Associate Director of Craftsbury Sculling Camps, Marlene Royle recently interviewed Craftsbury Coach, Cinda Ewton on her history and coaching philosophy.
MR: How did you start rowing? What was your best competitive experience?
CE: My rowing started in my second year at Duke University when I was 19. I had been a three-sport athlete all through high school (and before) but never specialized in any one. Duke didn't have a softball team, their tennis and basketball teams were a bit out of my league. After a lazy freshman year, I missed sports in general and thought rowing would be an interesting sport to try. I was stopped on campus by one of the Duke rowers who saw my height and asked me to come out for the team. If rowing was an option for a major, I think I would have fulfilled the requirements over the following three years.
Rowing has taken me all over the map, but I'll have to say that one of the most memorable experiences was my final year racing with the University of Virginia. We had come off a near stellar fall season, finishing 4th at the Head of the Charles as the top university in the Champ Women's 8+. Our early spring season had started very well, beating Cal at home and falling to the defending NCAA Champion University of Washington by 2 seconds at the San Diego Crew Classic. We faltered late April and May, so by the time NCAA Championships rolled around, we were seeded 5th. I was recovering from pneumonia, our eight had a brand new stroke for the big dance, and we had even altered our seating position in the day or two before racing began. There were lots of unknown variables. We started NCAA's by failing to qualify for the semi's out of the heats. We won the repechage and stole the last qualifying spot out of the semi-final over Michigan by 0.2 seconds. But our races kept getting better and better. I'm not sure anybody counted on us being competitive in the final, but we traded leads with Brown University through the first 1200m or so and finished second. I credit my teammates for the belief and commitment they had in our potential speed. Our Varsity 4+ had also finished second and our Second Varsity 8+ had won - our best NCAA finish in team history.
MR: What sparked your interest in coaching and how did you get into coaching?
CE: At Duke University, rowing was a club sport during my time. Our coaches were all volunteers either in graduate school or working in the area. There were a couple of Duke alumni still involved in coaching, and we truly appreciated the time they gave. Knowing how much I had gained from their commitment, I thought I would give back to the program that allowed my own love for rowing to flourish. So my first year out of college, I coached the novices at Duke. We took our novice 8+ to the Dad Vail regatta for the first time that year and made the grand final.
In general, I love to contribute to athletic development and achievement however I can. Coaching from my 1x and from the bow of a 2x are two of my favorite ways of coaching. I began coaching scullers while rowing at the University of Virginia. Before I knew it, the whole club was asking for private lessons, so I set up a sculling program and organized a home race.
MR: You work with many juniors, as a coach, what do you think are some of the most important qualities to instill in a young athlete?
CE: Young athletes have time on their side. I think this is one of the main things to remember as a coach of junior rowers. Many coaches can get caught up with results 'now' but I try to keep perspective and view their trials and successes as part of a much bigger process. Enjoyment of the sport at a young age is probably the best predictor of participation as an adult. Young athletes also have special windows of time to optimize growth and development. For youngsters, I focus on skill building. Anyone can work hard, but I want my athletes to have thorough comprehension of stroke mechanics and a strong sense of how the boat moves. Couple these skills with inherent power and an indomitable will and success is predetermined. In addition to skill building, I encourage the development of an aerobic base. We still play with high ratings and intensity, but for the most part the kids I coach are banking quality miles.
MR: What has been one of your best experiences as a coach?
CE: Honestly, one my fondest memories is coaching scullers on the Rivanna Reservoir in Charlottesville, Virginia. I was asked to teach one 15-year-old girl how to row twice a week for the summer of 2001. We mostly rowed the double with me sitting in bow seat before moving into two 1x's. This girl did not have a lot of power - in fact she was pulling a 9:10 2k erg! - but she was an eager student and learned how to move the boat with what she had quite well. By the end of the summer, we could take 20-30 smooth strokes at around a 36. I took her to Canadian Henley where she race the Jr B and Jr A single and beat only one person out of both of her heats combined. It is now five years later, and she is a Head of the Charles as well as collegiate national champion. Neither her current coach nor I truly understood back in 2001 what was going to be in store for her.
MR: From a technical point of view, what aspects of sculling do you place particular emphasis on with young crews learning to compete?
CE: I focus a lot on the use of the hands and legs with my young kids. Kids are the most adept at motor skill acquisition, and if good habits are taught early, they could last a lifetime. Most kids, since they are still growing, also do not have sufficient core strength. I encourage my athletes to stay relatively tall at both ends of the stroke and learn to connect the feet with the hands. Unless something is grossly out of sequence, I don't spend a whole lot of time on recovery patterns, other than getting the weight shifted to the front of the seat as early as possible in the recovery. Most kids struggle to bring the rate up, and if they are focused on a separated recovery or slowing the slide down too much, they can lose races just because of a low rate. I also encourage my athletes to learn how to pace. While they may be getting faster by virtue of growing older and stronger, I try to educate my athletes to optimize their utilization of energy over the course of a race. As a former collegiate coach, I found that this skill was the main thing that many young recruited rowers lacked.
MR: Do you have your juniors do cross training?
CE: I encourage my athletes to vary their activities. They are usually multi-sport athletes and even if they do specialize on rowing it is good for athletes to have balance in their athletic life. I have introduced yoga, prescribed core-strengthening activities, and I keep those who can running, and allow others to choose what they prefer whether it be x-c skiing, swimming or even more team oriented sports like ice hockey or soccer.
MR: You will be part of our staff for the Junior Women's Trials Preparation Camp in June; what do you look forward to the most?
CE: I am excited to have the opportunity to work with the next generation of talented scullers. Single scullers are just that, often single and out on their own. While there are some clubs and schools that accommodate scullers, they are usually not the priority boat for any given program. I am excited of partake in the camp to offer the prioritization that they deserve. When I was competing, I was fortunate to have had quite the cross-section of coaches over the years, and I gleaned something valuable from every one of them. I am hoping that our campers will also benefit from the kernels of wisdom passed on by our coaching staff.