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Effective Leadership in Rowing

The role of coaching can be challenging as we exist to serve both the organization that has hired us and the athletes that compete within it. While the performance goals of the organization may align with some of the athletes we coach, it is also likely that we coach many athletes who participate in rowing to be active, make friends, and get outside. Disconnects between the goals of the organization, coaches, and athletes can all lead to conflict. Implementing servant leadership techniques can help to ensure that we meet the needs of all stakeholders.

Servant leadership is a style that emphasizes the well-being of those served. Most importantly, this leadership style works to minimize power imbalances and ensures that peoples priorities and needs are being met. As coaches this means a few different things. First, we identify the wants and needs of our athletes. At each club there will be a variety of desires from athletes, including top finishes at states, regionals, and other competitive events, as well as hopes to go through the recruiting process. For these athletes, as coaches, we must ensure that we provide programming and resources that will assist these athletes with these goals. Specifically, for those working at smaller clubs with less history of the recruiting process, it is important to find those resources and connect these athletes with this help.

During this process however, it is important that we don’t overlook the athletes with goals associated with more social outcomes. At each club we have athletes who participate in rowing because they weren’t coordinated enough for ball sports, wanted to join a club to establish more friendships, and even those athletes who are there because their parents are making them. These individuals can be more difficult to serve but are just as important. To serve these individuals it is important to understand what their desires specifically are. In what ways can we as coaches establish training programs that serve to develop athletes athletically and personally? It can be effective to create programming that fosters team comradery and competition. This can include dividing individuals up evenly to complete team relays, ensuring that every individual feels that they have an important role. Additionally, by creating team workouts athletes are required to work with individuals who they may not usually immediately go to, opening dialogue.

Critically, as coaches it is important to remember to meet our athletes where they are at. It is easy to see potential in athletes, but it is up to them if they want to meet it. By establishing programming that assists them day-by-day to get there, we can lead by serving rather than lead by pressuring. It can be hard at times to take this approach, especially if we see that athletes with potential are choosing not to buy into the programming. However, it is important for us to remember our role, and take time to understand their goals. Ask yourself, how can I meet this athlete where they need me?

It is easy to get caught up in our own goals as coaches, to create a program of success, and ensure that we are making adequate progress to be promoted. However, we must remember that success is not something that can be measured through medals won or boat speed, as success looks different to every individual. However, we can achieve those goals when looking to serve the needs of all within our program. A well-served individual leads to the desired outcome.

Jessica Brougham

Currently studying at University of Florida as a Doctoral Student towards a Doctor of Philosophy in Human Health and Performance. Rowed at High School in New Zealand and in College for Washington State University.

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