Without a doubt, the most helpful thing I learned in school last year was how to develop and coach with core values. I had heard plenty of times before about coaching philosophies and the benefit of developing one, but I always found it to be an overwhelming assignment without a clear starting point. Two things helped me break through this barrier. First, like any good project, was a deadline. We had to submit certain portions of our coaching philosophy gradually by certain deadlines throughout the quarter, and this made it easier to force myself to sit down and struggle with it. The second was a clear system. In this article, I will share this system with you and explain my own philosophy of Rowing Stronger through that framework.

Coaching Better with Core Values

The key purpose of a coaching philosophy is to ensure that your values have clear purposes and are backed up intentionally by your actions. Once I learned to think in this way for a coaching philosophy, I started to see the connection in other areas of my coaching as well. The mission statement of my website was borne out of this–helping you row stronger, faster, healthier, and longer.

It’s a magnificent way of simplifying and clarifying so that we can keep the overarching principles of our coaching clear as we focus on the minute details. Having specific connections between your values, purpose, and actions also makes it easier to discard ideas or actions that don’t fit your philosophy.

The “Why” of Rowing Stronger

Before getting to values, we had to think about why we coach in the first place. This is a helpful starting point to lead naturally to values. If my “why” for my website operations was to make money and max out traffic, I would have a different set of core values to support that goal.

I started my original website, StrengthCoachWill.com, as a resource for my athletes who put in extra effort outside of practice. Originally, it was mostly just the mobility workouts, exercise guide, explanations of my program, cooking recipes, etc., but it turned out that there weren’t many people writing about strength training for rowing in an accessible fashion. My content started getting picked up around the Internet, I found myself answering questions on social media, later that year I started writing for Rowperfect UK, and we started the podcast the next year.

My “why” became that I wanted to provide the resource that I never had as a rower, that I wasn’t aware of my fellow coaches having, and that it was clear there was a demand for. While top programs and rowers have access to great coaching and training facilities, there is a real lack of accessible, actionable, and modern coaching education out there for the coach or rower who wants to learn to strength train to become a better rower. It’s hard to blame the rowing coaches for this. There is SO much that you have to know and do as a rowing coach, everything from technique and physiological development to team dynamics and rigging, so without an accessible and actionable resource for strength training, it’s understandable that it falls through the cracks.

RowingStronger.com exists to be the online home of strength training for rowing, providing accessible and actionable resources for coaches and rowers of all levels to better their knowledge and ability.

Rowing Stronger Core Values

Once you have your “why,” think of the five most important values that support that goal. I liked to think of this as the five things I’d like our athletes (or readers) to remember about me and my coaching. Think specifically and critically about your goal as a coach, making sure to not use buzzwords without clear meaning. The five core values that support my above goal are:

  1. Helping you
  2. Row stronger
  3. Row faster
  4. Row healthier
  5. Row longer

My core values for our in-person athletes are more complex, and yours should be too. While I get to know some of my readers better through my email list and on social media, the vast majority of you are anonymous and my ability to build a deeper relationship is limited. I get to build deeper relationships with our in-person athletes because I spend weeks, seasons, and years with them and have a much greater potential impact as a coach.

Why, How, and By Doing What?

Once we identified our values, we started to work through the rationale and implementation of each. This was the question we asked as we worked through each value: why is this value important to me and how do I demonstrate, teach, and assess this value by doing what specific actions?

Helping you…

  • Why: “Helping you” is the cornerstone of my mission with this website. I do this side of my coaching out of enjoyment and a desire to share resources to help you become a better rower. I have neither the ability nor desire to make you a better rower, so I can only be effective by giving you information and empowering you to put it into action.
  • How/By Doing What
    • I make as much content available for free or as inexpensively as possible.
    • My writing needs to be clear, I need to explain concepts simply, and my advice needs to be actionable.
    • I also work to make myself available via my email list and social media to answer questions and take requests for additional content. Communication with my readers is important so that I know that I’m answering questions you have, rather than just guessing at what I should write about.
    • I will not seek or accept credit for the achievement of an athlete. You did the training, you made the sacrifices, you put in the work, you made your own achievements. I hope my resources help you achieve your goals, and that is the extent of the credit I will accept.

