Former GB athlete Richard Chambers, now Women’s High Performance Coach at Leander Club, reflects on how the British Rowing Level 4 Advanced Coach course helped him to develop his coaching
Richard started coaching full time after a 12-year international rowing career, which saw him race at three Olympic Games including London 2012 where he won silver. He was also crowned World Champion twice in the lightweight men’s four. Since then he’s held coaching posts at Cambridge University and Oxford Brookes, and has coached GB Under 23 crews at the 2018 and 2019 World Championships, and at the 2021 European Championships. In September 2020, he embarked on the two-year Level 4 Advanced Coach course, which he completed in early 2023. He was appointed Women’s High Performance Coach at Leander Club in 2021.
What factors are most effective in helping you to develop as a coach?
There are two factors that spring to mind. First, the athletes. The relationship has to be two way. We work together towards and end goal. Them giving me feedback on what they need or what could be better is really important. There are a couple of athletes who I fully trust to be able to give me honest feedback because they know that I want to develop as a coach – to be better for them and the next group of athletes coming through.
Second is the coaching team around me. It’s been a privilege to work in great performance environments. There are coaches who I see bring out the best in people and whose practice I want to reflect.
“We challenge each other and provide constructive criticism where needed.”
The current coaching team that I work in each day at Leander is one that communicates and works together to do what is best for the athletes always. We challenge each other and provide constructive criticism where needed.
What was your motivation to undertake the Level 4 Advanced Coach qualification?
I’ve always wanted to be better in my coaching. Coaching rowing is not just about making boats go faster; it’s more deep rooted. I care about the athletes that I work with and the organisations that I work in, so being better at coaching and exploring new and better ways is important to me. Being around like minded people was also a huge draw to doing my Level 4.
Working on more than just the technical aspects of the sport is important and this was the perfect opportunity to start to understand why I coach and what I should be trying to achieve. Through my time at Cambridge and Oxford Brookes when I was working with student athletes, I realised that the specifics of coaching rowing was a small part of the job. Helping the athletes create an environment where people can be great student athletes was key.
I am a coach to help athletes be successful on and off the water and the Level 4 course has helped me delve deeper into the philosophy of my coaching, which is to help athletes foster life skills that they can use and develop well beyond their rowing careers.
What were your expectations for the course and has the reality lived up to those?
Being honest, I had no set expectations. I went in with an open mind and willingness to learn from others on the course. They included people with a rowing background but other sports as well. It has been a long time since I left university and I’m certainly not an academic so the work was challenging but very rewarding.
What has been the biggest impact on you or your coaching?
Completing the Level 4 (which includes a complete post graduate diploma) has made me a better person and – I think – a more rounded coach. It hasn’t helped with the technical elements of the sport but it has made me question and improve some of my coaching practices. For example, rather than just telling athletes what I think, I have learnt to ask guiding questions so that the athletes find out the answers for themselves. The athletes are the ones who have to sit on the start line, so taking ownership over their own rowing and performances is important. Every athlete is different and therefore this needs to be reflected in my coaching. I don’t see my role as being about creating solutions all the time but more guiding athletes to figuring things out for themselves.
The Level 4 has, in my opinion, increased my awareness of my own coaching practices and what needs to be changed. This is not a quick fix, but rather an ongoing process. On the other hand, it has made it possible for me to identify coaching practices that are fundamentally incorrect: those that show coaches to be self-motivated and eager to put their own needs and desires ahead of what is best for athletes.
“Building individual relationships is the foundation to helping athletes really flourish on and off the water. “
Above all, I have learnt that a ‘one size fits all’ approach does not work. And in addition, building individual relationships is the foundation to helping athletes really flourish on and off the water. I don’t claim to have been successful at this always, but being able to reflect has played a huge part in helping me develop and improve this area of my coaching.
About the British Rowing Level 4 Advanced Coach course
The qualification is designed for coaches who have the desire to learn and have the openness to take on new ideas and to reflect on their current coaching practice. Find out more >>
Photos: Naomi Baker and Leander Club