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Why I went to and what I learned at The Joy of Sculling Coaches Conference, Saratoga Springs, NY, on December 7th, 8th, and 9th, 2018
By Nelsie Aybar-Grau
First of all, this conference was first given in 1999. This year, 2018, marked the 26th time the conference was given. That in and of itself tells a lot about the conference.
After this most engaging conference I decided I would immediately put all my notes on paper (twenty handwritten scratches on loose leaf sheets). After all, I have been doing Natalie-Goldberg-style writing practice with my partner Noelle Adamo now on a weekly basis for 2 and a half years. We both have talked about doing hour long writings but have seldom done this (our writings usually go for 16 minutes). Here I have spent over 35 hours just gathering my thoughts, researching a lot of the people I encountered (either presenters or attendees or conference staff) and following a lot of leads I encounter while researching those same people has lead me to regattas and venues I have never dreamed of.. Although I have been to other rowing conferences, I failed to put it all my notes down and soon lost all the energy experienced. If you don’t get to practice and don’t relate what you have seen, heard and felt, it quickly fades away. So, I am asking a few of you to read this over and, please, check out the links I offer including the one of the conference presenter notes https://tinyurl.com/2018jos. I am only sharing it with those who have done some rowing instruction and may consider volunteering or some sort of career in rowing. However, this is not a manual of how to coach by any means and will only serve to peak your appetite about rowing topics. I am advancing in age and will not be able to do this for too long myself. So, if this can have an impact on anyone I will be humbled and thankful.
This writing exercise has been an education in and of itself. If you only skim the sections please at least read my END NOTE at the bottom.
In August of this year I was checking out the sessions being offered by the USRowing Annual Convention (I have previously attended one in Philadelphia, PA (2015) and one in Springfield, MA (2016). But I could not find anything that, first, I could afford and, second, really interested me. Add to that it was in San Diego, CA which would have been a very big additional cost of travel and lodging. So I somehow stumbled on The Joy of Sculling Conference, given in Saratoga Springs (only an hour and 45 minutes away) where the Head of the Fish Regatta takes place. So I decided this would be less intimidating and affordable. Up to the moment I arrived I thought that this was over my head and I had no business there, but something pushed me—act first and ask questions later, I thought. If you don’t put yourself out there you will stand forever in the same place. What’s the point in that?
I had never heard of this conference before and I did not know it was meant for coaches. “The Joy of Sculling”? that sounded sweet to my ears. Any sculler would love to get in on that. Now I know it has been around since 1999 and 2018 may be the last year it is called that because the founder, Jimmy C. Joy, is retiring.
The conference (JOS for short) spanned from 1pm on Friday December the 7th through 10:45am on Sunday the 9th , 2018 and if I could have squeezed one more nanosecond out of this I would have! I had thought that being among coaches of teams with hundreds of rowers, I would probably have to hide in the back and just listen. But I made myself sit in the front and, when asked, gave my two cents wherever I could. “Unlikely they will ask me to leave the room”, I thought. “Just act like you belong and maybe they would be OK with it”. To my surprise they welcomed me with open arms and I was beyond elated. I learned so much that I shudder to think that I could have talked myself out of this. Thank heavens for my naivete!
Speaking of which (naivete, I mean), I have very few qualifications to call myself a coach. I have only given four masters Learn to Row sessions, two masters sculling clinics, two masters erg clinics, two wooden boat clinics (wooden oars and no sliding seats in a Whitehall) for middle school and disadvantaged kids, and, finally, six private masters sculling classes (my passion and what I love doing the most). There are not that many opportunities for a coach approaching 70 years of age in Kingston, NY— or anywhere else for that matter. I guess I could say my energy comes from my own deep curiosity and sense of fun. I am always trying to answer questions I can’t answer, and I will almost kill (or bankrupt) myself sometimes to get answers. Curiosity killed the cat, they say. But I would rather die having a good time. For me having a good time is putting yourself into situations you probably shouldn’t be in. I know, it sounds stupid, but the biggest advantage of being in your 70’s is that you really don’t care. It’s my mantra. What freedom! Hey, enjoy it while you can.
