Technique and Technology Part 3: Coaching Influences and Model Teams – Rowing Stories, Features and Interviews

To learn more about this series, see what we plan to cover, and to read parts 1 and 2 on this topic, please visit the Youth Coaches Corner index page. Youth coaches are more than welcome to contact row2k to be included in future columns.

Which coaches have influenced your coaching style and which crews have been the most technically impressive to you and why?


I was fortunate to be trained early on by some wonderful, knowledgeable coaches. In high school I was coached by Tom Chisnell who rowed under Charlie Butt Sr. at Washington-Lee HS in the late sixties and in college at the University of Virginia I was coached by Joe Murtaugh who later went on to have a very successful career in Princeton with the LWT men.

Both coaches drilled into their crews the fundamentals of hitting. They always broke down the stroke into small, manageable parts and chose drills to emphasize the part of the stroke that their crews needed to focus on during a particular drill. As a junior coach, I believe it is extremely important to teach our athletes how to row properly from the first days in the water or on the erg for that matter. Break the beat for the kids. As a coach, determine what you want to focus on first. What both Tom and Joe taught me as a rower is that the fundamentals are the most important – power and speed cannot come before the fundamentals.


I learned a lot by training at various sculpting camps around the country and watching more experienced coaches do singles port demonstrations. Particularly helpful was the first year I spent coaching with Peter Olrich, Dan Debonis, and Alex Machi at the Florida Rowing Center in the early 1990s. They were excellent at explaining the elements of sculpting clearly and concisely. And we had great fun doing the flip/re-entry demo several times each week.


My dad was my high school coach and I still call him every week for advice! He has always brought a certain calm, stability to training and competition that I try to bring to my own coaching. He almost never raised his voice and had a good sense of what the team needed.

My college coach, Harry Parker, was the same way. There was complete faith on the part of their rowers in what we were doing to prepare for races. But I also credit my freshman coach in college, Bill Manning, with shaping my practice structure. He was also an example of commitment at an important point in my development. He was both a teacher and a coach, which is something I strive to do myself.


So many years, so many coaches. The technical standout will be Christine Wilson, who I have had the pleasure of working with many times, but especially during our time together at Oxford University in preparation for The Boat Race(s). Chris is a student of the sport and she is an outstanding technical coach and fitter.

Technically impressive crews over the years: Oxford University Women’s Blue Boat in 2015 and 2016 and the Canadian Women’s 8 in 2021.

Other influential coaches include Scott Anderson, Chris Korzenowski, Neil Campbell, Stan Murdza, Larry Gluckman, Kathy Lichty Boyce, Mike Irwin, Cassandra Cunningham, Lindsey Shoop, Sam and Natasha Townsend, Dragos Alexandrou…this list could go on for pages .


I was fortunate to have Bruce Smith as my high school coach at Loyola Academy. One of the things I remember about him was a willingness to try anything, to see if there was something of value in a crazy idea. Maybe it worked, maybe it didn’t, but you’ll never know unless you look at it honestly. I’m always amazed at how much there is to learn about this sport, so you have to keep trying new things.

As a high school boys eights coach, it’s hard to look past what St. Paul (UK) had in 2018 as an ideal (Ed. note: you can watch that Henley final here). Obviously they are still doing amazing things with another PE win at Henley this year, but the 2018 team, as we all admit, was really special. If I get guys to look at them, I point out how linear everything is, how little bounce there is in the shell, how relaxed the shoulders and faces are, things like that.

St Paul's School Eight in 2018 winning Henley PE Final

St Paul’s School Eight in 2018 winning Henley PE Final


Which coaches have influenced my coaching style? All of them! I enjoy talking to other junior and college coaches. I learned this while recording coaching hours for my USRowing Coach Certification.

Different coaches use different approaches. They also have different ways of describing the stroke or feel of the boat. When college coaches come to our practices, they explain the things we’re working on a little differently or see something I’m not focusing on. It’s always helpful.


The kick I teach comes more from Valery Kleshnev than anyone else. As a physics teacher, I strongly believe in quantitative research. How I personally feel about rowing should not play a role in what I train. So I searched for the most effective technique for my athletes. Considering older athletes with more time to devote to training, I may not teach the same. The most impressive crews to me are the ones you look at on land and think there’s no way they could be in the chips on the water. Yet, they hang with crews that are bigger/stronger than them. These paddlers are doing something better than the rest of us and should be the ones we look to for examples of what to do.

The boats that jump out in front of me are Ekaterina Carsten in 2012 and the Romanian women’s 8 in 2004. On paper, neither should have a chance to reach the final or beat the USA for that matter. Yet they went out and moved the boat super efficiently.


