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  • Writer's pictureCoach Knickerbocker

Chef's Table, Coach's Boat

I love cooking shows.

I love programs that describe food, show great chefs creatively cooking, and get my mouth watering to eat their amazing creations.

One of my favorite streaming netflix series is Chef's Table. This series focuses on one chef for each episode. The stories are all about their childhoods, how they came to enjoy cooking, how unique their food explorations are and what makes them so great at what they do. They are very regional chefs and there is no question while watching that they have a passion for what they do.

Each culinary experience a chef creates is built on top of all their other creations and each one informs the next.

And so it is with coaching.

One of the episodes I distinctly remember has a moment where the chef describes the process of having the delivery van pull up outside the restaurant early in the morning with all of the fresh fruits and vegetables from the local farm. His approach was to let the farmer bring him the freshest of what the farm could offer and then he, the chef, would decide what he was going to cook that night based on what he took in at delivery.

While each crate and bucket was pulled out of the farmer's van, the chef in that moment was deciding what he was going to create with what he saw before him. Literally in that moment. The mushrooms appear and he holds them up to his nose, takes a deep whiff, and starts describing what he can do with these in combination with the fresh sorrel, the fresh spring lettuces, and so on.

The first time I saw this episode I was struck by how similar his experience of creating on the spot was with my experience of coaching masters rowers. He's taking all of his knowledge of the mushroom, it's texture, it's taste, how it works well with other elements and deciding exactly what to make with it. Knowing exactly in which dish it will exhibit it's best qualities.

In much the same way, coaches are watching their rowers walk into the boathouse and deciding where exactly they will best add to the boat. What qualities that rower has that will either add or take away from the coach's ultimate goal of competitive success or technical change, or preferably both.

Early in the morning I would see who was arriving at the boathouse and start creating a lineup. I would take a big whiff with my brain, incorporating all that I knew about the athletes I was seeing. Their technical strengths and weaknesses, their fitness, their exhibit of boat feel, their attitude and mindset, and I would start thinking about who could sit where and what combinations of bodies were going to create the best "tasting" practice for that day. While the ultimate recipe was being designed in my head along the way for a racing lineup.

Of course similarly to the chef from the Chef's Table episode, vegetables that were not in the crates or buckets did not get used that day. The fresh tomatoes that didn't make it on the truck would not be able to made into the most amazing sauce or served freshly sliced with a small farm mozzarella and a chiffonade of basil.

The same would occur with the rowers. Rowers that did not show up on that particular morning would not become part of what ended up being an amazing practice. They would not be served with a great swing row or experience a sprinkling of starts that could make them feel as though they were effortlessly flying.

Just as the tomato was not seen that day by the chef, so the rower was not seen by the coach. Not being seen would mean others would be. Just as the chef would focus on what is in front of him, coaches also focus on the rowers they have in front of them. Get in front of the coach and you will be part of the menu.

So how do you get "seen" and used in the coach's best recipes for boats.


Sorry for the yelling but that's really the biggest part. Of course you know to show up physically. That's the most basic and obvious first level of showing up. Meaning be there, be rested and ready to participate in what the coach has planned, get your body ready to perform by warming up and dynamically stretching, etc.

But there's also showing up mentally. This means you show up with a positive mindset, ready to put forth your best that day. You have a personal goal for the day technically or physiologically. You are coachable. You are prepared psychologically to perform for the full practice. You're engaged

Many times rowers will show up with an agenda under their arm. Agendas about what seat they should be in, what lineup they think will be best, what kind of workout they should be doing, the list goes on and on. In reality none of this is any of your business rower. This is the coach's perview. It's what you pay (hopefully) your coaches for. Their professional knowledge. Their time and effort to consider the lineup and determine the best recipe.

Then there's showing up emotionally.

What does that look like?

It manifests as an emotional set point of patience, calm, compassion for the other rowers and the coach. It means you are present not just physically or mentally but present emotionally in a mature high emotional IQ kind of way. You're not easily thrown off by a change in the practice plan or a shift in boatings. You patiently sit in your seat and consciously set the boat so others can practice the drill and focus on absorbing the lesson of said drill. You're present but you are also able to rise above and set aside any personal dislikes you have or distractions in order to soak in the training plan for the day. You translate setbacks into challenges and opportunities.

Vegetables and fruits speak to the chef through their color, scent, taste, texture, how they mix and play well with others, and ultimately what the chef wants to accomplish.

It's exactly the same in terms of how rowers communicate non-verbally to a coach.

As rowers you communicate with your coaches non-verbally on a constant basis in terms of technique, fitness, attitude, openness to learning new things, and being coachable. This, my friend, is what every coach, with regards to the recipe of rowing, is wanting from you. Especially the part about mixing and playing well with others.

So, just as I have discussed in past posts about what coaches need to do to create the best environment for you, this is about what you need to do to create the best environment for the coach.

Show up in all the ways in order to be something that the coach wants to put into her recipe.

Think of your coach as a chef who is under the gun to create tonight's menu.

You can be part of that amazing recipe, or not. It's up to you.

Row hard, Row well, Compete, Have fun!

Coach Knickerbocker

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