If you are not a coach you might have the wrong impression of coaches. What is outstanding when you go to conferences like this you realize that coaches are real people. Yeah. Particularly rowing coaches seem to be the some of the most tireless, giving individuals as you will see in the biographies of those I encountered at this conference. In the past rowing coaches were at times regarded as tyrants, intolerant and brutal but in recent years they have become soft, very positive and generous (now the USRowing Level II Coaching Manual written by none other than “you-row-like-shit” Kris Korzeniowski has a chapter on Positive Coaching. OK, he changed quite a bit since his early days!). Maybe it is related to the economics of it (only so many dollars available for sports) but I feel rowing coaches, as a group, have grown enormously. When you have conference tracks with titles such as “mindfulness” and “diversity” and “stability” and “mobility” AND “woman’s track”, you know things have changed. I often felt HUMBLED by the presenters I met as you will see described below. I was lucky that I had the time and money to be able to walk among them. Keep in mind that this conference included six workshop sessions and two special sessions. Each session had as many as six choices of among seventeen speakers. I only experienced eight.
One more point, what I got out of this was not any real recipe as to how to teach rowing, but rather a path to resources INCLUDING the coaches in this conference. Actually, the one important thing for me which I really learned that I didn’t know before came from a boat manufacturer’s presentation (see the Technology Corner, below) and not from one of the coaching presentations.
Friday, December 7th, 2018 ———————————–
 1:00pm – 2:20pm SS1 Foglia, Creating Your Version of the Stroke and Teaching it Effectively
 2:30pm – 2:45pm Coffee Break
 2:45pm – 4:15pm SS2 Purcer, Individual Rigging.
 4:30pm – 5:30pm “Light Dinner” for Special Session Attendees
 5:40pm – 6:50pm Pineau Keynote Address on Mindfulness
 6:50pm – 7:15pm Coffee Break
 7:15pm – 8:35pm WS1 Gehrke, Rhythm and Balance
 8:35pm – 9:35pm Wine & Cheese Social
Saturday, December 8th, 2018 ———————————
 6:30am – 7:30am Yoga
 8:30am – 9:50am WS2 DeLeo, Analysis and Training Protocols to Improve
 9:50am – 10:30am Coffee Break
 10:30am – 11:50am WS3 Whittier, Four Fundamental Movement Concepts to Enhance Body Knowledge
 11:50am – 12:50pm Technology Corner
 12:50pm – 3:00pm Lunch and Annual Coaching Awards
 3:00pm – 4:20pm WS4 Nolte, Breathing
 4:50pm – 6:00pm Coaches Roundtable with Coach Chris Chase
 6:05pm – 7:05pm Beer Social
Sunday, December 9th ——————————————–
 8:00am – 9:20 am WS5 Pineau, Implementing Mental Training
 9:25am – 10:45am WS6 Aquino, Creating a Positive, Dynamic, Diverse Boathouse
SS = Special Session, WS = Workshop Session
Friday, December 7th, 2018 seven and a half hours of continuous immersion
 1:00pm – 2:20pm Friday: Special Sessions 1 (I paid extra to be a part of this) After a wonderful brunch at the Hilton with my friend Laura who was providing her B&B for me to stay during my evenings at Saratoga Springs, I sit down at Coach Jesse Foglia’s session entitled Creating Your Version of the Stroke and Teaching it Effectively, a title that caught my attention and curiosity. I was VERY impressed that my first session would be with a coach for Harvard’s heavyweight crew. I knew nothing about him except what the JOS put on their website. This was his first season with Harvard. It looked like he had been coaching rowing since 2013 where he was assistant coach for the Columbia University lightweight crew. There he scored at the IRA National Championship in 2014 a first for Columbia lightweight rowing. OK, that’s five years. I started rowing in 2010. That’s nine years. While I was lolly-gaging on the Rondout Creek, this guy was teaching Columbia students how to row fast. Cool. But prior to that he coached for two years at Bates College in Lewiston, Maine where he was assistant coach and men’s recruiting coordinator. There he not only scored winnings at the Eastern College Athletic Championships (ECAC) and the New England Conference Rowing Championships (NERC) he became known for having doubled the size of the men’s team. This tells me he is a great communicator and one can learn a lot from him. It is now several weeks since I attended JOS and looking into the background of this gentleman makes me wish that I had somehow found out as much about him as possible BEFORE attending the JOS. Anyway, I found out that this native of Pittsburgh, PA was a 2009 graduate of Duquesne University with a degree in education. Yeah. He knows how to teach and knows how to teach teachers—coaches, that is. He confessed that in his past he taught a kindergarten class but said “it’s a lot like teaching college freshmen”.
I followed his Powerpoint presentation as best I could and took enough notes to jot down the things that impressed me. My notes can be hard to recap as at times my mind would wonder especially when my hand could not keep up with his voice. There was a lot to learn and I only had an hour and twenty minutes to do….then off to the next session.
