Why RSR and not a Crew Team?

"Holly why did you decide to start Ready Set Row instead of coach a team?"                                  - RSR Winter Training Athlete

First, let me tell you that YOU ARE MY TEAM! And I mean that sincerely. All of the athletes that I coach and mentor are MY TEAM. I am invested in you, I care about you and I am going to work my tail off to help you get where you want to go. So now that I am clear...

The reason that I am not the Head Coach of a physical crew is because I want to spend more time changing lives than managing the business of a physical crew. I want to coach and mentor and I do not want to worry about fundraising, equipment management and athletic departments. Truly, my "why?" for Ready Set Row is that I am driven and impassioned to change peoples' lives and I know that I can do it with rowing. (If you haven't watched Simon Sinek's TED presentation on this, it's worth the 20 minutes). 

I still love coaching on the water and I LOVE ruffling feathers at races with under-dog teams or teams that are not as well known; this is why I started the Ready Set Row Summer Development Camp.

I also have two young children and an amazing husband and I value spending quality time with them. If I were to run a year-round program (high school or college) I would want to do everything I could possibly do to make them as fast as they can be. And if you really do that, the time commitment is through the roof. So I took a good hard look at how I could impact lives and still do all the things I love to do, and still prioritize my family. And here we are. 

I LOVE what I do and I am excited to do this for a long time.  

Thanks for the question!

Love the Fight, 

Coach Holly

Staying Motivated & Focused

"How do you stay motivated and not have doubts about your abilities? Sometimes I can get very easily discouraged and sometimes that makes me want to give up." - RSR Winter Athlete

I appreciate this honest question and I am sorry to say that you will probably never "not have doubts about your abilities." Everyone has doubts about their abilities (except maybe super narcissistic people) and it is totally natural and normal. That said, you want to make sure doubts have only a small place in your mental head space and do not dominate that mental space. 

I have and continue to have doubts about my abilities, but I learned to train myself to ensure those doubts (or that voice, usually the "negative voice") are quiet or that I at least let my positive voice have the last word. You know the saying, "Everyone has a positive dog and a negative dog in their head. Which dog wins the dog fight? The answer, the one you feed." I really like this- because you have to regularly, systematically and consistently "feed the positive dog" on a daily basis. This is how you train grit. It's every day. Hard work. Positive attitude. Being grateful. You want to train your brain to let the positive dog win more often. 

Once you start thinking about this you will find yourself focusing on the day to day (not on a year-long scale) which is more digestible and not as intimidating. People get distracted in their training because they are worried about something they already did or something they will have to do in the future. Focus on what you are doing RIGHT NOW. WHAT CAN YOU DO TODAY TO REACH YOUR GOALS? I like to remind folks "You get stronger or weaker every day with every decision you make. DECIDE to get stronger." One of those ways may be to reduce the negative self-talk. Once you focus on what you are doing RIGHT NOW you will find that you don't have room to think about what you can or cannot do in the future. 

My favorite definition of "mental toughness" - the ability to focus on the NEXT most important thing you have to do - not what just happened or what is going to happen, but what you are doing RIGHT NOW. If you do that, you will find you don't have time to doubt because you will have to focus on the stroke you are one (not question your ability for the stroke 100 strokes in the future). Think about a basketball player who misses a shot, the most mental tough athletes are on to the next play they are not wallowing about how they missed a shot they are after that rebound. 

I just interviewed a recent Princeton rower and I asked her, "What do you think about on the starting line" expecting her to say something about reminding herself of all the work she had done, that she was ready, that she was going to win... Do you know what she said?
"I tell myself to take my best first stroke." Awesome. 

Focus on the immediate task at hand and focus on doing it to the best of your ability. The more often you do this, the easier it will be and the more natural. And as you can improve your focus and execution, you will see that you CAN actually do it and the confidence continues to build. You can always take ONE MORE STROKE- focus on the one you are on ONLY. 

Favorite Thing About Rowing

"Holly what is your favorite thing about rowing?" 

