Wednesday, February 22, 2017

There's a lot of talk about issues facing USRowing right now, but it's missing the point

First strokes, IRA Championships (Photo: RR)

There has been a firestorm around USRowing recently, with top-level changes, the removal of the CEO and the High Performance Director, and a renewed approach to structuring the board and the High Performance Committee. Social media and the discussion boards have been overwhelmed with theories about how and why things went wrong, and Carlo Zezza even went so far as to write a 74-page book entitled The Boys in a Box about all of the above.

We've heard theories about too many international rowers, about divided priorities, about sculling being the one, true way to revitalize U.S. athletes on the international rowing stage. But we're pretty sure it's a whole lot simpler than all of that.

Here's the problem: Coaching.

Period.

Look back at the last 20 years of USRowing's performance on the international stage. You might quickly notice that there are two guys who seem to have had a lot of success, and many who have not. One guy's name is Tom Terhaar, and the other is Mike Teti.

Both have faced all of the (many, many) same issues faced by other USRowing coaches, from the dominance of international athletes in the collegiate rowing ranks, to changing board structure and shuffling among high-ranking officers at USRowing, and yet, somehow, they seem to be able to make U.S. boats go fast.

The ranks of NCAA rowing are replete with international rowing talent. And yet Terhaar keeps delivering. Remember the last time the U.S. women's eight lost? Some of you reading this probably weren't even alive then (okay, maybe that's a stretch—barely). Conversely, remember when the USRowing U23 men's eight set a world record? It was in 2011, and the crew was coached by Mike Teti. If we're to believe the current hype that U.S. college athletes are at a disadvantage because their international peers are all superior oarsmen at that age, well, how does that make sense? When Teti was coaching them, they found a way to get it together and set a new U23 World Best Time.

Coincidentally, one of Teti's crews holds the Olympic Best Time for the men's eight as well. And, remember when the U.S. needed to qualify the eight in 2012, and USRowing asked, guess who, Mike Teti, to coach the crew to the Olympics, and then he did (while continuing to coach the Cal men's program), and then they missed a bronze medal by 0.3 of a second behind a crew that featured 2016 gold medalists Moe Sbihi and Constantine Louloudis, coached by arguably the greatest rowing coach of all time, Jürgen Grobler (himself a huge reason why British Rowing has become such a dominant force)?

The point of this is not that Mike Teti and Tom Terhaar have been the saviors of USRowing over the past 20 years, even though in many ways they—and those they've surrounded themselves with—have been. The point is that, simply put, good coaching will produce good results.

That's not a theory. It's what's actually happening, over and over, in the examples above. Even in less-than-ideal circumstances.

There are plenty of talented, dedicated athletes in the U.S., capable of winning medals and setting records. There are plenty of young U.S. athletes sculling at the high school level now. The recent paucity of good results is not due to these rowers' lack of grace as they make the turn at the back end of the stroke, or a thousand other nit-picky little issues. It's pretty simple.

So please, before we get bogged down, going down every rabbit hole about how we need to restructure the U.S. college rowing championships to make sure we are developing single scullers (nota bene: we have nothing against sculling, but object to the idea that it is at the heart of USRowing's struggles at the international level) and lamenting the presence of outstanding international athletes in our midst (which is the case in virtually every major college sport now/likely accelerates development), let's take a moment to use Occam's razor—that is, the simplest explanation is usually the correct one.

Hire a really, really good coach to lead the U.S. men's team. Continue to let Tom Terhaar do his thing. We're willing to bet success will follow.

-RR

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