First of all he said that to get good you need to “watch more rowing” videos, share more videos, take a video camera to regattas. This is something that I TOTALLY get and do frequently. Both of the websites I have built have FAQ buttons that lead you to many videos, both on training and many other things, such as history, documentary, etc. I was very pleased that this was his first BIG idea.
AND as you watch videos, use the buttons to go frame by frame, slow-motion. And then he asked that you “isolate the things that work”, that is, stay positive, then go to the negative.
He talked about technique and style. But what I focused on was one line “the boat does not have to be set”. Wow! Of course it doesn’t! If you constantly focus on whether the boat is set or not you won’t move ahead. Rather, he wants you to focus on “boat feel” that is, understand how to utilize your body to max leverage for max velocity.
He focused on TIME. That you only have so much time for practice and you should have things set up so that time is not wasted.
He said “don’t think you know everything, be open to other’s ideas.
Most especially, KNOW YOUR AUDIENCE. Some people learn visually, others tactilely (hands on), yet others academically (need to see something in writing). Make sure you speak to where they listen or you will not reach them. In other words, use a VOCABULARY they understand.
He has frequent team meetings (weekly) and tries to talk to every athlete once a week. The athlete should know what they should be working on at all times.
He also said you need to know your body of water. For him this must be an immense amount of information. I looked up all the places that Harvard rows: the Charles River in Boston; Lake Carnegie in Princeton, NJ; Lake Quinsigamond in Worcester, Mass.; the Thames River in New London, CT. AND he coached for Columbia U. and in addition to the mentioned sites Columbia rows on the Housatonic River in Derby, CT (I don’t think they have docks but wade into the water with their boats!); Overpeck in Teaneck, NJ (I rowed there!); Mercer Lake in West Windsor, NJ.
Then he talked at length about practice drills which was not of great interest to me but where he talked of pause progressions he liked the “cut the cake” and “screaming eagle” drills. Of great interest to me was that he mentioned you need to know when to tell them to “drag their oars on the water or skim the water”. Finally I heard what I wanted to hear. Letting beginners “recover off the water”, in my opinion, invariably leads to a destabilized boat! LANGUAGE like “skimming” makes it clear you want the oar to either be on the water or just slightly above the water (inch or two). “Off the water” leads to flailing—not a pretty site!
I also heard him say that it requires better skill to row with Croker oars and that wooden handles are good for beginners practice. I noticed that Mahe Drysdale (current Olympic champion and five-time World champion in the single sculls) mostly uses Crokers. My only experience is with Concept2 oars and Dreher oars—Drehers being much lighter. Not sure why this is but I will look into this.
Jesse also gave a talk entitled Lessons Learned: 12 years as an Assistant Coach at the JOS, which I could not attend. BUT! I have access to the Powerpoint presentation slides he used for that talk and I found that he has excellent values and knows how to share them well. Again a great communicator and that’s what you REALLY need in leadership. One of his slides I have printed and put on my wall. It says: What is a coach? A person who cultivates an environment that stimulates growth. This is probably the best definition of a successful coach that I have found.
Other things he espouses: Get uncomfortable, don’t be afraid to acknowledge your weaknesses and attack them—this is how you will grow. He says be a “puppeteer”, that is, make those around you look and be better. Show appreciation. The fact that he has a slide titled “COMMUNICATION” tells me he is a leader because he asks that when you disagree you bring constructive discord to a situation. At the same time “take notes and do research” and recognize there is more than one way to do it. Be patient. Keep a moral compass and never compromise your integrity. Cool beans. Love this guy!
 2:30pm – 2:45pm Coffee Break . Time to hit the bathrooms, grab another cup of coffee (very good, by the way) and see just how many people attended this conference. Yeah, A LOT. I would love to know exactly how many but don’t really have a clue. AND I wanted to track down the founder of the conference because my Coach Scott Johnson seemed to imply that I should do so.
Also I have to admit I knew nothing about this conference nor about the founder, Jimmy Joy, nor his book The Quantum Sculler. As soon as I heard about it I pondered buying the book but did not do so until just before attending the conference. Once I saw Jimmy at the conference I realized I should get his autograph on my copy of the book. At some point during my conversation with Coach Scott Johnson, I felt it would be very important to at least shake his hand. After checking out all the Amazon books reader’s comments on his other books I can see that it will be a book that I will have to read and read again and again. This comment (by Lucy Price) about another of his books particularly caught my eye : “Jimmy Joy uses the example of the self-coached sculling great Ned Hanlan to help the reader develop their own approach to rowing as an “adaptive, reflexive, instinctual pattern.” After reading and re-reading Hanlan I have noted a “sea change” in my concentration, mindfulness and flow on the water.” But the new book, out since 2016, only has one comment that it is too “ethereal”. OK. I have more work to do but wanted to at least share this.