I love rowing. You probably knew that. So you are asking me what do I love specifically? I love that rowing will teach you more about yourself and what you are capable of (while still being in a safe environment) than any class you will take in school or other sport you will play. I believe that rowing will teach you things about yourself everyday, but rowing will also teach you about life if you let it. The relationship between the work you put in and your speed are linear. There is virtually no other thing in the world that you can do where that is true. It really is all about hard work and this is the best lesson for success in life. Grit and resilience are the greatest predictors for success - what better way to learn these skills? 

In most other sports, there are other factors such as ball skill or shooting talent. With rowing, if you put in the work you will get faster. Of course you have to row well and be coachable and all of that, but the connection is so clear and the ergs do not lie. You cannot "fake" your speed on the erg. This is why the erg is so bloody hard and so amazing at the same time. The erg is not a test, it is a tool. Use the tool, every day. If you befriend the erg then you will learn more about yourself and life than in any other class or sport out there. I firmly believe that. I am a teacher first and a coach second and as Harry Parker said, "we have a fairly narrow curriculum."

I love that rowing has changed so many peoples' lives. I have not had an athlete that has really gone after it and "let 'er rip" that has not been changed for the rest of his/her life. This is why some people think rowers are crazy or part of some sort of exclusive club - we are. Once you have pushed to the edge and OVER that edge - your life will change. And what you learn about yourself when you hit the bottom and then pick yourself back up again will change you forever.

Thanks for the question. 

Love the Fight,
Coach Holly 

How did you find the motivation to work out on your own?

Great question! It is really hard to workout on your own- which is why group classes at gyms or CrossFits are so much more fun because you can be with other people. But I did have to workout a lot on my own when I was in college and home for breaks. And this is an important thing to focus on. The way you train when no on is looking is most important...

I think the most important thing to do is set yourself up for success. Here are a few ideas to do this: 

1. Pick and commit to a certain time each day to train. First thing in the morning is usually the best bet, especially if you have to set your alarm. This way family plans will not conflict with the training and if you are in a hot location, it will be the coolest. You will always "have time" to work out and you will be sure to get it in every day. 

2. Lay out your training plan with all the details of each workout including rest time. Make sure you know the workout and keep your training journal handy to write down all your results. This will help to keep you accountable. Once you have decided what you are committing to, do it. If you are going to take a day off, then take it off and don't spend mental energy wondering if you should be working out. Either do or don't, but don't waste the energy "thinking" about working out. 

3. Write down your goals for the training period. Do you want to workout 6 days a week? Do you want to complete every workout? Do you want to do some sort of fitness test at the end of the training period? Do you want to log a certain number of meters or minutes? Post these goals where you will see them - on the refrigerator, next to the bed etc. and be sure to pick a few that are process oriented (eg. do core workout every other day) and some that are performance based (eg. increase back squat by 10lbs). 

4. Post motivational material- quotes, the names of teams that you will be racing - whatever will get you going. I had a poster that read "What can I do TODAY so that I am standing on the medal dock of the ____ Sprints on ____, 2016." Fill it in and post this on your bathroom mirror. You need to remember why you are doing this. 

5. Be sure that all your family and friends around you know what you are trying to do. Get them on board and make sure that they do not try to inadvertently sabotage your plan. 

6. Just do it. Seriously, just do it. 

Happy Training!

Coach Holly

Pre-Race Jitters

Question: How do you get rid of jitters? I am tired of always getting the jitters for every piece, but I have no clue how to handle them! Any suggestions?

Answer: First of all, let me congratulate you on getting the jitters because if you did not get them then that would signal to me that you do not care very much. Getting nervous is natural, it's healthy and it CAN make you go faster. Getting irrationally nervous and in particular, nervous too early can also make you slower. This is why I will often refrain from telling athletes the workouts in advance since I do not want you wasting mental energy worrying and/or thinking about the pieces. 

So,  how to handle the jitters? Change the way you are thinking about them.

