row2k Features
Collegiate Coaches Corner
Novice Rowing Part 4 - Coaching and Success
January 26, 2021
Erik Dresser, row2k.com

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 Novice Rowing with the following questions:

HOW WOULD YOU CLASSIFY A NOVICE CLASS AS BEING SUCCESSFUL?

BRIAN DAWE – TUFTS
They demonstrate their development and appreciate it. If they row the way I want them to and have prepared for their performances, then I expect that they will do well in competition. That they come back more highly motivated the following year is a bonus.


CAM BROWN – ORANGE COAST MEN
For Orange Coast College, the most important race of the Freshman/Novice Season is the ACRA National Championships in late May. Our development and periodization are focused on this one weekend in late May. We talk about it throughout the year and understand that the wins and losses leading up to this race are meant as steppingstones and opportunities to learn and grow. We emphasize (especially with walk-ons) patience and the importance of learning the three steps to success at Nationals.

First, they have to learn how to train, meaning how to handle properly the mental and physical workload and how to push themselves enough at the right times to experience active and constant improvement. Second, they have to learn how to race, meaning they have to learn all the skills which come with competing such as race preparation, visualization and execution; how to control emotions and how to persevere through stress, fear, pain and circumstances beyond their control. Finally, the last part of the puzzle is how to win. This is perhaps the most difficult phase and requires a spirit and determination which can lead to a victory when boats are separated by very little distance at the end of 2000m. To get across the line first requires going to a place which (figuratively) they may have never gone before. This only happens if they have successfully learned the first two phases. But it is needed to win a race such as the National Championship.

We have had novice crews in years past who have won a bronze or silver medal, and I would certainly have called that crew successful because they executed their peak performance on Finals Day and displayed optimum courage and commitment. In addition, it is the very important job of the novice coach to simply ensure that his or her squad return the following season to race as varsity/sophomores. Ultimately, while winning is coveted and fantastic, we want our novices to learn solid rowing technique, have fun, and develop a passion to come back for their varsity year and achieve success in transferring on to a four-year school afterwards.


EMILIE GROSS – NORTH CAROLINA WOMEN
You can find success in an individual walk-on somewhat early on with those that excel naturally at the sport. From a class perspective, I don’t think you truly know you’ve had a successful novice class until that class has graduated, and that is by the legacy that they left.


JOHN FX FLYNN – NAVY HEAVYWEIGHT MEN
The number of walk-ons who make the top 2 boats is the real indicator for me: there have been years when half of the Navy varsity boat and most of the 2V are former walk-ons, and those were the years when the whole team had their best speed. I also think that a successful class, the kind that is going to produce that number of 1V/2V guys, needs to have good number--a critical mass. You can get lucky with one or two guys in a smaller class, but the bigger classes are where the best long-term development can happen. Those numbers allow us to have a really big fleet of boats where guys can both get out there and learn how to race, but also have the time they need to develop into real contributors.


LUKE AGNINI – GEORGETOWN HEAVYWEIGHT MEN
It’s whenever you find a group of people that “get it”. They know they are part of something bigger than themselves. They work hard for it; they protect it and want to make it better. The other end of the spectrum is entitlement.


CHRIS CLARK – WISCONSIN MEN
Has the physiology, the psychology, and the athleticism to become at a minimum much better and at the extreme, great. The devil is in the details though. Having done this for a long time now, most coaches are lacking the ability to “see the future” in a given rower. To be able to project who will be good, who wants it, and who is capable of winning at the highest level.

The easiest way to get “fooled” is the guy who’s good on the erg from the get-go. It can blind you to their shortcomings; too heavy, short-limbed, zero boat feel, fails in actual races, etc. This “trap” ensnares all coaches from time to time, even at the National Team level. I speak from experience; I’ve been down that road many times before. It’s always, “this time is different, this is the exception”. It never is.


JENN LANGZETTEL – DUQUESNE WOMEN
A successful novice class is one that has a few women in the middle of the erg chart in winter training and show potential to be impactful on varsity as they grow and learn the sport.


CAMPBELL WOODS – MARIST MEN
Men’s college rowing revolves around your top eight which means that on average you need 2 athletes from each class to make the V8. If you can get more, then you have beaten the curve for that class. Therefore, a successful Novice class will produce at least one V8 capable athlete or several 2V8 athletes over the long haul. Outside of this simplified view, a successful novice class is any group of novices who contribute in any way to the team’s ongoing success and culture.


ALICEA STRODEL – MINNESOTA WOMEN
Being able to contribute to the team.


BART THOMPSON – ADRIAN
If a novice finishes their first year with the technique, fitness, work ethic, and value set necessary to integrate into the varsity squad seamlessly the following year then I would say that novice has had a successful novice season.


TODD KENNETT – CORNELL HEAVYWEIGHT MEN
We no longer get a novice class. I consider it a success if we can get a walk on athlete to make a significant contribution to the JV or Varsity by their junior year.


KATIE THURSTIN – STETSON WOMEN
They come back their sophomore year.

HAVE YOU FOUND IT MORE EFFECTIVE FOR NOVICES TO HAVE THEIR OWN SPECIFIC COACH OR AN 'ALL HANDS-ON DECK' APPROACH?