 2:45pm – 4:15pm: Special Sessions 2. I walked into Mike Purcer’s talk on Individual Rigging.
This is a topic WAY over my head but it is presented by a man who is amazingly generous and simpatico. I wish I could spend a whole weekend with him or just study the notes he put up on masters rigging online. Well worth the effort. His first book on rigging was written in 1987, is no longer available and if you want a copy you might be able to obtain it for $200 from Amazon.
Of course he talked about how anatomy has a great deal to do with the way your boat needs to be rigged. As a demonstration he asked us to look to the left and to the right of the row of seats we were seated in and notice who is the tallest. Then he said stand up and do it again. Of course we were all shocked at how different our sizes are when standing.
 4:30pm – 5:30pm “Light Dinner” for Special Session Attendees
Being very early in the large area set up for the dinner, I sat down at an empty table and was soon joined by a lady who said that she had just founded Otsego Area Rowing in Cooperstown, NY. Only when back home and I sat down to write these notes did I discover that she is Andrea Thies, a two time Olympic rower (she competed on the Olympic Rowing teams in 1992 and 1996). She was an incredibly energetic and chatty person. I really enjoyed her company at dinner and the Mike Purcer session we happened to have attended together. I looked her up on google and found this article about her. Yeah, she uses pontoons on her boats to train beginners just like my training boats.
Although at least three other women joined us at the table I can only remember Andrea. Her energy and conversation really took over the memory I had of that dinner. I think she sat down at my table because she felt I needed company as I was alone but also because she had sat near me during Mike Purcer’s talk. She was on the same aisle as I sat but across the center divide. When we did the look at the aisle and see who is tallest and then stand up and look to see who is tallest, I noticed that she was much taller than I, maybe 6 feet ?. Yeah, perfect size for an Olympic rower.
The “light” dinner consisted of a salad, a cheese ravioli with garlic bread, and coffee with giant cookie with ice cream. So much for “light”.
 5:40pm – 6:50pm Conference Opening and Introduction: Keynote Address by Tim Pineau
Mindfulness as a Holistic Approach to Rowing Training. Very engaging talk and you can find the notes on the URL .
 6:50pm – 7:15pm Coffee Break
 7:15pm – 8:35pm Workshop Session #1 Rhythm and Balance with …. Gehrke
 8:35pm – 9:35pm Wine & Cheese Social.
Saturday, December 8th ten more hours of continuous immersion
 6:30am – 7:30am Yoga I missed because I was too tired to even get up and since I was at a friend’s house I wanted to spend a little time with her and talk about other things. So….
 8:30am – 9:50am Dynamic Vis: Analysis and Training Protocols to Improve Power
 9:50am – 10:30am Coffee Break
 10:30am – 11:50am Four Fundamental Movement Concepts to Enhance Body Knowledge.
Cadence Whittier (MFA, CLMA, RSMT/ME) is an Associate Professor of Dance at Hobart and William Smith Colleges in Geneva, NY (halfway between Rochester and Syracuse), where she teaches courses in ballet and contemporary dance technique, Laban/Bartenieff Movement Analysis, kinesiology, and community arts. Cadence enjoys exploring innovative approaches to teaching classical ballet, and has presented and written about the integration of L/BMA theories and classical ballet pedagogy in national and international conferences/journals.
L/BMA framework is useful in contexts in which movement is studied and taught. Movement happens quickly and is constantly in flux. As soon as one movement ends, another has already begun, making comprehensive and accurate observations of movement difficult. Observing what is happening in movement is a common use of the Laban/Bartenieff framework. It is obvious that some genius at the Joy of Sculling Coaches Conference became aware of this and pulled this wonderful woman into the mix of offerings this year. Yay! As soon as I walked into her room and saw all the Swiss exercise balls I thanked my stars that I had the intuition that this would be a good presentation to attend. Cadence did not provide digital notes to the attendees. Her notes were handwritten on paper sheets on the wall. But we did not refer to them very much because we were all immediately engaged in studying and playing with the Swiss balls, peacock tails and rubber straps to physically experience what the movements in rowing actually feel like. Sitting on a ball you could easily understand balance and talk about training rowers to have balance and to prepare themselves for a fall into the water. I remember my Coach Bill Cote always talking about “when you feel you are falling in you should lean in the opposite direction to right yourself”. Of course, we all say, “easier said than done” but, no, this has happened to me. If you train yourself, prepare yourself mentally, you may be able to focus on a recovery rather than focus on how you are about to hit the water. Besides, watching Cadence pirouette around the room put us all in a trance a lot like watching the Nutcracker at the New York City Ballet. And she never disappointed, she was seldom still or quiet.