The jitters can be a clear sign that the body is producing cortisol, the stress hormone. Cortisol over short periods of time, like the five minutes before a hard erg piece, can do great things for you as it is preparing you to handle the stress. You read that correctly, the BODY is preparing for the stress. It sounds to me, like what you are focusing on, is the brain's interpretation of that reaction. You may be interpreting that jittery feeling as a signal that you are unprepared, that you are going to be extremely uncomfortably and that you will "fail." If that is accurate, then we need to train your brain to respond to those feelings differently. 

When you get those fluttery, nauseous, anxious feelings - recognize them and validate them. It is OK and totally natural to have those feelings and then THANK your body for getting them. Yes, THANK your body. Your body and your mind know that 1) this is going to be hard; 2) this is going to be extremely uncomfortable; and 3) you really care about doing well. This is GREAT NEWS. After you have thanked your body for responding appropriately, take five deep breathes, roll your neck around and reframe the situation. You are about to start the work and you are grateful for the opportunity to have a healthy and strong body that is ready and willing to do the work. 

Remember the Ready Set Row SEE Life Framework - we want you to constantly

SEEK Challenges


EXPECT Discomfort

You have already sought out the challenge of joining Ready Set Row and coming to practice every day. You are willingly and gratefully embracing the work that I am asking you to do and you are fully aware that the discomfort is guaranteed - it just matters how you respond to the discomfort. 

After you have taken your five breaths and rolled your shoulders up and down and stretched your neck - tell yourself: "My body is ready." What you feel is not "the jitters" but it is the signal that your body is ready to rock and that is very powerful. If you did not have the jitters, you should be very nervous. Then, commit to the work. Read the workout and tell yourself that you are mentally and physically committing to give 100% of your effort during the workout. If you do that, the splits will come. Commit before the warmup, go through your warmup motions and then commit to every stroke, one at a time. Remember, LOVE THE FIGHT. 

The worst part of a hard erg piece is the few minutes leading up to it- repeat in your head "My body is ready." and "I am a fighter." over and over and over again until they call "Row!"

You are Ready - Love the Fight, 

Coach Holly

Interview with Sporty Girl

In the world of junior sports, prioritizing process over outcome can be contentious. I've had parents push to get a kid racing before an athlete was ready and complain about a lack of competitive opportunities. How has your Ready Set Row (RSR) philosophy been embraced by parents?

I explain to all of my athletes and their parents my coaching philosophy:  Build young leaders who Seek challenge, Embrace work and Expect discomfort. It’s our RSR Lifestyle Framework: “SEE Life Clearly.” We build safe environments for our athletes where we redefine failure and push them to risk again and again, each time getting stronger and more confident in practice not just in competitions. 

Our framework is such a critical and immediately apparent life-skill that parents see the big picture and stop focusing on micro-details. We ask our athletes “Why do you row?” “To win races.” “Why do you want to win races?” “I want the medal and I want to beat people.” “Why do you want to beat people?” Ultimately they realize that they train and compete in this challenging sport because it allows them to push, fail and try again and test their limits on a daily basis. It’s not really whether you win a medal – after all, the medal is just a function of who showed up to race day. You can have a gold medal, but know that you did not race your best race. And you can finish a race last in your heat and feel confident you gave it your all.

The sense of accomplishment everyone desires, is when you know in your heart that you prepared, trained for and executed your race to the best of your ability – the hardware is secondary. You are so proud of your performance and all the work that you did leading up to that performance that you want to shake the hand of anyone who beats you, because you know how hard she had to have worked to go that fast. That is my goal.

In addition, I think it’s a disservice to think that the “competition” only comes on race day. We are training our athletes to fight and compete every day so that when the real race comes, they have already seen their limits and they know what they are capable of. If you are living this philosophy day-to-day, then competitive scenarios are your requirement and racing is just the icing on the cake.  

As a writer, I love that the athletes in your RSR program keep journals. Tell me more about the purpose and benefits of journaling while you train.

