“TOO MANY SECRETS” – 5 Mistakes US Rowing Coaches Make


Coaches in every sport make mistakes.  I am passionate about rowing. As an independent rowing coach and fitness professional the biggest challenge I have in guiding my rowing athletes and clients is dealing with rowing secrets. What are “rowing secrets?”

They are the things rowing coaches won’t share with athletes or other coaches.

Rowing is not a complicated sport. However, training and managing athletes can be complicated. In the United States, the role models for rowing coaches are the high profile coaches of the four major sports – football, basketball, hockey, and baseball. They are role models because they are accessible and analyzed 24-7 on local and national sports networks.

I do not know why high profile rowing coaches are not willing to share the methods and process of their success.

When asked to share their coaching and training secrets, high profile rowing coaches tend to shrug and provide some general guidance. At the  2015 US Rowing Convention, a high profile coach was asked to talk about his recent campaign and I was amazed how packed the room was just to hear him speak. It was definitely out of great respect for what this coach has accomplished in his career, but I wondered if many, like myself, strained to sift out any valuable information from what he presented.

It may be one of the many reasons why rowing coaches in the United States continue to make mistakes in coaching their athletes. I cannot speak for coaches in other countries.

Here are 5 mistakes that US rowing coaches make:



“Too Demanding”

Rowing coaches can demand too much of their athletes. The sport requires an enormous time for training, and athletes do their best to enjoy and do well at the sport. However, rowing coaches always ask for more. It is important to challenge athletes and encourage them to improve themselves.

Yet, standing between two athletes during a “steady-state” workout, and demanding them to “pull-harder” may be a little overboard. Wait,  is it a steady-state workout or a race? I’m confused.

“Too Conservative”

Rowing is a challenging sport. A coach is asking eight individuals to propel a 90-100 kg craft over a mile and a half, while a 50 to 55 kg person is screaming in their face, as fast as they can. By the way, there are 4 to 6 other crafts next to them that a coach wants them to defeat.

Athletes should not go into an Olympic race feeling tentative. They may get hurt. Not physically because of all the years of training, but mentally if they don’t understand that to win they have to push themselves past their limit.



“Too Emotional”

There has been change in American society. Parents want their children to feel happy and safe all the time. I am a parent myself, so I understand this. However, making sure everyone is happy may not be the best thing.

Athletes have to learn how to fail in order to accept defeat in life. Rowing coaches are teachers and should teach athletes how to both fail and succeed. That means telling them when they are doing something wrong even if the athletes and parents do not like it.

“Too Withdrawn”

Yet, we need to connect to our athletes.  Rowing coaches are  teaching a very intense sport. If coaches focus only on the sport and not on their athletes they may find the athletes will never put forth the same effort that the coaches as rowers were asked to give.

Rowing is emotional. A rower wears their heart on their sleeve with every stroke. Either it is broken in defeat or it will propel an entire boat to victory with the trust created in the team culture. If needed, a coach must be able to access their own emotional side for the sake of their athletes.



“Too Consistent”

I believe you have to be consistent. However, building a program without any effort or ability to modify the structure to the type of athletes may hurt a coach in the end. Coaches should be adaptable, because as great planners they should be able to plan around all unforeseen obstacles.

Coaches that do the same thing year after year may become stale. Athletes and team culture will always  change, therefore the coach needs to be able to change with it. Otherwise they may find themselves “out-of-date” or out of a job.

“Too Impatient”

On the other hand, a coach cannot be erratic. Athletes are children or in some cases “child-like”. They depend on their coach which means the coach needs to provide some kind of structure for them to follow. Coaches that are constantly “shaking things up”  are putting the athletes on edge.

Erratic means 2k tests on the Monday after a regatta. Do coaches really expect everyone to pull a personal best right after they raced? Do they enjoy watching their athletes’ potential failure? Are they really trying to make their athletes tougher?



“Too Precise”

Rowing demands precision. Every rower is striving for that perfect stroke and perfect race every single day they are on the water. However, there are some things rowers and coaches cannot control. In their quest for perfection they may stumble.

A coach may be able to handle a setback,  but their athletes may not. The pressures of perfection may be too much to handle. Athletes already need to be perfect in all other aspects of their life. Perhaps rowing could be the sport where they are not perfect but simply successful.

“Too Rebellious”

At the same time, successful rowing coaches and trainers do have a formula for success. Advanced training concepts are more accessible, rowing equipment is cutting edge, and there are more genetically-gifted athletes. Rowing coaches continue to strive in thinking outside the box and introduce new ideas to the sport.

Yet, coaches that drive their athletes to stay ahead of the curve with physiology, technology, and recruiting may be going down an unnecessary road. It has been proven over and over that the sport really hasn’t changed that much in over the last 100 years. Perhaps the real key to a coach’s success may simply be learning how to connect to their athletes and peers better.


As a collegiate rower, I never knew what the workout would be day to day. My coaches would only inform the team session to session.  My only job was to show up and “push/pull” as hard as I could. As  a post-grad this lack of knowledge and understanding caught up with me. My performances began to steadily decline because I had no sense of how hard I was supposed to be working, and I found myself very over-trained.

As a young coach, I achieved early success because I was motivated and willing to work hard. However, eventually mistakes do catch up with you, and you find yourself looking for guidance. It became apparent that true coaching mentors in the sport of rowing are difficult to find. Mostly because the masters do not want to be outshone by their students.

This script has not changed.



I understand that sometimes revealing  too much information is not a good thing.

If  a coach hands out their entire training program  the athletes could become overwhelmed or anxious about what they have been given.

If a coach reveals all their coaching secrets, they may find themselves losing to their former assistant coaches the following year.

Isn’t the goal to set our athletes and coaches up for success?

If the United States wants to develop as a rowing nation, it mean understanding what each athlete and coach needs to be successful. In some cases, that means opening up to give them guidance on what they are about to do, and setting the right expectations.

I just watched the movie Pride the other night. Two coaches, Terrence Howard and Tom Arnold get into an argument after a meet:

ARNOLD: “You want respect in this game, then you’re gonna have to earn it…”

HOWARD: “Why don’t you teach your kids something?”

ARNOLD: “Yeah, he made a bonehead move…it didn’t affect the outcome.”

HOWARD: “You want respect, you give it.”

ARNOLD: “…You EARN it.”

Are we waiting for our athletes and coaches to earn our respect before we teach or tell them anything of value?


We may find that we leave this sport and this earth without leaving any kind of legacy.

And so the cycle continues…

For more information on Strength and Conditioning for rowing, rowing technique, Kettlebells, Clubbells, AthleteDISC, and the Process Communication Model® follow my blog or like me on Facebook at RUFO OPTIMAL WORKOUTS.





3 thoughts on ““TOO MANY SECRETS” – 5 Mistakes US Rowing Coaches Make

  1. Pingback: “12 ANGRY HOLES” – The Trial of Jordan Spieth | rufo optimal workouts®


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