row2k Features
Youth Coaches Corner
Life of A Youth Rowing Coach Part 1: The Coach's Role & Tips for Making it Work
October 10, 2022
John FX Flynn

The latest installment in our Youth Coaches Corner series--you can learn more about how we compiled these articles and see a list of planned topics and past entries at this link.

If your voice or perspective of your program is missing and you would like to contribute, please contact us to get involved.

This week, the answers we received to two of the four questions we asked about the Life of a Youth Rowing Coach:

How do you view your role as a coach of high school athletes?

Coaching youth athletes goes far beyond teaching drills and giving workouts. Coaches are mentors, role models, a listening ear, mediators, cheerleaders, and problem solvers. Our job is not only to teach them how to row, but to instill values that will help them and others throughout life. We also want to make rowing fun, and have this be a memorable time in their lives.

I think coaching the high school age range can be an extremely dynamic role- especially in a no-cut environment. My role is to create lifetime rowers if I can, but also to teach high-value skills like how to turn a hard physical or psychological situation into a positive opportunity, or even simpler things like how to safely lift weights and track progress.

I think now there is truly an emphasis on creating positive associations to all parts of the sport. I don't think anyone should be afraid of the erg, or panic over the boat they're in. One-hundred percent of the time, my goals as a coach are athlete-focused. How can I create an environment where every athlete can get just a little better every day? More than that, I think it's my job to coach every athlete to the best of my ability; boat speed is as much a product of teamwork as it is personal fitness, so the better our team is, the faster our boats are. My personal philosophy on this is to treat the athletes like the people they are, and to let them be themselves while guiding them toward a common goal.

Of course, as a coach, my role is to make fast boats. But along the way, rowers learn a lot about themselves. They learn about teamwork, leadership, resiliency, goal setting, dedication, and other valuable life skills. They challenge themselves, and realize they are capable of more than they initially thought they were. My role is to guide our athletes through these experiences--while also rowing really fast.

I think the most important role a high school coach can play in an athlete's life is that of a supportive mentor. I want rowers to know that they can always talk to me if they're struggling with anything and know that their mental health should always take priority. They should know that I am always considering what is best for them as people, and not just rowers, but I also think that I should not be the core of the team.

A good team is created from strong athlete leaders who foster a great culture, so while I want to guide my athletes in the right direction, I really want the team to be theirs. It is their experience, their high school rowing career, and they should be at the center of it. I am there to coach the sport, but they are what creates a team. When that clicks and athletes walk away from a season proud of what they accomplished and knowing they're stronger than before with the support of those around them, I've done my job.

Ultimately the number one goal is always about helping the kids grow and learn good life lessons. Competitive rowing is just the path to that goal. It gives athletes something to care about and to work towards. And that's where the opportunity for growth is.

My job is to set them up for success. In my view, "success" is not measured in medals. Success is personal and different for each rower. Whether it’s to win a medal at SRAA’s, beat our rival, make the top 8+/4+/4x, or get an erg score that will get noticed by a college, my job is to create an atmosphere which makes it possible, and to support the athletes along the way.

I view my role as someone who is helping develop the minds of young adults and helping them learn how to handle life in a healthy and effective way. If we do that correctly everything else can fall into place with the rowing.

I'm lucky to coach and teach at the best public school in Massachusetts so our athletes are incredibly driven people already. While some coaches might struggle to get their athletes to find that drive and effort we have the opposite issue. Our staff really tries to create an environment where we take the onus off of constantly performing and basing our self worth off of hitting the external goals like "I have to get an A in order to get a good GPA in order to get to a college in order to get a good job." That kind of thinking is self destructive and easy to get yourself into a bad mental space. If we instead focus on trying to reach our own personal level of success which is based purely on achieving our best performance through our best effort then we need to recognize that that's excellent. The 4'10" novice getting a PR of 9:45 deserves to be just as proud of herself as the 1V girl going 7:15.

As coaches, especially at the junior level, we leave enormous impacts on our athletes. For 4 or more years we see these girls more than their own parents do while we're in season. We have the responsibility and obligation to be effective and quality role models so they can leave our team and continue to grow into better people. If you mess up as their coach/role model one day (none of us are perfect: we've all had those days we wish we could take back), own up to it and teach them that what you did was not okay. You expect them to act a certain way, so hold yourself to those same standards. They model your actions in their everyday lives, make sure they're good ones.

Any tips for balancing coaching with a full-time day job?

With very little time in a full day of teaching for planning, I try to keep life as simple as possible. I share boatings to athletes and assistant coaches via spreadsheet as I'm sure most other coaches do. Managing a staff of 7 other coaches requires a lot of communication as well.

I try to answer questions, plan workouts, and post boatings at the same time every day so all involved know what to expect and when to expect it. Doing the same things the same way and at the same time daily helps me isolate the variables either contributing to or hindering the development of the kids (and often the coaches too). I have to say though, the best moments of the work day are when teaching the kids. When teaching, I can stay present and enjoy the process. Helping kids learn how to understand something difficult makes all the scheduling, communication, management, and repairs worthwhile.

The first thing is looking for ways to build systems to make your job more efficient. Find small ways to cut down on tedious administrative work and little by little both coaching and the full time job can each be done more efficiently.

The other important thing is delegating. As a control-freak/perfectionist it was really hard for me to let go of overseeing every element of the team but I got to the point where there was just no way I could keep up. As I've gradually learned how to delegate projects that I don't need to be directly involved in it has lightened my load and made it easier to focus on the things that I do need to be involved in.

If you enjoy and rely on row2k, we need your help to be able to keep doing all this. Though row2k sometimes looks like a big, outside-funded operation, it mainly runs on enthusiasm and grit. Help us keep it coming, thank you! Learn more.


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