Our athletes will use their journal every day to record metrics such as sleep, fuel, hydration as well as their physical performances. This allows them to take more ownership and be accountable. It’s important that they start to take care of their bodies and start to look for performance trends. What was the workout and how did you feel? Does this food make me sleepy after I eat it? How is my performance if I sleep 45 more minutes each night? All of this is important; we are asking a lot of their bodies and most junior athletes do not think about what they put in their mouth as the fuel for the machine and they do not correlate rest and recovery with performance and risk of injury. RSR Coaches will be looking at these journals regularly to ensure athletes are recording the information and learning how to increase boat speed through personal care and nutrition.

Our athletes will also be doing daily RSR Self-Reflections. We will be asking the athletes challenging questions both about them as athletes but also as young women who will be growing into themselves and leadership positions. We will be pushing them and asking them “What do you want? And what are you willing to do to get there.” We will help them explore what type of athlete they are and what that means. We will help them answer the question “Do you really want to row in college? Because if you do, this is what that really looks like.” Athletes may have written assignments to do on their own to turn in for review or we will all write together. Athletes will work on their public speaking as they are asked to present some of their RSR Self Reflections and they will be pushed out of their comfort zone.

There is often a story line we see in books about sporty girls that pits one female athlete against another. I've experienced the mean girl more than once. How do you use mentoring in your program to develop supportive communities for athletes to reach their goals?

First, the coaches have to create the right environment and I personally work with every athlete I coach. I tell parents that my coaching style is 60% Dictator, 20% Partner and 20% Goof Ball. I will be very clear about the standards we hold our athletes to, but I will also need the athlete to work with me to constantly improve. Finally, you have to have fun in this sport. It’s too hard not to.

Once I create our environment through that type of leadership, I believe a great coach does coach athletes differently. You never compromise your standards, but you are constantly watching each athlete to identify triggers and develop specific and unique motivational techniques. Once each athlete realizes that she is a valued and unique member of the team it allows her to focus on herself and her own performance.

We are clear with our athletes that judging a peer is unacceptable and can actually be detrimental to team chemistry – that’s my job. It is however, the job of each athlete to go as fast as she can go every stroke of every day and to use her teammates to get faster. We create a competitive environment where the athletes understand that to be the best you can be, you have to test your limits every day. And the only way you can do that is if someone else is pushing you.

We cultivate that type of competition among our athletes with the understanding that to race your teammate is the best thing you can do for her since you are preparing her for battle. This competitive environment can become charged and emotional, but we are clear to our athletes that one’s physical performance has nothing to do with an athlete’s character or value as a human being. It is an indication of where she can improve. This is a critical component of a fast team that trusts each member is doing everything she can possibly do to put her bow out in front. 

This is eating disorders awareness week (Feb 21-27). In rowing, weight can be an issue-- making weight for lightweight boat classes and the desire for smaller coxswains. How do you stress the "heart of a fighter" over body type?

I am a perfect example – 5’6 and rowed in the Varsity Heavyweight 8+ for three years at Harvard. It doesn’t happen often, but what I stress to my athletes is that the drive, the fire, the kill switch inside an athlete is the most critical component. And it cannot be taught. If someone doesn’t want to race, I can’t teach her how to do that. If you give me a fighter I will teach her the technique, the training, the strength building exercises that are needed to make her the fastest rower she can be. And that’s all you can ask of someone. Obviously the taller you are the more leverage you have, but I know plenty of tall women who are not racers. I will always take a racer in my boat any day – no matter her size.

So much of what I've learned from sports and rowing specifically-- is leadership. Talk more about your phrase "training the brain."

The brain is a muscle. You have to train it to make it stronger. And if you stop training it, it atrophies just like any other muscle.

Additionally, rowing is an offensive sport- there is no defense. You blast off the line and have your best race you can have. You cannot actively slow another boat down. The same is true for mental toughness and grit. The more you train your brain to be on offense, the less your brain has to be on defense. And any rower can tell you, if you start thinking about “I can’t do it, I can’t go on, It’s over,” it IS over.

You have to develop your positive truths and your mantras that you know in your heart are true. You will then use these truths in a race plan when you are going to ask your body to do the seemingly impossible. In my experience, negative thoughts during a race or a maximum effort piece creep into your head when there is a void. If you let your brain start to think about what your body feels and you have not developed a positive image or phrase to focus on, you will usually go slower.

