most of the rowers in my generation have been influenced at least in part by Steve Gladstone and Harry Parker and their many successes. At Marist I have been heavily influenced by the legacy of Scott Sanford who passed away in 2002 at what was an all-time peak for the Marist Crew. I never met Scott, but he helped to show what this program was capable of and how to get there. Technically speaking I was blown away by last year’s Yale eight who rowed with absolute precision.

So it’s funny, I absolutely love the first question and have a long list of coaches for that, but most of them are people I think of because of their influence on how I lead my team and conduct myself as a coach, not so much because of their technical prowess, even if they are all exceptional technical coaches.

My dad’s advice to me and my siblings was always “find great mentors”, so I think I’ve always sought out coaches who I find are great leaders of men and women, as I think that’s one of the rarer traits in rowing. It’s relatively easy to teach someone how to identify, understand, and diagnose rowing technique, but it’s much harder to teach someone how to manage, lead, inspire, and care for people.

Similarly, some of the coaches who have influenced me are coaches that I haven’t even met, but rather simply listened to a lot of their talks or read their books and articles. With that said: Kit Bennett (of Skyline High School in Ann Arbor, MI) has been a tremendous friend and mentor to me. Kevin Sauer both for his technical drills but even more so for how he leads his team culture. Same goes for Steve Gladstone (Yale men’s team), Gregg Hartsuff (Michigan men’s team), Paul Bugenhagen (Hobart men’s team), Kari Hughes (Washington College women’s team), all high-quality leaders.

Honestly, my first iteration of this list was 30+ names long, ranging from collegiate coaches to high school coaches younger than I am, which I think is a reflection of my belief that “every person that I meet is my superior in some way.” I’ve been so fortunate to learn so much from so many different people.

Marc Mandel, Eric Catalano, Casey Galvanek, a few other mentors, and my peers have been great assets to learn from over the years. I enjoy watching Brookes from the UK, Yale Men, and the Texas Women for their styles and how impressive their program-wide dedication has been.

I “grew up” in this sport as a lightweight. So, I am always finding myself drawn to the lightweight side of rowing when I am looking for solid technical examples to follow. I have been following Chris Kerber and Bill Brumsted and what they are doing with their crews at Cornell for years now. I like Coach Gladstone’s focus on blade angles and rower alignment with his crews, and Coach O’Neil’s crews unified and precise blade work. I had the opportunity to ride along with Caitlynn Crouch this year at Sarasota. What she and Casey Galvanic are teaching at Sarasota Crew, along with the rest of their staff, is very thought-provoking to me.

While I find I don’t incorporate their teaching into my own very much, I do like to watch how they do things. Long ago I remember watching a video on YouTube of Cornell’s lightweight 8+ from 2008 going full speed down their canal in Ithaca one day at practice. I thought they rowed almost perfectly, and to this day I still believe that was one of the most impressive crews I have ever watched row, with the next closest being Cornell’s lightweight 8+ from 2019. Both crews rowed with seemingly not a single thing out of place. For me, a crew looks best when you can’t distinguish one rower from another within the boat. Those two lightweight crews did that well.

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10/07/2020  10:53:21 AM
Holy Smokes theyre flying

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