A day at the start with Kevin Sauer and all his content over the years via USRowing. He is consistent and his results speak for themselves.

I also appreciate all the coaches who helped with my USA Rowing Level 3 course. I learned so much from them.


At the high school level, I remember watching the Sarasota Men’s 8+ at the 2018 Youth Nationals (Lake Natoma). . . i think clark dean was sitting in the 6 seat. There hasn’t been a junior rower like Dean who can single-handedly change the pace of the boat, especially in the last 400 meters of the race. The precision and accuracy of Dean’s sculpting was also as good as I’ve ever seen at the Junior level. The ability to win a national championship in 1x and 8+, in the same day, takes a lot of effort, but the underrated part may just be his technical prowess.

On the junior women’s side, I’d say Gordon Getsinger’s Saugatuck crews. This Womens 8+ was quite remarkable in those years and for good reason with Gordon at the helm. We overlapped a bit in my old program and reunited this year at HOCR. While dropping our crews off at Friday’s HOCR practice, we stood by the river for half an hour just watching the crews go by. Gordon really has an eye and ability to convey technical improvements that I never imagined. You can’t even put his stuff into a formula!


Learning from and interacting with other coaches is one of the highlights of the job and one of the easiest ways to become a better coach. I hesitate to mention specific coaches at the risk of forgetting someone who deserves recognition. During my time in the U19 system, I was fortunate enough to interact with many great coaches.

I still think about how Tom Sydal trained the recovery position last summer; I enjoyed hearing Casey Galvanek talk about letting assistant coaches come to the fore; I continue to learn a lot about rigging from Eric Gehrke; and Jesse Foglia’s “light day/hard day” concept as a great workload management strategy has been in my head since the first time I heard it.

I also think it’s important for head coaches to think about what they’ve learned from their assistant coaches. DJ Civiletti taught me to constantly think about how to improve your core team system and plan, Catherine Gellatly showed me the importance of mindfulness and support work, Lindsay Krawczyk taught me how to enjoy time spent with athletes as a tool to build culture, and Chris Rickard showed me how to protect a team while respecting the whole team.

The 2018 and 2019 TRRA Womens Ltwt Youth 2xs showed me what it looks like when your technical approach is fully expressed on the race course, the 2021 TRRA Womens Youth 2x taught me how powerful a single-purpose boat can be, and the 2021 TRRA Womens Youth 8+ and The 2022 TRRA Womens Youth 2x were a study in how to find joy even if the end result is not what you had hoped for. Finally, I have a few close rowing friends who are always willing to watch videos and discuss technique – it’s an invaluable resource.


This is difficult because with over 30 years in the sport, there have been many influences and mentors on my style and the way I train technique. The obvious one was my first coach, Charlie Butt Jr. at Washington-Lee High School (now Washington-Liberty). Charlie rowed well and tried to be as efficient as possible. My close friend Kevin Harris was the next person to influence my perspective because of the way he taught and what he expected from his athletes. It was never a matter of trying, but of believing and just doing it. We spent countless hours bouncing ideas off each other. Alan Rosenberg: one sentence from him spoke volumes. It opened my mind to how to creatively express to an athlete what a piece of technique should look or feel like and at the same time clarify the science behind the idea. I’ve never met a coach where the “Speak softly and carry a big stick” metaphor seems so true. Finally, I would say that two summers starting with Steve Peterson and Matt Madigan (in 2001 and then in 2002 respectively) offered me a huge perspective on coaching at the highest level: how to see the finer points of boating technique and flow in the context of selecting boats full of amazing athletes and doing so with honesty and care. All of these coaches were/are connected to the athletes and their experiences more than their own.

To pick just two impressive technical teams, I’d say the ’96 Dutch Olympic 8+, which many of us have glimpsed from that grainy VHS video that’s been floating around for years: their power looked like a paddle. Their flow was light and smooth, but every ride was an expression of their unleashed fitness. I have never seen such precision in body positions or grips. . . just wow.

Personally, my ’94 PBC Women’s 4+ Fly was probably the best technical team I’ve ever coached. Comprised of a rising sophomore in college, two recent high school graduates, and two high school seniors, these young women were tough competitors who, if you pushed them, pushed back harder. We did a workout this summer emphasizing rhythm and fast link before the Canadian Henley, where they rowed downhill to 12 and then back to 32, with a lot of it being square or ΒΌ feather. They nailed him. They were never off the keel, connecting every stroke and just sending this boat. It was a pleasure to watch them.

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