Row Stronger

  • Why: From strength comes all things. Getting stronger, both physically and mentally, is the foundation of continued improvement in rowing and the fundamental goal of my work.
  • How/By Doing What:
    • Improving mental strength via tools of sport psychology is key to long-term improvement in a difficult sport.
    • Improving physical strength across multiple areas of the body and via multiple modalities increases the amount of available power the athlete can use in the stroke. Increasing strength increases endurance by decreasing the amount of per-stroke effort needed by the athlete.
    • We use compound barbell and dumbbell lifts to achieve significant systemic loading, to teach athletes to transfer power from an extremity through the core to an implement, and to build specific strength for rowing performance.
    • We use bodyweight, odd objects, dumbbells, bands, unilateral exercises, and other implements to achieve specific muscular loading to develop areas and movements of the body neglected by rowing. Improving muscular and movement balance can reduce risk of both short and long-term injury.

Row Faster

  • Why: The principal goal of competitive rowers is to row faster.
  • How/By Doing What:
    • Increasing physical and mental strength as above can increase speed.
    • I will clearly communicate the connection of strength training principles to increased rowing speed so that this important goal of competitive rowers always remains a focus.

Row Healthier

  • Why: It doesn’t matter how strong you are or how fast you are if you’re too hurt, injured, or unhealthy to row in practice and perform in races. One of the biggest determinants of athletic success is amount of time spent practicing. Improving physical and mental health to maximize practice time is key to long-term success.
  • How/By Doing What:
    • Mental health is strongly tied to physical health and ability, therefore we use skills and tools of sport psychology to build mental strength and improve athlete mental well-being.
    • We increase physical strength of rowing-specific muscles and movement patterns as well as underdeveloped muscles and movement patterns to reduce the risk of injury.
    • I prioritize physical and mental health in my writing, including article and video series on mobility, self-care, mental skills for rowing, education on overtraining and burnout, and more.

Row Longer

  • Why: Rowing is one of the few sports where individual, team, competitive, and recreational post-collegiate opportunities abound. It is a fundamental goal that athletes have the tools, knowledge, and ability to row for as long as they desire and enjoy a long life of physical activity.
  • How/By Doing What:
    • Emphasize long-term improvement in the sport rather than short-term, unsustainable, potentially unhealthy approaches to training and competing.
    • Emphasize the joy of competitive sport and lifelong enjoyment of physical exercise.
    • Provide education to coaches on long-term athletic development so that they too can endeavor to “leave the athlete in a better place than they found them,” rather than seeking to maximize immediate athlete ability at the expense of long-term health and development.
    • Provide resources for coaches and rowers for how athletes can become physically and mentally stronger, make gradual improvements in their speed and rowing ability, and minimize risk of injury so that they may enjoy a long life of competitive and/or recreational physical activity.

That is my mission and coaching philosophy for this website. Again, my coaching for our in-person athletes is more complex and relationship-focused, rather than knowledge and technically focused, and as a coach of in-person athletes, yours should be too. Here are three great resources for developing your coaching philosophy if you would like to learn more about it and see some examples of other coaches’ philosophies.

  • USOC Quality Coaching Framework by Wade Gilbert. This is a free resource developed by Dr. Gilbert and the US Olympic Committee. It is a six-chapter PDF covering quality coaching principles with actionable advice for coaches of any sport and any level.
  • Coaching Better Every Season by Wade Gilbert. This is a fantastic resource also by Dr. Gilbert that goes much more in-depth than the USOC document.
  • Winning Youth Coaching Episode #130 with Mike Kasales. Mike was the instructor of one of my courses at DU where we worked a lot on coaching philosophies. His advice helped me a lot and he shares a lot of great tips in this podcast episode, as well as a copy of his own coaching philosophy in the shownotes.
  • Thanks also to Dr. Gearity and Dr. Kuklick of the University of Denver MA in Sport Coaching program for developing and instructing this curriculum. If you’re seeking further education in coaching, I can’t recommend it highly enough.

READ NEXT: The Basics of Strength Training for Rowing


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