How should coaches respond to bad behaviour among rowers?


This season New Zealand has had three publicised bouts of misbehaviour from its members. Two high profile coaches were barred from the National Championships after abusing an umpire. Later at the same regatta a group of young rowers caused mayhem at the pub and some of them wrecked a house. And now we have the St Bede’s College boys on the airport conveyor belt carry on. The cartoonist here summed it up well.

All three incidents raise concerns about what punishment is appropriate, what is fair, and whether the miscreants have been allowed due process and given a fair go. For what it is worth, I think all of them got off lightly but that is not what worries me.

Behaviour: Opportunity or Threat?

My concern is the missed opportunity. Bad behaviour will happen. If we take large

Duncan Holland rowing coach

groups of young people and bring them together for high stakes completion there will be some undesirable incidents. What we should be looking at is how we react, and how do we work to get better behaviour in the future?

In the Bede’s case what might help is fewer lawyers, (Shakespeare said it a long time ago: First thing we do is kill all the lawyers) parents who are willing to support the school they have chosen for their children and a firm line from the coaches that selection for a team carries behavioural obligations –  transgressions result in removal from the team.

More importantly, the behaviour of our leaders;

The Chairman, the CEO, the functionaries at Karapiro, and the selectors have a duty to express and promote the values that the sport of rowing supposedly hold. Many sports have a clause somewhere in the rules relating to bringing the sport into disrepute. These three groups of clowns have certainly done.

  • Have we heard a statement from our board saying that NZRowing deplores such behaviour?
  • Have we been told that these three groups all face sanctions within the sport?
  • Has NZRowing said that the coaches face an internal process which may have an impact on their future employment?
  • Have the selectors said that they take social and behavioural factors into account when picking our teams?

Was any action taken?

The only official statement I have seen or found in the media is the mealy mouthed comment from Canterbury Rowing Association regional manager John Wylie who said the pupils’ airport antics were unlikely to affect their future rowing prospects.
“I can’t mind-read for the selectors but they’re a fairly level-headed group of people,” he said. “They’re very much looking for people that have to ability to move fast out on the water. It’s about rowing ability, not about psychological assessment.”
Compare this stunning silence with how Steve Hansen and the All Blacks handled Aaron Cruden’s night out before a flight to South Africa: Immediate public naming and shaming, immediate dropping from the team and a long path back to rehabilitation and further representative honours.

More importantly, Hansen was open and clear. He made it very plain that he, and the organisation, expected good behaviour and adherence to team norms. This has reinforced his standing. The NZRU’s standing, and has highly likely helped Cruden to be a better man and a better rugby player. It may even help NZ to win the Rugby World Cup later this year.

As I said, a missed opportunity for us to strengthen our sport. Look also at how the gentlemanly behaviour of McCullum and the NZ Cricket team has attracted praise, admiration and attention. We should aspire to be not just the most successful sport in the country but the most admired.

As an aside: St Bede’s has 5 alumni who are Members of Parliament. An impressive performance but at least one of them has been in trouble with airport security as well!

Duncan Holland


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This Post Has 2 Comments

  1. Dee Hotop


    I congratulate you and RowPerfect on addresses a subject I’m sure all in NZ would like nothing more than forget. It is the public nature and severity of these incidents that causes concern, especially given the responses that have been publicized through the media. That said, through seeing our clubs name in the headlines, I realize that the entire story is rarely shared in the media. However, it is important that those who speak for an organization remember that their first responsibility is to the integrity of our sport, then their organization, and then to the individuals. You can take a firm stand without compromising the individuals. In fact, studies have shown that most humans function better with clear standards to meet. We should not be afraid to have high standards, and as you apply put it, that will not compromise the speed of our boats…if anything it will improve our chances for speed!

  2. Duncan Holland

    Thanks for the response Dee. You take my point perfectly; I tried to avoid judging the individuals because I didn’t know the whole story but the lack of clear response from our leaders is sad.


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