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3-on-3 with Mike Davenport, Kris Korzeniowski, and Bryan Volpenhein

This segment in the series features Kris Korzeniowski (USRowing Director of Coaching Education), Bryan Volpenhein (U.S. Men’s National Team Coach and 2004 Olympic gold medalist) and Mike Davenport (Washington College Head Coach/Director of Rowing and founder of “RowingTalks”). All three weighed in on affordable ways to educate coaches and their staff, what they would want to teach fellow coaches and the best piece of advice they’ve ever received.

Imagine you have limited means as a coach or a club, but you want to educate yourself and others, how should you go about doing that?

Bryan Volpenhein (BV): The first thing I would do is find other clubs. Try to ride in launches with other coaches, strike up conversations with them, ask what their plans are like and what works for them. I would also do any coaching clinics that you can afford.

It always depends on what skill level your athletes are at and what you think you need for the program. Address your weaknesses first. If it’s organization, or it’s training or strength or conditioning—and gear towards those.

Mike Davenport (MD): Reading is my number one way. I don’t think it matters greatly the medium. You can inexpensively get great information, especially on the Internet. The rowing community does a good job at sharing information, and you can find great education for next to nothing. From rudimentary to expert education, I don’t think that’s hard to do, and it clearly falls within everybody’s budget. Reading has a huge impact, and we’re not a society of readers anymore, but in-depth reading truly matters.

I had no money at all when I first started coaching, and that’s how I did it. Also, you should always talk to people. Ask a good question, and coaches will be happy to answer and help, if they have time.

Kris Korzeniowski (KK): I would make sure that I coach and educate the staff myself. I would get more involved and supervise what they do, contrary to leaving assistants too independent and failing to know exactly what they are doing. Athletes don’t deserve to be the victims of inexperienced coaches experimenting on them.

It always starts with you as a head coach or program director. You know what you want them to do, and you make sure to educate them. Sit in a launch with your assistant coaches; show them through a hands-on approach. If you leave assistants alone, the learning process becomes a very long one. Sending people to a conference is not necessarily the same as educating them. If there is only a small budget, I would opt to send them to regular coaching education courses. If there is a slightly bigger budget, I would arrange for them to spend more time in a boat with great coaches. Only then are they best prepared to understand what is talked about at coaching conferences, in order for them to gain as much knowledge as possible.

If you stood in front of a room full of coaches right now, what would you teach them first and foremost?

KK: In the beginning of my career, I only worried about coaches being able to coach actual rowing and learn about technique. Now, after my years of experience, I realize it’s much more important to be a coach who makes rowing a really great experience for the athletes. I went through an evolution of being focused solely on the professional, technical aspect of it all, to seeing now that it’s much more than that. In all the levels of rowing that come before competing in international racing, and even in that case, having fun is crucial.”

MD: The power that we have as coaches, the impact, is huge. It’s also greatly underappreciated. We don’t tend to think past the short-term as coaches. ‘Oh, I’ve got this race coming up, or this event.’ That’s human nature, but we don’t focus enough on the long-term. I would tell people to make sure you have a 50,000-foot view of your impact, which is something I try to teach everyone. Coaches think their impact is sometimes just wins-versus-losses, and that’s not even the tip of iceberg. Once we get coaches to grab onto that concept, they open up to so many other things. We should get every coach to talk about professional development and record-keeping. That’s not a waste of time.

BV: First, I would ask the room questions myself, to learn and steal all their knowledge. Then, I would show them what we’ve done in recent years at the national team level and show them what has worked for us. Like, what worked for us in 2004, and what didn’t work in the years we didn’t perform. In 2004, we ended up with the right personalities in the boat, and that made a big difference. The way those nine guys got along and communicated was really the key to our success.

What is the best piece of advice you ever received as a coach?

KK: For me, it was advice from Thor Nilsen, whom I worked with in Italy. He changed my view on coaching, and it was probably the advice to ‘keep everything very simple.’ Thor also said to find the limiting factor when you analyze rowing technique. Find out why the boat isn’t moving as fast as it should, and find out how to improve the speed. You should find the reason behind a rower’s biggest mistake and prioritize that problem. Try to work on one mistake at a time.

BV: One of the things I learned from people like Kris Korzeniowski and Mike Teti, and also from a lot of coaches I rode in launches with, is indeed, to keep it simple. Try to break your coaching down to simple terms and then execute those at a high level.

MD: I got the advice from my freshman coach, that ‘you’re not as smart as you think you are; you’re not as dumb as you think you are.’ As a freshman, I didn’t have any idea of what I was doing. I didn’t row in high school, so one day I thought I had the hang of it, and the next day I had no idea what was going on. That quote was a really good piece of advice to keep me grounded as a rower.

Mike Davenport blogs weekly about rowing and education on his website ( Organizational members of USRowing can request consultations from USRowing coaching education director Kris Korzeniowski by Bryan Volpenhein coaches U.S. National Team athletes at the USRowing Training Center – Princeton.

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