Cambridge-coach Astrid Cohnen: “This is an amazing experience”

Cambridge-coach Astrid Cohnen: “This is an amazing experience”

Last week, a womens-eight from Nereus won during a sparring session on the Thames of Cambridge, whom will face Oxford on April 7th in the annual Boat Race. This so-called fixture was organized by the Dutch-trained coach Astrid Cohnen, currently the assistant coach of the ‘light blues’.

“Imagine that our eight in Britain has won all they have started so far. We use the fixtures on the course of the Boat Race to practice competitive situations. Nereus was able to come up with six medal winners from the last World Cup under the age of 23, so I knew for sure that they would have a strong boat. That would help us. “Cohnen explains on the telephone from Cambridge.

Recruitment
“I also hope that this will show Dutch rowers that studying here isn’t a bad idea. Although the trend is to go to the United States with an athletic scholarship, here you can participate in an unique event and ditto program. For example, the women’s group is quite international with a fairly large number of Americans, a Swiss, Danish and a Spanish girl. Everyone who has studied here, will careerwise get to be where he or she wants to be. Companies are standing in line for people who have studied here.”

Repack
Her wish for a strong competition came true in London. Nereus-octet annihilated the women of Cambridge in the first part of the two kilometers. “We were not prepared for that and our rowing was bad representation of our current standard. But they recovered well and pushed through. On the second leg they were, despite the less than favorable position in terms of curves on the finish, only a quarter behind. They learn a lot from this, lagging behind can also happen during the Boat Race and then you need the right tools.”

cuwbc nereus 2019

Vicarage
Cohnen, who works in the Netherlands as a paid Skøll and Laga coach, is usually busy coachingthe lightweight men and women rowing a week before their Boat Race against eternal rival Oxford than the official event on April 7th. I was hired as an assistant to the American head coach Rob Weber. Occasionally I do ergometer training for the heavy women’s team and I am a kind of pastoral worker. I regularly check in with them and see how they are doing, have a cup of coffee here and there. My opinion is also valued with regard to setups and selections.”

Perfectionism
Cohnen, born in Germany, is referring to the very ambitious study climate in combination with the heavy training regime. “In the Netherlands people already think that the study pressure is high. However, that is nothing compared to here. They also train twelve times a week. All our rowers are perfectionists and their own worst critic. They are highly focused on rowing, studying, navigating between classes, training locations and home.

Logistics
According to Cohnen there are quite a few differences from her previous coaching job in the Netherlands. “First of all, a club like Cambridge has a much larger network. From board members to sponsors and influential ex-rowers. Many supporting groups want to help and share their advice about the teams. You must be able to focus on the goal at hand -putting the athlete first- and maintaining this goal. The logistics side is also much larger. In Dutch student associations, a board or a committee does most of the heavy lifting. Here we have to do everything ourselves: from the transport of the boats to taking care of repairs of the boat.”

Diving board
The former rower of Saurus and Skøll left for England for a fresh start. “I wanted to prove myself somewhere else. “In the Netherlands I had the feeling like some minds were made up about me and I did not want that for myself. I went to find the joy in coaching again. By going to another place with the same skill-set – in which I still have great faith in – I could start over and redefine my way of working and collaborating. Coaching in Cambridge is an amazing experience and I’m very happy that I created and seized this opportunity. If this leads to other opportunities I would be very happy, but for now my rowers and the Boat Race are the highest priority.”

Rowing coaching at TopRow London: ‘We were pioneers’

Rowing coaching at TopRow London: ‘We were pioneers’

Last summer in London, TopRow opened a rowing centre near the river Thames. Amsterdam based coaches Willem Crul and Caitlin Smith were given the important task of setting up the first rowing lessons. A big undertaking for the young students.

“We took a leap of faith and it was worth the risk” says Caitlin excited in the cafeteria of Rowing Centre Berlagebrug (location TopRow Amsterdam). It was by chance that the 21-year-old Artificial Intelligence student came to London. “My original plan was to go to New York to pursue a minor and teach rowing classes as a side-job. Unfortunately, due to unforeseen circumstances that fell through. Jasper (Smink, owner of TopRow red.) offered me the chance to work in our newest London location for about a month or so. I tend to say ‘yes’ to a lot of things and good things happen when you say yes.”

Passion
Caitlin had a leg up on her colleagues since she lived in London until the age of 8. She was raised bi-lingual and could reside with her family in London whilst she was working there. The young history student and colleague of Caitlin, Willem, didn’t have the resources or benefits that Caitlin enjoyed. “Caitlin informed me about the opportunity and I was looking a summer side job” he says happily, continuing “In rowing, I noticed people share the same passion and interest. If I can help people and put a smile on their face, I have reached my goal. And the added bonus is that I get do this in London ha-ha”, he says smiling.

Strong current
“The strong current on the Thames river proved to be quite the challenge” says Caitlin. “Making the necessary preparations and giving the first lesson wasn’t exactly smooth sailing.” She continues “In the beginning I made the mistake of not knowing how far I could go down the stream before I realized it was time to turn around and head back. Also another challenge arose when I did not take the water-level into account which resulted in me hitting a sandbank. The rules of the water are a lot more complicated than in Amsterdam” she closes.

Improvisation
The challenges weren’t just on the water. “In Amsterdam we make use of, what we call, a rowing tank. Eventually we found a way to replicate this by going into the water ourselves and holding the boat on each side. This gave our learners a chance to get familiarized with the stroking techniques without the added pressure of making speed” says Willem.

Caitlin Willem

Coordination
Aside from the challenges we faced on the water, the administrative part proved to be a challenge as-well. “The person responsible for this part went on his honeymoon as soon as we set foot in London. We received cancellations through e-mail which went to our Amsterdam location. By the time we would receive the information here in London, it was already too late. But we overcame this obstacle as-well by working closely with the London Rowing Club. This is also where our boats are stored.”

Promotion
The rowing courses proved to be popular. “If you have never rowed in your life, you will not be able to join a rowing club like in The Netherlands. Here in London, the existing rowing clubs only take new members who are experienced rowers. TopRow fills the void for beginners and everyone wants to learn to row. Since then, other clubs have began offering rowing classes for beginners but its usually on a small scale and its hard to find these places. We started promoting our courses on a large scale and even got mentioned on the radio” says Caitlin.

Pioneering
Both Caitlin and Willem trained the new staff members before leaving London. “We wrote a standard protocol for new staff-members. I think the company runs smoothly now. Looking back on it, I think we were pioneering!”

Experience
Caitlin and Willem look back on their experience feeling fulfilled. “It was quite the undertaking for me being in London by myself. It has helped me be to become more independent. Near the end of our journey, I resided with a couple of students, which was a lot of fun” says Willem smiling. On the other hand, Caitlin enjoyed the solitude. “I have especially enjoyed learning first-hand how to set-up something and making it work. I know have more knowledge of how a company is built. That is something I will take with me for future references.”

Caitlin Willem

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