I work with each athlete to develop her Truths – the qualities about herself that she knows are true so that we can call upon those strengths when we put our bodies to the test.

Your Ready Set Row summer camp program takes place at St. Andrews, the school where the movie Dead Poet's Society was filmed. This is a book blog so I have to ask... is poetry or other literature part of your training program?

Actually, we have a suggested reading list for our athletes and one of their On-Site Reflections during the camp is Racing Poetry. And as I said before, athletes and coaches will all be asked to write autobiographical stories and share them amongst the team.

What are some of the books on your bedside table right now?

Mindset: The New Psychology of Success – Carol Dwek, Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations and Reflections On and Off the Court – Wooden and Jamison And Teach Your Children Well: Why Values and Coping Skills Matter More than Grades, Trophies or “Fat Envelopes” – Madeline Levine  (I have a 3 year old and a 1 year old too!)

Okay. Speed round:

Pizza or sushi? Pizza.

Bike or run? Depends how long – I love a good long road ride.

Ebook or paper copy? Paper definitely.

Dance to loud music or talk with friends? Depends. I learn things everyday from the people I surround myself with and lucky for me they are some great dancers!

If you could be any animal what would it be and why? Wombat. Lovable, furry, intelligent, resilient, compassionate but ferociously defends her family. Do you know how? The way a Mama Wombat protects her nest is awesome. Wombats live in their burrows so if a Tasmanian devil or another predator comes down into her burrow to eat the babies, the Mama keeps her head towards the babies and her rump towards the predator. If the predator tries to get around her, she will crouch down to allow the predator to put his head on top of her rump and then she will stand up and crush the predator’s skull against the roof of the tunnel. You don’t want to mess with that mama. Totally awesome.

How will RSR Dev Camp Help an Athlete Interested in Rowing DI or DIII?

All of the RSR athletes will race at Club Nationals and rising Seniors are strongly recommended to attend the College Fair that they host on July 17th open only to those athletes who compete at Club Nationals. 

All of our athletes receive the RSR Handbook - which outlines the process and expectations for collegiate rowing and the recruiting process. RSR athletes should expect to spend 60-90 minutes a day on mental skills training while at our camp- this includes grit, resilience and mental toughness training along with the recruiting guidance that includes public speaking, coach communication and program/school selection. Our process is intense, but we built it to ensure that athletes do the best they can in selecting and screening programs BEFORE starting the recruiting process. Recruiting coordinators are ultimately salesmen  - so we want our athletes to have spent the necessary due diligence time thinking about the right "fit" before a coach starts convincing them where they want to go.

We will spend time with all of our athletes on their own mental game which includes the erg. All of our athletes will 2K at least twice while at the camp on the erg and we have a robust training program for athletes to compete after their season ends and before they attend our camp. Obviously, the fitter they come to us, the better chance they have of PRing. We will develop a 2k erg test race plan they will implement that is based off the mental skills training results for each individual athlete. That said, this is not an ERGING camp so athletes will spend more time on the water than on the erg. Our athletes will also learn the movements for the Olympic lifts they will do at a collegiate program so that all of our athletes are prepared for collegiate strength training. 

As you probably  know, the 2K is the biggest requirement for college recruiting - there are different expectations for different levels and programs - we will go over this. 

Though you didn't ask about it- what is important to know is that one of my goals is to help each athlete decide whether collegiate rowing is really what she wants to do. It is like a business contract and collegiate rowing is just like a job (in terms of time, commitment etc) so we will make sure all of our athletes understand what this entails. It was the greatest experience for me in college, but many athletes find it to be a shock to say the least from high school rowing.

RSR Development Camp Coxswain Coaching

My daughter is a coxswain and interested in the RSR Dev Camp - what will the programming be like for her? 

As far as the program for coxswains- this will be intense. Coxswains at Read Set Row may be coached more than anyone else. Coach FH was a cox at Princeton and coxed a World Championship 8+ in 2000 so he is extremely knowledgeable. 

