Colin Campbell & The Active Mind

By Helen Tompkins | May 8, 2014

Colin Campbell, head coach of St. Paul's high school in New Hampshire, has ten weeks to develop his team into winners.  This year’s ice has kept St. Paul's, as well as their New England opponents, off the water well into the spring season.  They are back on the water but the Northeast is still struggling with high winds and flooding.  Athletes walk on the team fit from other sports, but few have touched an oar.  It’s imperative that every practice count.

Campbell spent the summers from 2002 – 2010 working with the men's USRowing Selection Camp.  Campbell often found the camp rowers were unable to explain the purpose of the drills they were using. He realized he needed to teach team to think critically about what each component of practice was for to get more out of it.

"If you can teach them to be independent learners, they will become responsible for their rowing,” said Campbell.

Campbell would change up drills and communicate the reasons for what theywere doing.  The changes allowed the athletes to connect in ways that best suited them while challenging them to get outside of their comfort zones. Campbell says his staff is "deliberate at articulating what we were doing and why they were doing it. We are working against throwaway strokes."

To keep the athletes engaged, Campbell changed the dynamics on the water with offbeat lineups.  He would send out an eight with a pairs each from the 1V, 2V, 3V, and 4V.

"Lining 2V boys up against 1V girls for pieces really shifted the competitive dynamic," said Campbell.  He keeps their minds engaged with new drills, letting them discover what moves the boat.

On land, changing things up was even more important to keeping the athletes engaged though the long winter.  Switching between the standard Concept2, the dynamic erg, and dyno between pieces, forces the rowers to translate feedback differently from each machine.  It also increased awareness of creating speed under slightly different circumstances.

On steady state days, pyramids of changing rates and splits keeps the rowers were more aware of rhythm.  Having them do the math for 500m on/200m off prevented their minds from checking out on hard pieces.  Workouts were modified to address their vulnerabilities and the benefits of what they are doing was explained.

"The kid that joins the rowing team is saying:  I want to try something new."

The student population is about 500 and 100 of them are on the rowing team.  Tradition and institutional support at St. Paul's plays a vital role in having one-fifth of the school rowing, and Campbell is lucky because he gets the sort of kid who wants to be challenged and engaged.

"The kid that joins the rowing team is saying, I want to try something new."  St. Paul's has rigorous academic standards and students learn early on to challenge their weaknesses.  The rowers are no different.  Engaging their minds and bodies keeps them coming back for more.