Shanique Harrison had zero experience of rowing when she started on London Youth Rowing’s Coaching Development Programme, but now she is a passionate ambassador for the sport. She shares her journey with Caroline Roberts
Shanique Harrison is a Programme Coach with London Youth Rowing, a charity that helps young people in disadvantaged areas get active and develop life skills. Always ready to try something new, she’s a shining example of what coaches from a non-rowing background can bring to the sport.
Shanique has always been a sports fanatic and while growing up she participated in football, basketball, gymnastics and trampolining. When she joined the charity in August 2021, she had zero experience of rowing and, after a few training sessions on working with children and coaching basics, she was thrown in at the deep end, quite literally.
“We had an on-water session with a bunch of Year 8s they just said, ‘Jump in with the kids. There’s no way you can coach without experiencing what the kids experience.’”
She now works across eight schools, where she delivers indoor rowing sessions in PE lessons and after-school clubs. Her wide sporting experience is useful in keeping students engaged, she says.
“I like to mix it up with other sports. One example is team relays where they do 100m on the rowing machine, then run and try to put a basketball in the net. It makes it exciting, so they stay interested. I always give them something to aim towards, such as a competition, so it entices them to work a bit harder. Once we get to April, we can get on the water at the docks a bit more, and they get really excited about that.”
“Background or ethnicity isn’t a barrier; I’m here and I’m doing it. If I can, why can’t you?”
The fact that she comes from the local area and from a similar background to many of the students she coaches helps, she says.
“Some kids say: rowing, isn’t that what posh kids do? That’s when I jump in and say: ‘I’m black and not from a particularly well-off background. It doesn’t matter. We’re here to show you that you can do rowing. Background or ethnicity isn’t a barrier; I’m here and I’m doing it. If I can, why can’t you?’.
“I show them a little clip of me on the water and they say: ‘Wow, Miss, you’re really powerful!’. Showing them someone they can relate to doing something they never thought they could do encourages them to think that they can break down those barriers in their life and do more than people expect them to.”
She has learned from all of her previous coaches, she says, but there’s one experience in particular that showed her just how inspiring a coach can be. It came when a trampoline was introduced into PE lessons at her school.
“It was the first session, and I immediately started jumping on it when the teacher wasn’t looking. Then the coach came in and I thought I was going to get into trouble, but he just told me to keep going and started coaching me. He said I had good posture and balance, and a lot of potential.
“I do like a bit of lipstick and blusher sometimes. Why not?”
“I went to his sessions every week and eventually I became the choreographer for the school when we went to competitions. Because of the way he showed me my potential and encouraged me, he gave me that opportunity.”
Her route into coaching was an unusual one, having worked for a top cosmetic brand for several years.
“It made me more confident in speaking to people as I was working in stores, where you get to meet people from lots of different backgrounds and of different ages and put make-up on them, which is quite an intimate thing.”
Nowadays, she does some make-up vlogging in her spare time. “I don’t go to coaching in full make-up, but I do like a bit of lipstick and blusher sometimes. Why not?”
She has found the Coach Development Programme offered by London Youth Rowing invaluable. “At the end of the day, we’re working with kids. You have to be able to know what you’re doing and why you’re doing it – how to run your sessions, showing rather than telling, and how to respond to things that might happen.”
The most rewarding thing about the job is seeing the students engaging with rowing and coming back week after week.
“I’m in some schools every other week, and when I’m not there we get the teachers to do our session. If they come when I’m not there, that means they really like rowing and my coaching is working. I see the same kids coming back, and sometimes they bring someone new the next week. They’re learning and that warms my heart.
“I love this job. But eventually, I’d like to be a mentor going into schools, speaking to students and explaining my experiences. There are so many different things you can do in life and I want to show them the way.”