 11:50am – 12:50pm Technology Corner : Hudson Boat Works
After the exhilaration of the program that Cadence Whittier presented (see above) I was undecided as to where to go next. I really was not interested in the Technology Corner but the Hudson Boat Works representative was setting up and I did not want to be rude and walk out. Not a lot of people were there when it started. So I sat there not really paying attention and not interested in taking any more notes. And was puzzled as to why I did not get up and walk to the other vendor’s presentation, Nielsen-Kellerman. Recently I bought the Nielsen-Kellerman SpeedCoach monitor that they sell and I really should have gone there and asked questions about the neat gadget that I put on my boat to make it spew out data about my rowing session on the water like my ergometer Performance Monitor on the Concept2 Indoor Rower. (I saw Coach Carlos Perez use it and concluded I had to have it even though I was not enamored of the thought of learning to use another gadget).
Now that I am home and relaxed I realize that the Hudson single is one of the first boats I ever rowed at the Mid-Hudson Rowing Association sculling clinics held in summer 2014 by Coach Bill Davies. That is where I got my first rowing lessons in a single. I was told this weekend that that boat did not belong to the Poughkeepsie club but rather it is Bill Davies privately owned scull boat. So it is a boat that a skilled coach would buy for himself. And while looking around for information on the Hudson boats I now realize that Mahe Drysdale (Olympic champion and five-time World champion in the single sculls) often uses a Hudson single. So this is a very respected and successful sculling and sweep boat manufacturer. Was THIS why I subconsciously did not leave to go to the Nielsen-Kellerman talk?
While the presenter flipped through the slides of parts manufactured by his company he showed a picture of a boat’s seat and uttered the words “gender-specific seats”. I was stunned. After over a YEAR of pain around my right “sits bone” it dawned on me that my aggressive rowing practices in a Swift Racing single last summer before the Head of the Rondout race may have been caused by the seat. Yes, the ischial tuberosity is the lower part of your pelvis that’s sometimes referred to as your “sits bones” or “sitz bones”. It helps to absorb your weight when you sit. However, it can also cause pain when a nearby fluid-filled sac, called the ischial bursa, becomes inflamed and causes ischial bursitis.
When I went ran out to the hotel concourse where the vendors had exhibits no one was at the Hudson booth. However, I saw vendor Wintech there and I knew they dealt in boat accessories. When I asked the man there whether they had gender-specific seats he said, “Yes but the best seats are by Croker over there”. He was, of course, pointing to Croker Oars. I walked across to find Greg Doyle at the Croker booth. When I told him I was from Kingston, New York he said “oh, yeah, I recently delivered some used oars there”. “To Coach Scott Johnson”, I asked. He said yes and that he thought Kingston was an interesting place and that he would like to go back there when he has more time to visit.
Great. So then I returned the conversation to the most pressing issue for me. What about these gender-specific seats? Yes, he said that actually, an Italian boat manufacturer was the first to do the gender-specific seats. “Because, of course, Italians know more about women’s butts than American’s do.” Had to laugh at this. As you can see from the vendor pages here they have come up with calculated guidelines. He said they did this with CNC machines working off an impression of the human posterior to come up with the average male and female positions of the circular depressions designed to allow the sits bones to kind of float in space.
Of course when I got back home I discussed this with my personal trainer, and though I am sure this is what caused my problem I admit that I was baffled that other female rowers I know have not had the same problem. But then unlike most women I don’t have much fat or muscle in my posterior. Yeah, most women are blessed with a lot of fat or a lot of muscle in their gluts. And I DO remember that one of the women who took her first sculling lesson with me (a long hour and a half lesson) was VERY upset at how much her butt hurt. She had a thin behind like myself and I thought, I better get a cushion for her or she will never come back.
So, as soon as I get through Physical Therapy for my ischial bursa , I will be getting a Croker gender-specific seat for myself and a special cushion for my Concept2 Indoor Rower.
Nevertheless, I am still waiting for the results of the announced Low back pain care pathway that was supposed to be designed and presented at the World Rowing Sports Medicine conference in Berlin in November, 2018, but has yet to show up on my google searches.
