Rebecca Smith Grzybowski & Temple Women's Rowing
Located about 5 miles from the Schuylkill River and the soon to be completely renovated East Park Canoe House, Temple University is in the heart of Philadelphia, PA. With over 125 majors offered, Temple students come from all over the world to attend this public university, which prides itself on its research administration opportunities for students in public health, education, business, environmental design, bio-safety, and others.
Temple University was founded in 1884 by Russell Conwell, a pastor who began teaching working men in the basement of the Grace Baptist Church who wanted to educate themselves but did not have the time or the resources. Temple’s university's official motto is Perseverantia Vincit, or “Perseverance Conquers.”
At Temple there are over 30,000 students, and with so many academic and social opportunities, it may prove overwhelming for incoming freshmen who are trying to find their place. Yet the Temple Women’s Rowing Team perseveres, because the coaching staff and upperclassmen empower each new class of Temple oarswomen as they acclimate to college life.
“Empowerment” at Temple means teaching athletes to believe they are more powerful than they think. It is one of the most satisfying parts of the job for Coach Rebecca Smith Grzybowski. The coaches are excited about helping the athletes achieve in the classroom and not just race results. Grzybowski states that rowing changed her life and becoming an athlete showed her how powerful she could be. This is the type of culture she wants to instill at Temple. She encourages her athletes to take full ownership in the process.
“This year is unique,” states Gryzbowski. “We stress to the athletes that they will be more supported than the normal Temple student. The team leans on each other and we have a lot of support from Temple academically.”
Another way that allows the athletes to feel more supported is the way Grzybowski empowers her coaching staff.
The team of 50 plus athletes is broken up in to groups, with each member of the coaching staff responsible for their own group. During team meetings coaches have discussions so that everyone is on the same page. The athletes understand and expect this and it’s not a surprise when the next class arrives in the fall. Empowering her coaching staff allows the team culture to grow.
“We are very open with them. Nothing is a secret and they know what to expect,” says Gryzbowski.
She uses the term “we” often. It is important for her the team considers itself a family. It is also important to give the athletes as much information as possible. Athletes understand the training program weeks in advance and this allows them to prepare for practice and regattas. The framework for the season is set by the coaching staff, and they work hard to prepare the athletes for the “lulls” in the training cycle. This allows the team to compete with each other and keep raising the bar.
“I read a quote, if you want to raise giants you have to have tall ceilings," says Gryzbowski. "That has been the modus operandi all along, to just keep ‘raising the bar.’ It has been a very gradual and deliberate build throughout the year, from the fall to the spring.”
In her third year, Grzybowski and the team have been focused on the American Athletic Conference Women's Rowing Championship. Building the right culture at Temple has taken time and has its share of obstacles. The program has been rowing out of tents since the Canoe House was condemned in 2008. Both the men’s and women’s rowing programs were almost cut by the Athletic Department during the 2013-2014 season. Despite those challenges, Temple will cut the ribbon on the renovated Canoe House this fall. It is a moment that puts a stamp on a process that Grzybowski and her coaching staff has worked hard for. As the team gets deeper, the environment gets more intense and competitive, which motivates the entire squad.
This year has been no exception. The Temple Women have had a very strong showing this spring. With victories at the Kerr Cup and Kelly Cup, and a very strong tri-race with Navy and Delaware, Temple was ready for the AAC championship and delivered good results. With a bronze medal in the varsity eight and two gold medals in the 3rd Varsity Eight and Varsity Four, Temple finished 3rd as a team in the overall standings, their highest in team history.
When the East Park Canoe House officially opens in the fall of 2016, Grzybowski has one more piece to the puzzle.
“The first thing I am going to do when we move in there is frame a picture of the tents. And put them up prominently in the locker room. You can’t forget where we came from. This started before we got the boathouse. The grit was there, and the attitude, and the work ethic, and the drive.”