July 2, 2008
OAKLAND, Calif. - California freshman/novice coach Geoff Bond spoke to the California Rowing Club about his IRA-winning squads, what made them different and how rowing changed his life, after he led the Cal freshman eight to its second straight national title at the 2008 IRA Regatta. Both the Cal men's crew and CRC are based in the T. Gary Rogers Rowing Center in Oakland, Calif.
Reprinted with permission.
Q: So, this is your squad's second straight IRA win. What was the same and what was different?
A: It's the second in a row, and the fourth in five years. One thing to remember is that each crew has its own personality. Each crew has to work through the course of a year to find its own identity, its own temperament.
The 2004 crew was a simmering, quietly contained, and extremely fiery group of guys. They said little, but there was a definite vibe there. They were on task, on point.
The 2005 group was much more emotionally overt, and a more gregarious bunch, and very much on purpose.
The 2007 group was very big, very physical, the largest crew I ever coached. They averaged about 6-4, 205 pounds. Very early on they found the knack for balancing their aggression and drive with humor. I spent a lot of time trying to keep a straight face around them. It was very entertaining, but also very annoying as they had my number early on in the year.
This year's group was very dynamic, and there was good inter-squad competition in the beginning. However, as the year progressed, they were either very upbeat and happy, and sloppy in execution, or they would be serious and very attentive, and then get dour and heavy. That's problematic for me as a coach, because I'm pretty passionate and tend not to like grumpiness. The pendulum swung back and forth quite a bit with this group. They found their humor toward the end of the season. That's really important, because to row at the highest level there has to be aggression and passion, but it has to be mitigated. There has to be a lightness there, too. Much of coaching is guiding a group through that process.
Appropriately, the guys decided to put two names on the Pocock shell they raced at the IRA: on one side was Praxis, which is ancient Greek for accurate, disciplined pursuit of skill, and on the other was Enthousiasmos, which is the fire and passion that gives life to Praxis. They brought the two together beautifully in the final.
Q: How did you discover rowing?
A: I had done cross country and track while in high school at The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Conn., and a semester of cross country at Colgate University, in Hamilton, N.Y., after that. I knew I wanted to do something else. My mother and I had talked about it and she suggested rowing.
When I got to Brown, I thought there was no way I could stay there as I knew I needed more than pure academics to learn and grow. I wanted something different. I called home and told my mom I couldn't stay at Brown and that I was going to go to the recruiting office to join the Marine Corps. She said, wait, before you do that, go down to the boathouse and follow up on our conversation.
So I went down to the boathouse. No one was around so I just wandered a bit. The boat bays were dark and cool and the racks were full of sleek shells. At that time, Brown still rowed in Pocock cedar boats. I walked into the boat bay and saw the rigger, Butch Langille, shaving down a new rib for one of the boats. The air was redolent with this wonderful smell of wood, and I thought, okay, this is intriguing to me, I want to learn more about this.
I found my way to the office and there was Steve Gladstone with his feet on the desk. Will Scoggins, who was my freshman coach, was sitting at the other desk. Will was just amazing. He was a wild-eyed prophet with ice-blue eyes who made the hair stand up on my neck.
When I think of rowing in college, I think first of freshman year in a place where concepts like Integrity, Honor, and Fraternity played out every day in the field of action. It was a threshold experience and really transformed me. Ultimately Steve Gladstone was my varsity coach. Under him the work - physical, technical, psychological - that was started freshman year continued at higher levels of sophistication.
Q: Who are some of the people who have influenced you as a coach?
A: When Steve Gladstone came back to Cal in 1996 to coach the varsity team, he asked me to join him as his unpaid assistant, which I did for three years. As I had rowed under Steve at Brown I had a visceral sense of his approach, but working with him as a coach was a revelation. The complexity of the process, all of the moving parts, still amazes me. Steve addresses those parts in a way few others do. He also provides an honest example of the challenges inherent in being a passionate leader of a large group of motivated people, in being a leader of men.
During that three-year period I also had the opportunity to observe Craig Amerkhanian at work with the Cal frosh. His enthusiasm and passion were amazing and a lesson to any aspiring frosh coach.
Over the last eight years I have had the wonderful opportunity to work with two master coaches, Ted Washburn and Tim McLaren. Ted's experience and knowledge of freshman coaching is without equal. His influence on my learning curve has been profound. He has been a good friend and teacher.
Recently, Tim McLaren, who heads the California Rowing Club, has provided extremely helpful insights on everything from rigging to race execution to psychology. Without fail I learn something from him every time we talk.
My closest professional ally has been Pat McGrath, who for six years was my unpaid assistant while he pursued his Ph.D in Chemical Engineering at Cal. Pat is smart and aggressive, and he challenged and supported me, before he left last fall, every step of the way. Frankly, he would be very tough to coach against.
Gary Rogers has been the primary benefactor of our program. He has been instrumental in our success, from helping bring Steve Gladstone back to Cal over a decade ago to building our new rowing center. On a personal level, he has been very supportive of me and my mission as Freshman Coach. I am very grateful for his ongoing support.
Finally, the force that makes it all work is my wife, Hilary. She was the Brown Women's Varsity coxswain for four years and we have been together since fall of freshman year. She completely understands the stresses of my job and has been a phenomenal ally for over 20 years. I could never adequately thank her.
- Gina Gotsill