Interview with Tim McLaren, US Rowing Head Coach Part:1

This interview was done when Tim was Head Coach and director of California Rowing Club in 2007.  He is now head coach, US Rowing.

When did you first start coaching?

I started with school kids when I was 19.  Coaching rugby league.  For a long time.  I was doing it until 87 / 88.   I played for 18 years as an amateur and professional against GB in 87 and was in a divisional team and we played them in NSW.  When I was 25 I switched to rowing I did surf boats from age 16 to 25.

I grew up on surf life-saving in summer and rugby in winter.

What is your coaching record?

– not many wins….

Olympics – 92 2x, 96 bronze in Lwt 2x and 4x.  2000 4- bronze (silver year before) 2004 8 bronze

Worlds – had some crews that won worlds.

Who taught you how to coach?

Nobody teaches you how to coach.  When you start at 19 you do the best you can with the commonsense you have at your disposal. You approach it largely led by your personality.  I will let others comment on my personality.  Most coaches have a good work ethic and that’s probably what you need.  Put the hours in and be diligent – the same stuff you tell the athletes.  A bit of a carry-over from your own competition days.

Who has influenced your coaching method?

Everyone has a method.  The people that coached me in surf rowing and rugby league and then John Williamson – you have a variety.  Paul Rowe.  He was a national sculler.  Rusty Robinson he was fantastic.  He was outstanding and you remember the people more for their personality and how they handle situations.  Reinhold Baatchi.  All these characters you absorb stuff off them.  Coaching with other coaches on the national team it is good to coach in a group.  That is an art that Cambridge (CUBC) has mastered over the years the “cooperation is a good environment”.  Donald Leggatt, Robin Williams and Harry Mahon.

How would you describe your ‘perfect’ rowing / sculling stroke?

I am not into words.  Every rowing book around the world is the same but we all row differently.  Me explaining it to me you will be your own interpretation of my words but that may not be my interpretation.  There are many ways to do it – whether you are a pusher or a puller do it to high level and you have a chance of being competitive.

What is your main focus at different times of the season?

I think that comes with the programme and how it shifts to technical sessions and as the need demands it.  What’s in front of you?  Deal with that – just like football.  You can be in the competitive part and if the crew is average you may need to do technical sessions too.  There is no foolproof method on paper.  There is the normal theoretical framework which every coach has to work within.  There is always room for personal and collective improvement.

Do you have any advice for young coaches?

Try and get out with older coaches now and again. A trip in a boat and discussion; ask questions while you have the crew in front of you.  Read a bit of history and get a good understanding of the sport.  I think to be organised in a practical sense. Plan your sessions… I sense a lot of volunteers are under time pressure and this gets cut.  If you can organise the hour in drills at various pressures, rates with slide work and body work. You improve concentration and their ability to carry that onto racing.  Have a plan with your session.  Warm up, drills, ratings, pressures, and times.  Bring all those things to a party.  Not just work on row 40 minutes steady state. You need to be doing rating, starts and teach skills.  Young people need to be organised to fit all those things in over a period on time.  You need structure of sessions in order to get it all in.  Young people want variety.  School; coaches are organised off the water, equipment and crews and maintenance. But on the water they need the same degree of vigilance.

What is the thing you are most proud of in your coaching career?

I am not sure.  I think wherever I go I try and create a culture around the club whether surf, football or rowing and bring that element of teamwork to the culture of where you coach.  A social element with hard work which brings people together and makes a stronger unit and makes you a better competitor.  I try to set a high standard and get people to rethink possibilities.  Raise their level of thinking and to manage themselves really well.  That is people’s biggest challenge.  You aim to try and keep them developing not only in a rowing sense but life.

Please visit tomorrow to read the rest of the interview

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