Nick Baker |

A day in the life of a Paralympic rowing coach

The Para Squad’s coaching team clearly played a huge part in their recent success at the 2022 World Rowing Championships. But what does that role actually involve day-to-day? Here Paralympic Head Coach Nick Baker talks us through a fairly standard post-covid era day earlier in the season

0530: Wake to an alarm that every day reminds you that there are two fives on the clock face… something it’s still hard to believe.

0535: First message from an athlete arrives … “positive lateral flow test I can’t believe it!” This derails your plan to get the mythical coxed four out for its maiden row of the season, something you have been building excitement around with the crew for some time now. You add breaking the news to the rest of the crew to your not insignificant to-do list for the day.

0540: Walk the Alaskan Malamute you thought would be a great companion for a rowing coach given it needs about 500 miles of walking daily. Realise its 20 degrees and your dog is designed for -40 … after 45 minutes return home and rinse the dog with a hose to cool it off. Dog runs inside and shakes all over the kitchen before you can towel it. Leave mess for later.

Alaskan Malamute dog with stopwatch
UNofficial assistant coach Bella

0630: Get in car and drive to Caversham. When you arrive, realise that you have received 45 emails in the 15 minutes the journey took. Wonder if you really are a rowing coach anymore or in fact an admin assistant who lies to themselves daily by wearing sports kit.

0645: Start working through the list for the day. Loading list for the impending camp, writing the next block of training programme, induction pack for the new strength and conditioning (S&C) coach, writing an article for the indoor rowing content manager, planning the day’s training for the three crews you work with. The second you open your laptop someone walks in and lets you know the pair you now need to use for the day (after news of the sick rower) has been borrowed and re-rigged by someone else without asking. Close laptop. Spend 45 minutes rushing to set the boat up again in time for the outing.

0745: Rush upstairs to grab your radios and do your crew session plans you had a lot of time to do but now have about 15 minutes for.

0830: Boat for first session of the day. Realise bike has a flat tire because of blackbirds using the towpath as a nutcracker for their breakfast of mussels, borrow a bike from someone a foot shorter than you. Have a genuinely good session in great weather, great technical progress is made, and physical outcomes met. Feel good about the fact you have achieved something.

1045: Head for breakfast. Marcin the chef at Caversham makes an incredible breakfast burrito. After doing some video analysis with one of the crews, open the laptop and get the training camp loading list finished; the carnet needs to be drawn up for travel ASAP. Run around all of the boats getting serial numbers required for carnet. On the way to get serial numbers get asked 15 questions by 15 different people about things you’ve already given the answers to.

1140: Cram the kit required for a mixed modality aerobic session into the space left over in the ergo gym after the Olympic team got blown off the water by high winds. Try and coach on the ergos over the incredibly loud dubstep remix playlist that they have chosen. Give up and open laptop again desperate to tick off some more of the emails.

1300: Manage half a sandwich before jumping into a meeting about operational planning for the summer’s racing. Receive 12 WhatsApp from athletes asking questions that are answered by the training programme or in an email sent previously… Shout ‘read the programme’ out loud and then apologise to the rest of the meeting who are wondering what’s wrong with you.

1400: Get in the car to travel to Bisham Abbey for S&C [strength and conditioning]. Grab an energy drink on the way, which you know is terrible for your health but makes you feel like you can survive the rest of the day.

1425: Have a conversation with the physio who has had to modify the lifting programmes for three of the athletes because of minor niggles. Explain this to the S&C coach who has to rewrite their session plans in a five-minute window.

1430: S&C starts. Run around helping the athletes set up kit, lift and get on and off equipment. Put your back out lifting a PR1 onto the boxes for pull ups. Feel older than you really are after this.

1545: Get in the car to travel the 45 minutes home. Use this time to make three phone calls that you didn’t manage to get in earlier (hands free of course!).

1630: Walk through the door and get mauled by the dog. Walk the high energy sled dog for an hour by the river where it can swim to stay cool. Dog now smells of river and needs to be washed.

1745: Open laptop and get to work on the training programme. Athlete calls and updates you on how miserable covid is. You both work with the doctor’s advice to build a return to training plan. This takes 30 minutes.

1830: Dinner.

1900: Open laptop again and get a solid 90 minutes of programming in for the next block of training.

2030: Head to the gym to desperately try and hang onto the physical fitness you once had. Realise how unrealistic this is halfway through the session.

2200: Set the alarm that kicks you in the adrenal glands every day for 0530 again. Tell yourself it’s been a productive day and you love your job. Realise that your ability to navigate a day of to-do list admin between effective training sessions whilst fostering team spirit and keeping all the athletes on track is a skill in itself and all leading to the production of a world class team. As the old adage goes… it’ll be alright in the end.

2205: Sleep.