 12:50pm – 3:00pm Lunch and Annual Coaching Awards (all attendees got to attend) During the lunch served for all attendees I got to sit at the same table with Coach Clemens Reinke who I met at the Overpeck Sprints Regatta. I actually got introduced to the Overpeck Sprints by Coach Carlos Perez about three years ago when I went to take pictures of Carolos rowing and ended up racing because Coach Kennedy of Newburgh insisted I do so. So this past summer I signed up for the 1000 meter race where Clemens presented me with my first non-medal (yeah, I got a medal for a race in which I had no competitors because there was no one racing in my category or my age!). Mind you I knew little about Clemens before this writing. Had I known more about him I might have been too humbled to ask for a medal. But he very cheerfully said I had to be given it because no one came to oppose me. Here is what I found out about this very generous coach:
Coach Clemens Reinke is the founder of the Bergen County Rowing Academy. He began his rowing career in Germany in the mid-1970’s winning several gold medals at the German Scholastic and Junior Championships in the single, as well as, doubles and quads. In 1978 and 1979, Clemens won the Junior Single event at the Thames Head Race in England. He was part of the German Junior National Team and trained with world champion sculler, Peter Michael Kolbe. In 1979, Clemens medaled gold for Germany at an International Youth Regatta in Villach, Austria. He began coaching for the Ruderverein Wandsbek, Hamburg, in 1981 and completed his Coaching-B license from the German Rowing Association in 1983. In the United States, Clemens has coached at the Nereid Boat Club, the Passaic River Rowing Association, and Don Bosco Preparatory High School, has been the Head Coach of the Teaneck High School Crew Team, provided guidance to Fairleigh Dickinson University in starting a new crew team, and volunteered as crew coach for FDU; provided know-how and coaching in starting a new crew team at Leonia High School in 2011, and developed new rowing programs for Teaneck Rowing Club; assistant coach with the Bergen Catholic Crew Team, and later became Head Coach. He founded the Bergen County Rowing Academy in the Spring of 2014. Clemens holds coaching certificates from the German Rowing Association (Deutscher Ruderverband Level B) and the U.S. Rowing Association (Level 2).
In the lunch table behind me I noticed another man with a German accent. I suspected that this man in a plaid shirt was Volker Nolte but not having met him I was not sure. He was with a woman who had a tiny baby, maybe 3 – 6 months old and he delighted in holding the cute little bundle up in the air to coax laughter from it. At three o’clock when I joined him in his presentation room I realized that I had had a German sandwich for lunch (just kidding!).
Here are the winners of The Joy of Sculling Awards this year!
Collegiate Men’s Coaching Award
Campbell Woods – Head Coach, Men’s Rowing at Marist College
Collegiate Women’s Coaching Award
Jason Steele -Head Coach, Women’s Rowing at WPI Athletics
Junior Coaching Award
Jeremy Michalitsianos – Head Coach, Montclair High School Crew
University Men’s Coaching Award
DAVE REISCHMAN – Head Coach, Men’s Rowing at Syracuse University
University Women’s Coaching Award
Lori Dauphiny – Head Coach, Princeton University Women’s Rowing
International Coaching Award
Steve Hargis – Head Coach, USRowing Junior National Team
The Joy of Sculling Outstanding Service Award
Bebe Bryans – Head Coach, University of Wisconsin-Madison Women’s Rowin
 3:00pm – 4:20pm Breathing. Dr. Volker Nolte presenting. Volker Nolte has a PhD in biomechanics and is the author of the book ROWING FASTER. Dr. Volker Nolte received a Physical Education Diploma (1976) from the University of Saarbrücken, a Civil Engineering Diploma (1979) from the Technical College Saarbrücken (Germany), and a PhD (1984) from the German Sport University in Cologne (Germany) in Biomechanics. He joined Western University, Ontario, Canada in 1993 where he is employed as Assistant Professor teaching Biomechanics and Coaching, and as the Head Coach of the Western Mustang Rowing Program. As coach for the Western Mustangs men’s rowing team he has won twelve Ontario University Athletics Championships and five Canadian University Rowing Championships. When he led the women’s team in 2010 they won three Ontario University Athletics Championships and two Canadian University Rowing Championships. In Jan. 2013 he received the prestigious Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal for all his work in coaching education and was named Ontario Coach of the Year in March 2014 for his outstanding success in coaching. He is an experienced rower, representing his home country Germany at several World Championships and he is still a keen competitor in the Master’s events.