JENN LANGZETTEL – DUQUESNE WOMEN
It is more effective for them to have their own specific coach so they have that one individual they can rely on and go to for their guidance. All other coaches are available to them if need be, but all communication with them goes through the freshman or novice coach.


JOHN FX FLYNN – NAVY HEAVYWEIGHT MEN
Collaborative for sure, especially now that novices are getting mixed in with the upperclassmen earlier and earlier. Doing the same workouts as the returning rowers as soon as possible, getting out in mixed boats, and even swapping coaches so that they get to row with the varsity coach early in the fall are all great teaching opportunities; and they make the novices feel like part of the whole team. The “jump” from a first-year experience to being “on the varsity” always used to be tricky, and I would see lots of folks not come back: they had a good year, but then they feel done and they go do something else. Making them part of the full team during that first year has increased retention. Some still quit, but we are holding on to more and more of those athletes who might have been on the fence at the end of a separate year, and that has helped both the depth and the speed of the team.


BART THOMPSON – ADRIAN
I think it’s important for the novices to know the varsity coach, as well as to know that the varsity coach knows them and is excited about the ways they will be able to contribute to the program as they continue to develop. But I also believe that having a singular novice coach is valuable for consistent messaging during a time when they’re receiving a near-overwhelming amount of input, so throughout the fall especially we keep them with the same coach in general.


KATIE THURSTIN – STETSON WOMEN
I think every coach should be accessible to the novice, but when it comes to coaching, I think having one voice for the first 6-8 weeks is the most effective approach. Consistency is key when teaching novice and if you have multiple coaches there can be too much information to digest.

It can be really overwhelming if novice do not have the opportunity to become proficient at one task before being given another. Mastering little skills creates a positive feedback loop and will keep your novice coming back and wanting to learn more.


CHRIS CLARK – WISCONSIN MEN
There needs to be a few overriding principles that the novice understands or at least tries to. Mostly this should come from one person. However, more importantly, the message needs to be consistent.


ALICEA STRODEL – MINNESOTA WOMEN
The novice experience is so unique, that having their own specific coach is most effective. That being said, we have the staffing resources to make that happen and I know that not all teams do.


JOHN BOYD – IONA
Too often the novices get tossed into the lap of the most inexperienced rowing coach on staff. I think it’s important that the best coaches on staff teach the novices. But in our program, it’s more of an all hands-on deck approach and by that I mean the rowers and especially our coxswains assist in the development of our novices.


BRIAN DAWE – TUFTS
Those are two extremes, one of which I wouldn’t wish on any program at any time. College novices need care and attention. More importantly, they need the most consistent coaching from one of the best coaches on the staff.


EMILIE GROSS – NORTH CAROLINA WOMEN
When learning what rowing is, I have found it more helpful for walk-ons to have one specific coach for the majority of the start of their learning curve. This allows for them to build a trusting relationship and ensure the process of learning what rowing is, is done holistically. I think another coach can be added once the basics are learned, once a week or so to change things up and allow them to learn in a new way.


TODD KENNETT – CORNELL HEAVYWEIGHT MEN
Yes, if we have any walk-ons, we try to have one coach on staff track and keep working with them on a consistent basis. I think the consistency is a big deal.


CAM BROWN – ORANGE COAST MEN
Generally, we are fortunate enough to have at least four coaches involved throughout the season. Besides a Head Coach and an Assistant Coach, we have a Grad Assistant as well as a Volunteer Coach. While the Head Coach is interacting primarily with the varsity (1V, 2V, 3V) squad, the Assistant Coach is primarily responsible for the development of the novices, especially the walk-ons. Our two additional coaches can float between the two squads and this maximizes our coverage of the overall team. What’s extremely important, especially in the Fall, is that the Head Coach does interact at some level with the novices to start that connection, since the best novices may be pulled up into the varsity ranks which is the case almost every year when up to four novices (experienced or walk-on) will win a seat in the 1V- which is the “top” boat in the boathouse.

As the year progresses into spring racing, the Head Coach may focus primarily on the 1V & 2V, the Assistant Coach may focus predominantly on the 1N & 2N, and additional coaches may focus on the 3V & 3N or assist with any of the boats. Regarding “all hands-on deck”, we regularly practice switching around coaches and boats, so things stay fresh and a “different eye” can view a boat and help with their development. It is very important also for the athletes to hear a different voice from time to time and we try to bring in guest coaches on certain occasions when available.


CAMPBELL WOODS – MARIST MEN
We do a combination of the two things and again this varies based on the size of the class. We will usually take our third or fourth eight and combine them with the novices in the early fall to produce a development crew. This group will usually go out with our assistant coach, but I try to take them out or at least watch them row once a week so that I can see who is progressing and might make an impact.


LUKE AGNINI – GEORGETOWN HEAVYWEIGHT MEN
I think early on, continuity is helpful for instruction but also for identity. However, keeping things fresh is always helpful.

During these unprecendented times, row2k is working hard to keep rowing coming to you; please help us keeping it coming by supporting our work!


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