row2k Features
Youth Coaches Corner
Program Building and Team Culture Part 2: Student Leadership
November 14, 2022
John FX Flynn

Crews meeting at NYRA Fall Junior Invitational, 2022

To learn more about this series and the topics we plan to cover, visit the Youth Coaches Corner's index page. Youth coaches are more than welcome to contact row2k to get involved in future columns.

This week, the answers we received to the second of five questions we asked about Program Building and Team Culture:

What role do the athletes themselves play in your program with setting the culture and providing student leadership?

Our rowers set the culture. The captains meet with the team, without coaches. They talk about their personal and team goals for the year and the type of team they would like to have. The captains meet with the team a couple of times during the year. The goals evolve. The team grows and improves. Another important byproduct of these kinds of meetings is that rowers feel like they are a part of the team and have a say in the team.

Manny Flick #5, 2022
Manny Flick #5, 2022

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.

Captains obviously play a big role in leading by example and being the go-between the team and coaches. We also talk about team culture being the communal product of everyone’s actions and decisions which means everyone has a role to play in building our culture.

NYRA Fall Junior Invitational, 2022
NYRA Fall Junior Invitational, 2022

KIRSTEN ANDERSON - ORLANDO AREA ROWING SOCIETY - DIRECTOR OF ROWING The athletes are always involved. We have regular meetings with captains, coxswains and one on one athlete meetings. Ideas always come through with our rowers and they really have great relationships with the coaching staff. This helps to keep most of what we do athlete-centered.

I lean on captains and seniors on the team to set some of the objectives and have others join in this pursuit. Allowing opportunity for everyone to share their thoughts can be a powerful way to generate ‘buy-in.’ And, I always try to use messaging that is inclusive of all team members: everyone’s contribution to the team is valued.

Head of the Marina, 2022
Head of the Marina, 2022

The athletes play a role in almost everything. We have a lot of different athletes go through our program, but we find common ground with our core values and team goals. A big contributing factor is a leadership program we run in the off-season. Aspiring captains, or even students who want leadership experience, take part in the program. Some take it for multiple years. It’s incredible to see their growth and how they can positively impact those around them. We typically get a dozen or more athletes per leadership program, so what they’ve learned spreads quickly throughout the rest of the team.

The biggest role: the athletes are the ones who live it everyday.

As a coach, you are setting standards and (hopefully) leading through example, but ultimately it’s on the athletes to be operating themselves within the team culture to keep driving it forward. I also believe it’s huge to make sure the students are a part of creating our expectations since it is their team. By allowing them to help create the team they envision for themselves and then putting it out into the world they buy in better.

Once you get into practices, make sure to encourage the behavior you want to see with positive reinforcement as often as you can. They’ve discussed it with each other and developed it to be what they want. That means they have a vested interest to make sure they follow through or they’re breaking promises to themselves and each other. Your athletes will come up with things you may have never thought of because you’re not the one in the boat anymore. They know what it’s like to be an athlete on your team better than you do. So listen to them and respect their opinions, if you do that they’ll run through walls for the team.

San Diego Crew Classic, 2022
San Diego Crew Classic, 2022

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