BY MADELINE DAVIS TULLY | PHOTO BY LISA WORTHY
It’s not unusual for coaches to feel as though they’re on an island. Peers are spread out across the country, seen infrequently and almost always under the stressful and adversarial conditions of competition. There’s often hesitation about sharing too much about the team or showing vulnerability to competitors. In reality, 90 percent of what coaches go through—the good and the bad—is the same across institutions, conferences, and divisions. There’s far more that unites the experiences of coaches and rowers than differentiates them.
Your opponents are not your enemies. They are your greatest resource—for accountability, knowledge, and, yes, friendship. We do better when we feel understood, challenged, and able to speak openly to others who can relate to what we’re going through. You’ll be a better coach and person for having peers with whom to commiserate and share ideas, for having a few good people to whom you can turn who understand what you’re going through, what you’re striving for, what challenges you’re facing.
In an ideal world, this would happen organically, but too often this just isn’t the case. This is why it’s crucial to take the initiative in creating your own coaching tribe.
Shortly after Covid began, I was fortunate to find myself building a group text with five other female coaches from five different schools in four different conferences stretching from coast to coast. That running conversation on text and Zoom—sometimes logistical, often vulnerable, always hilarious—became a place where we could set aside the reality that sooner or later all of our crews would race and instead be there to cheer each other through good times and support each other through challenging ones.
That group text preserved my sanity on more than one occasion and provided some great ideas that I applied to my own team. Knowing that I had that group to turn to made every new situation easier to face, made me feel more confident (or at least less alone) and enabled me ultimately to be a better coach and leader.
So get out there and begin building your coaching tribe. Do so intentionally and wholeheartedly. Don’t be shy. Deepen your relationship with coaches you already know and introduce yourself to those you don’t. Put yourself out there by sending that text or, better yet, making that call. You’ll be surprised by how many coaches out there are in need of this kind of connection, whether they know it or not.