As the fall season draws closer to an end, the attention of coaches may begin to turn to how to get the most out of winter training. But this isn’t just relevant for our athletes. Coaches, too, stand to grow in these winter months. Professional development is a critical pursuit for all coaches but one that gets pushed aside often to tend to more immediately pressing matters—calling recruits, meeting with athletes, or maybe even taking a moment for yourself to go for a run or read a book.
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The winter can slip by quickly without any real attention being paid to learning and growing into a better coach. In my opinion, the best way to take some time to focus on professional development, mixed with networking and if you’re lucky a little travel and time for yourself, is attending a conference. And winter is the perfect time.
Like everything in life, you get out of your education what you put in. And this is certainly true for conferences. Stay away from the coaches who think they have nothing more to learn. Surround yourself with peers who are hungry for, or at least open to, learning. Enter each session with an open mind and a curious heart. You never know what nugget or occasionally game-changing bit of information you can learn from an unexpected source.
I will never forget being in a session at the USRowing conference years ago when an eager junior coach asked Mike Teti how he coached elbow position on his Olympic and University of California crews. Mike thought for a moment and replied, seriously: “I don’t think I’ve ever said the word elbow while coaching. Ever.” Sometimes you’ll be surprised by what you learn. And some things should be taken with a grain of salt.
While there’s plenty of information to be acquired during regular sessions at these events, I’ve always found the conversations I had with other coaches over a coffee or beer to be the most valuable. This is where I learned what other coaches were trying out or struggling with. There is so much to be gained by just listening to what other coaches, especially more seasoned ones, have to say about their experiences.
But don’t be afraid to speak up as well. This is a chance to further your coaching relationships and expand your network in authentic ways. And sometimes it’s important, and fun, to just kick back with peers and talk about something, anything, other than rowing. Not every conversation will be a fount of inspiration, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be important or enjoyable.
The USRowing Annual Convention, now RowCon, has for years been a staple of many coaches’ calendars. Though we lost the Joy of Sculling Conference after Covid, the event has been reborn as The Conference for Rowing Coaches, organized by co-directors Peter Steenstra and Mark Davis. Newcomers have also arisen recently, including the Rowers Choice Coaches Conference and Manufacturers Expo as well as the Science of Rowing Virtual Conference. Each of these events has a different focus, and attendees will be served best by looking at the mission statement of the event and the topics covered by speakers to get an idea of what is the best fit for them.
I feel so strongly about the role of conferences in coach development that I have founded my own—The Women’s Coaching Conference. This event, taking place for the first time in Boston from Nov. 30 to Dec. 2, serves all female rowing coaches and provides attendees with actionable education and community-building. The event fills a specific—and currently unaddressed—need to focus on the professionalization of the career and create a space for women to learn, connect, and inspire emerging and established coaches so we can make this job sustainable and enjoyable.
Regardless of where your coaching education takes you this winter, if you approach every opportunity with an open mind and a genuine willingness to try new things, you can become a better coach.