I knew little about Volker Nolte until I sat down to record these notes about my experience at the conference. I am stunned. I remember that as soon as his presentation was over I ran up to Volker and asked him to sign my copy of his book which I confessed I had not read other than the fascinating Foreword by Olympic gold medal winner Brad Alan Lewis, author of Assault on Lake Casitas, who writes in a journalist style not unlike the one I have adopted by Natalie Goldberg. (My favorite Brad Alan Lewis book is Wanted: Rowing Coach which I read years ago and recommend to everyone I know who wants to learn about what a rowing coach goes through).
Volker immediately pointed out that winning athletes were doing so now at higher and higher stroke rates. But why? We viewed the video of the Drysdale v Borch 2018 Henley Royal Regatta Diamonds singles race,. What he wanted us to see is that rowers only breathe 2 times per stroke. So the only way you can bring in more oxygen to your body is by rowing faster. This is contrary to what has been taught—that greater strength through the legs during the drive part of the rowing stroke has always been the answer to winning. He stressed that it might be a mistake to keep rowers from rowing at high stroke rates. BUT surely, I thought, it is much harder to do this on long practices and more than likely it creates the greater opportunity to lose control. I would think you have to build up to this gradually.
I know we were in the room for an hour and twenty minutes but it felt like it was not more than a half hour. This feeling might have been attributed to the fact that he immediately got us to break up into groups and had us talk to each other about what we felt about “breathing” in general. Of course, the topics were all over the place and I recalled several coaches I overheard earlier during the conference had asked how to “get their athletes to breathe”. (Yes, and I also remember when I was learning to row that I myself would often hold my breath and was asked to breathe! as my nervousness checked my ability to take air in and my face would go red). Someone in our group talked about martial arts and another about yoga. This session was all over too soon. Although I was looking forward to our next focus at the round tables I wished I could have spent another hour or so with Volker. [ Later when I looked back at the pictures which I took of him I realized how much he resembled my father with his balding hair, just like my dad’s! I’m guessing that these German accents surrounding me caused me to have an unusual nightmare that evening where I saw my father’s dead body and it looked like Volker! I must have heard a lot of German voices when I was young in Frankfurt and Stuttgart where I spent two years while my father was on military assignment there. Wow! How your subconscious can make you time travel! ]
 4:50pm – 6:00pm Coaches Roundtable. You had a choice of coaches who gave these sessions and I chose Chris Chase whose topic was “Small Boats”. There were eight (!) different roundtables and you had to choose one and it was supposedly limited to 20 per room but I am pretty sure there were more than 20 in that room. I chose Chris because of his topic AND because I had experienced him at The 2016 USRowing Annual Convention in Springfield Mass. At that time Chris presented The SRA Story (So Far!) – Blueprint of a Work in Progress Celebrating its 20th anniversary in 2016, the Saratoga Rowing Association was, as Chris described it “a ragtag outfit seeking an identity and a home” and it is now one of the most successful rowing organizations in the country. It has also become a developing ground of elite athletes and a generator of significant economic impact for the Saratoga Springs community. He told us the inspiring story of where they started (in someone’s garage, I recall), how they grew, etc.
But I need you to understand this man’s accomplishments.
Chris Chase started coaching in 1996 when he founded the Saratoga Rowing Association, while teaching social studies at the local high school. Since its inception, that club has grown into one of the largest in the country. As a coach, Chase’s crews have won or medaled at the American Schoolboys, Canadian Schoolboys, Stotesbury Cup, Youth National Championships and Head of the Fish. His athletes have gone on to accomplish much more, with 106 earning Division I rowing opportunities to date. Chase now runs six regattas a year in and around Saratoga, including the Head of the Fish. In addition to coaching and running regattas, he is a former member of the USRowing Youth Committee. Chase also hosts the U.S. Junior B Development Camp, which is designed to identify younger, talented American athletes and introduce them to sculling at an earlier age. In his spare time (he has spare time?), Chase is a representative for Swift Racing.
I did not know all these things about him as I sat next to him at the roundtable, however. Or somehow, I forgot between the time at the 2016 convention and this past week. The one thing I know is that when he started the round table with the statement “the best coach is a single and two oars” my ears perked up and I sat in rapt attention the entire hour and ten minutes we were privileged to sit with him. I did notice out of the corner of my eye and to my right was a coach familiar to me, Warren Beuhler, board member of the Mid Hudson Rowing Association, in Poughkeepsie, who I met when I learned to scull with Coach Bill Davies. At that time Warren was running around in the coaches safety launch picking up the scullers who fell out of their boats into the Hudson River during the flip tests. He got to pluck me out a couple of times. //
Anyway this hour and ten minute round table was filled with discussion as to why sculling is a better start to rowing. Chris seems to feel that to start a young person on a four year course of sweep rowing is wrong and may cause damage to their bodies rather than make them better rowers. I remember an event at the Poughkeepsie boathouses where I overheard Tom Sanford, the Head Coach and Director of Rowing at Marist College, say that it would be so much better if they could start all rowers with sculling instead of sweep. And from the discussion in the room Saturday it was clear Chris was preaching to the choir. And for me, someone who wants to be known as a sculler and nothing but a sculler, I was delighted to sit among this group of coaches.