We will be working with our coxswains on the technical aspect of their role, but also the coaching component. She is the coach in the boat when I am not there- so how does she do that? What is she looking for? Listening for? Feeling for? How can she instruct them (with language, tone, timing) on making a change? 

Our coxswains will get daily feedback. We will record their race pieces, they will transcribe those scripts and they will receive feedback, suggestions and new race plan tactics from the coaches. We will also give the rowers an opportunity to provide feedback to the coxswains so that everyone is involved in getting everyone else faster. 

We will work on coaching from the coxswain seat in the boat and on land- on the erg. How do you coach an athlete on an erg? Our coxswains will shadow our coaches every day on land to learn how to make every athlete a bit faster and figure out how to push each one a bit more in a constructive and supportive way. I am happy to speak more about this on the phone or Skype if you like. I am very passionate about coaching coxswains which is why I have brought a coxswain onto the coaching staff. 

Work Before Empowerment Camp

My daughter is very excited about the Empowerment Camp, but she is really looking forward to doing something all summer that was going to make a big difference in her rowing.  She recognizes she needs to improve "the machine" and wants to start that improvement program now and not wait until August to get it right and make real progress. 

All the Empowerment Athletes will get a RSR training program for Coach Holly to do over the summer- starting in June. This is a RSR OYO Program (On Your Own). They will get a google doc with all the recommended workouts and a column to track their workouts so that we can see them and provide some feedback. They will also be paired up with another RSR athlete to have an accountability partner and then they can start getting to know each other. 

All athletes will also be completing a detailed food journal for the month of June that will allow us to look at the fuel baseline and also provide some feedback. Carla is amazingly offering her nutritional mentorship-personal planning services at a reduced rate (20%) to all RSR athletes- so a RSR athlete could start a detailed fueling program with Carla. That is just $64 a month for RSR athletes  for a 3 month contract. This way an athlete could start ASAP with Carla and then continue those detailed nutritional mentorship AFTER the camp. I think this will be amazing for any athlete ready to start making some improvements and will be less than $200! 

All Empowerment Athletes will also get 5 RSR Mental Skills Homeworks from Coach Holly- this allows us to gauge where their mind is in terms of approaching, completing and recovering from a workout. They will also participate in some mindfulness exercises and be asked to write about it- mindfulness in sport and eating... we all probably should be doing this :)

College Recruiting Guidance

Several of my RSR athletes and RSR parents have asked me about recruiting consultants. As you guys know, I am not a recruiting consultant. I try to help my athletes ask the question: "Do I want to row in college? And if so, do I want to try to be recruited." 

There are some companies that do offer recruiting consulting and the two I have the most familiarity with are Sparks Consulting and Rower's Edge. Both of these companies offer tailored programs to guide you through the recruiting process - which can be confusing and overwhelming for athletes and parents. I am sure that there are other outfits that will help you with this process, but these guys SPECIALIZE in rowers and only work with rowers and I believe that is a true asset. 

The best time to start talking to one of these companies is going into your junior year and both will offer you an initial consult to discuss what you want to do and what they can do. I encourage you to reach out them if you are interested in hiring a consultant. 

RSR Alum: "Did you ever imagine how well the team would perform in such a short amount of time?"

I LOVE that one of you asked this question. To be honest - I hadn't really imagined the regatta results. You guys know me- of course I LOVE to win, but so few people ever formally win- so you have to set goals and metrics on several different fronts in order to keep moving forward in the right direction - towards your values. 

So now you will ask me- "OK Holly, what were your goals and metrics then?" Great question. 

1. Fill 1 8+ full of girls with great attitudes who want to work hard and race hard. Check. 

2. Fill two 8+s full of girls with great attitudes who want to work hard and race hard. Check.

3. Fill THREE 8+s full of girls with great attitudes who want to work hard and race hard. Check. 

4. Create a team where every athlete free of injury is able to compete and race at USRowing Club Nationals. Check. 

5. Develop a clear, instructive and reflective curriculum to train the athletes to start mental weight-lifting in just four weeks. Check. 

6. