I hope you read this. You need to read this. A coach I will always remember just died.
Let’s get this out of the way …. I’m going to describe his coaching in one paragraph: He won the Olympics. Another American coach would not win that event for 40 years. He won World Championships. He changed how his sport, rowing, was coached. He had a style named after him that coaches around the world taught (rowing’s version of the Fosbury Flop).
He was exceptionally good at what he did.
Yet, that’s not why I remember him.
I going to screw this up. I know I will, but I don’t care … I’m going to try.
I’ll always remember Allen for three reasons.
Graciousness: I walked out of the stairway onto the top of the building. All the tables in the cafe were filled, except for a lone table. Allen looked at me, waved me over. “Have a seat, not a bad waiter.”
I’d seen Allen before … but we’d never talked. “Order the Muesilix. Great stuff.”
We were in Tampere, Finland, at the rowing World Championships. He was coaching. I was a team leader. He was winding down his coaching career. I was trying to wind mine up. He was nice, friendly, inquisitive.
Some months later, I don’t remember when, I asked him if he would mentor me. “Absolutely. Ask when you need to.” From that moment on, Allen gave me many great suggestions. I called him a lot. He visited my practices.
I labeled him, “The giant who lets me stand on his shoulders.” He thought that was funny.
More than once, he would visit and coach my team for a practice. He was gracious with his time, possibly too gracious considering all the others who must have been asking him also.
Politely Pushy: More than once, we disagreed. He let me know he was right, I was wrong. And … he was indeed right. Except once.
There was a tough coaching decision I had to make. I was stumped between two choices. One easy, one hard.
“Take the hard one. The easy one is lazy,” he told me.
“Stop being lazy.”
By then I knew to listen, I made the hard decision. It turned out poorly.
On the phone I said, “That athlete I kept. Bad choice. I (I wanted to say ‘We’ but couldn’t) screwed up.
“Good. What did you learn?”
“Hm, to follow my gut?”
“Yes, now start listening to yourself. Stop doubting. Stop settling for less.”
And as simply as that I found confidence I had been lacking.
(Here’s a short video of Allen sharing a few thoughts on coaching.)
Giving: Here’s the hard part … I think he gave too much. He did to me. I’m sure he did not get his money’s worth from me.
Here is an example of one note he sent me, for me to share with my team.
From Allen Rosenberg, 4/23/04
I first became aware of a marvelous psychologist named Czicksentmihaly who wrote of the “zone.” Most professional tennis players know this very well. It looks like they are in a “groove ” They seem mesmerized. They play fiercely but without expression. Nothing distracts them.
You will row in the same manner. There is no expressions on your faces because you will not be distracted. There is no need for distraction. You live and work in that zone. You do not think. Because you have learned to think without thinking. There is no need to think.
At the start. It is as if someone has turned your switch on. It will carry you to the finish of the race. It doesn’t permit of muscle work other than rowing effort. In this manner you will not be working against yourself.
What will you notice? A quickening of the pulse, eye movement will see objects in a fuzzy way so that after the race you will not remember what transpired. During the race because you will have no visual recollection of that. What others will say of you is that you rowed with fluidity and gracefulness.
In the biggest race of my career, crew members could not remember any passage of time-so slow was the body’s aware awareness of the event, and no awareness of the individual bits of time.
What you will be aware of will be a supreme sense of calm. How can I train myself to be ‘calm?
Know that you are strong. Know that you are good. Know that you are better than when you last raced these crews. Know that are like a runner with a floating stride uphill with long loping movement. I sat enthralled in 1976 watching a great Cuban runner named Alberto Juantorena. Winning the 400 and 800 meters. First time in track history. He trained running down hill over a golf course running as fast as he could go. Just at the break point where he would not stumble. Almost out of control. Lengthening his stride on every touch. You will do the same on every stroke.
You will believe that you are running downhill where you have the wind at your heels pushing you as you row. The added force will give you speed without hard work. It is as if you have more strength than you can imagine. Juantorena looked that way. He believed that he would do as he wished. Two Olympic finals in one day. Two gold medals beating the very best in the world. He was called the stallion (el caballo) that is what he looked like. When the others slowed, he accelerated. He was incredibly disciplined, as you will be. He concentrated as you will do. Turning his thoughts inward. The world does not exist outside of his body and mind. You will do all of the above.
Take one stroke at a time. Talk to it and make it talk to you. When you drive the legs say leg drive and mean it. When it is time to relax when you exhale, talk to your body and do it. When you do all of this and cross the finish line, you will experience a sense of enjoyment because it will be the first time you will be out your zone. You will be possessed of huge discipline. You will have earned the win-not because it is coming to you or that you deserve it. Rather that you have relaxed and then, worked hard, feeling neither.
Coxswain, make all of your calls going to the start and during the race revolve on these points. Do not shout so loud that you wake them up. Whisper loudly and create a zone.
My warmest wishes. Allen Rosenberg
There are people who give, because they know they will get back in return. I never felt that way with Allen. He was a producer. I consumed. And somewhere I consumed too much, and somewhere toward the end the relationship changed. That was my fault, but in the end it was another gift from him because now I feel even more obliged to give than ever before.
Regardless of the sport you coach, or the level, or the country you are in, there is something you can learn from Allen Rosenberg. One of the best in the World helped bring others up. Kept his cool under pressure. Looked to the future. Improved his sport.
I think, in our own ways, we all have an obligation as coaches to give back. To reach out. Those that do, get remembered. Leave an impact which lasts long after the body has left.
It’s all big boy/girl stuff. Makes the win/loss record seem trivial.
Sorry old friend. I’ll miss you.
Now I’ve got work to do, to try to be even a percentage as giving as you were.
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