Rowing Cornerstone: Novice Coaches

The world of novice coaching isn’t glorious. However, what novice coaching lacks in terms of harmonious boat movement, it makes up for in fundamentality and impact.

What a novice rower learns in their first year on the water will be a part of their rowing journey the rest of life. Coaches that work in the novice realm of our sport deserve more glory than they get; they are laying the cornerstone.

The Pocock Foundation employs three novice coaches:. Margot Shumway (boys at Pocock Rowing Center), Zoe Vais (girls at Pocock Rowing Center, and Kelsey Baker (boys and girls at Renton Rowing Center). Each of these three coaches have enthusiasm for their program and a wealth of tools and tips, which keep them coming back each day. Whether you are a coach that is new to the sport, a long time coach, or a veteran masters rower, you’ll find their words heart-warming and helpful.

One thing that all three coaches share is motivation. They chose coaching as a career because of their passion and drive. All of them embrace the opportunity to give back what they learned in the sport. Coach Margot, a two-time Olympian and now full-time coach, says it like this: “ I had some really incredible coaches. It was such a positive experience for me to be coached, that I wanted to give that experience back to others.”

Though all three of these women are passionate about their work, they didn’t necessarily have their heart set on novice coaching at first. Novice coaching has its particular challenges, which just don’t exist in other parts of coaching. Coach Kelsey and Coach Margot shared their greatest challenge is just running the logistics of a practice with teenagers, communicating to so many different youth, and staying patient with expectations. “Identifying the learning style of each individual and teaching with each style is one of my greatest daily challenges,” Coach Kelsey commented. Kelsey works with her students to learn their styles. She uses video (a medium many students are now much more comfortable with), ergometers, audio learning, and even lets the students coach back to her.  

Coach Zoe said her biggest challenge as a novice coach was less logistical/ technical and more cultural. “With novices, there is no established culture from previous years. You have to reframe and build culture anew every year.”  Thankfully, Zoe has a big asset to help create good culture; as a coach, she has a desire to get to know each athlete on a personal level. Using the personalities and dynamics at play that are unique to that year, she helps each young woman find a place of positive contribution to a collective culture.

While the challenges of novice coaching vary depending on the skill set of the coach, the joys of novice coaching seem to align. Margot, Zoe, and Kelsey all love their rowers for the goofy, lighthearted, uninhibited spirits they bring to the boathouse. “My favorite moments coaching the novice boys are when I let myself relax and enjoy how crazy and silly they can be,” commented Coach Margot. Zoe, while comparing her experience to novice coaching at the University of Washington, remarked, “College girls are goofy in the sense that they adopt personalities and affects, but they aren’t always goofy. Younger girls can’t help being goofy all the time!”  All three of these coaches are happiest when they get a moment to revel in the happiness of being on the water and realize they are helping kids to discover something new about themselves. And that itself is the cornerstone of rowing: a love for the sport and the people you do it with.

If you are a novice coach looking for good resources on how to work with your athletes and develop your program, check out the resources below:

Rowing Training By Jo Anderson from Sports Fitness Advisors

Coaching Novices; Patience and Fundamentals By Rich Davis for USRowing

Ten Tips to Get Your Novices Up to Speed. Now. By  Bill Manning for rowing Magazine

Building Enthusiasm Within Your Novice Program By Katie O’Driscoll for Row2k.com

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