Coaching at Cal
It has been a great year – a year full of new challenges and new adventures. After the racing in London, I moved down to Berkeley, California to coach at my alma mater, the University of California, Berkeley. For the most part it has been like stepping back 10 years to when I was going to university here. I have a different role and there are definitely some differences around campus and within the team but it has been an enjoyable and slightly surreal walk down memory lane. Most importantly, it has been incredibly rewarding to be a part of something that was so influential and formative for me.
Jumping into the life of a coach has been an interesting transition into the other side of the coach/athlete dynamic and a crash-course on the kind of coach I want to be. I’ve had a wide array of coaches throughout my career and have been able to take the good and bad from all of them to piece together my own style. I’ve laughed at myself many times as I run a particular workout, call a specific drill, or approach something in a certain way that I can trace back to a memory of one of my coaches. Even the bad ones have workouts or points of emphasis that can be useful. I’ve learned a lot in my first year and hope that I’ll be a better coach in the coming year with that experience under my belt.
I’ve come to see that the most important task of the coach is to set up, and manage, a competitive, high performance environment. With a core group of motivated athletes, setting up that environment isn’t that difficult. It boils down to establishing a high level of expectation, accountability, focus, and consistency. That starts with coach. I think it is critical for the group of athletes to feel like a professional approach is being taken – that everything is being considered and tested, and that the opportunities are there for the athletes’ ability to shine through. The selection decisions are never easy, but it isn’t that hard to set up the framework and provide those opportunities.
I can see how coaches would avoid that process or let their egos get in the way. You put a lot of time into certain athletes and develop pre-conceived ideas about who is fast and who might not be. You want to believe that your coaching ‘eye’ is so attuned that you don’t need to test these things. That is nonsense. Having been on both sides of all of this, a thorough and transparent selection process must be in place out of respect for how much the athletes put into it. There is plenty of time to test combinations or different lineups if you are proactive and have been working within that open ‘cream rises to the top’ type system all year.
It is funny how similar the coach and athlete experience are. As an athlete there are huge swings in day-to-day emotion as you will have a great practice and feel unstoppable and then have a bad practice and seriously doubt your ability to tie your own shoes. The same is true for coaches. Some days you come off the water feeling like a genius for having worked with a crew or an athlete to create the desired change and then seen that positive result in speed. It can be just as euphoric as being that athlete that just won the workout or got their best time on an erg test. And then there are days where nothing is going right and anything you say seems to make everything drastically worse. Similarly, it can be as depressing and confidence-shaking as being in that boat that just lost every piece by 20 seconds. I guess it makes sense that everyone involved in this process of pursuing excellence would experience those exaggerated highs and lows.
Outside of coaching I have gone back to training for triathlons, with the focus being Ironman Canada. It has been a much smoother transition from rowing to tri-training this time without the months of injuries that I experienced in the post-Beijing year. I’ve been able to fit in a decent volume of training and have dropped from my peak weight of 215lbs last year to 175lbs right now. Light is fast! I’m excited to race in the Lake Stevens 70.3 in July and then IMC at the end of August. Hopefully there will be another race or two in the fall.
Overall it has been a great year. Having something as meaningful to me as coaching at Cal to jump straight into after London helped me avoid any post-Olympic depression that affects so many athletes. Being around the younger student-athletes and connecting with many of our alumni have repeatedly reminded me how special this experience is. This group of highly motivated, intelligent, and athletic individuals is not a common thing and is not something to be taken for granted. I am lucky to be a part of if again.