 6:05pm – 7:05pm Beer Social Ok, so I skipped this and went to spend some time with my friend Laura who provided me a place to stay for the duration of the conference. She took me to a Thai Restaurant and afterwards we briefly checked out Caffè Lena. Caffè Lena (“the best damn acoustic music club in the world”). It is widely recognized as the oldest continuously operating folk music venue in the United States. Opened in a former woodworking shop in 1960, the café has helped to launch many of America’s best loved songwriters, ranging from Bob Dylan in 1961 to Sawyer Fredericks in 2014, with an amazing “who’s who” list in between. Definitely need to go back and spend a fun evening there! Check out a video about it. https://www.youtube.com/watch?time_continue=2&v=0gnolm6l5RM
Sunday, December 9th three more hours of immersion
 8:00 – 9:20 am Implementing Mental Training with Tim Pineau Tim had given the keynote address Friday evening and this was his presentation about a program he implemented with a LaCrosse team and he spoke of his book on MSPE.
 9:25 am – 10:45am Creating a Positive, Dynamic, Diverse Boathouse. This presentation was supposed to be presented by Arshay Cooper but he was unable to do so and sent Denise Aquino of ROWNY. I read Arshay’s book Sugarwater some time ago and had listened to a motivational speech he gave in Kingston having been invited by Coach Sheila Wise after she met him back in 2015 at the USRowing Annual Convention in Philadelphia. So I was kind of pleased to meet a new person and skilled presenter from that club on the Harlem River. I have also TAKEN the Learn to Row class at ROWNY just to see how a class could be conducted on the Harlem River. Therefore I am aware of ROWNY and what makes it unique besides the Harlem River I heard that it services some 3000 rowers. Yikes! I have great respect for anyone that works in that environment.
How much I learned and what I will do next:
[OK, I never would have known that this simple exercise would take so long AND that it would provide me with almost as much knowledge as that which I received physically AT the conference. When I worked in the Wall Street area as a Computer Programmer Analyst as a Technical Officer at Manufacturer’s Hanover [which became Chemical Bank, which became Chase Bank, which became J P Morgan Chase] I attended technical conferences every year and often several times a year to keep up with the rapidly changing financial software industry. I would never write up my notes so soon I would forget the incredible things I had learned. So I thought I could write up the notes I had taken at the JOS Coaches Conference in a matter of hours. But hours have turned into days. It seemed that I needed to look up people, places, things. My mind could only take in so much while I was experiencing all that seemed to be swirling around me. And the more I looked, the more leads were generated and the more I had to research to satisfy a curiosity that seems to grow continuously and incessantly. I think back on the book The Fifth Discipline by Peter Senge. In that book I learned that you can never find a real final answer, get to the bottom of, anything unless you have answered the question Why? five times in succession (it’s called systems thinking). To go back to the “mental awareness” topics discussed by Pineau at the JOS and I realize that during the presentations my mind had to be attentive to the presenter’s voice and ideas, the ideas that were brought to life in my mind, the ideas that other people brought up as the speaker answered questions. But a lot of times things don’t pop up in your mind as you are sitting there but rather hours, days, maybe months later things will come forward, prodded by some other catalyst. In other words, the idea will have been planted in your mind but remain dormant until you are rested, relaxed, able to receive ideas, or some other catalyst comes up. And just as easily as it popped up it will drift away and disappear if you don’t document it. So this is something that I can come back to and use without having to re-research things again and again. I hope you find it useful.
What I plan to do next:
After watching the Head of the Charles race I realize that I am an addicted aficionada of the sport . But because of the injury I sustained over a year ago, I know better than to over do it in rowing. Especially at my age I have to take it slow so that no injury puts me “on my ass” (literally) again. So…..here are some possibilities:
Finish reading Assault on Lake Casitas
Read Rowing Faster
Read The Quantum Sculler
Participate in the Philadelphia Slam B’s (for fun)
Look at all the regattas in the spring and summer and plan to attend as many as possible.
Decide on which head race I can learn to row (I just want to experience the waterway).
Maybe go to the USRowing Annual Conference and learn how to become a referee. I hear it can be a lot of fun!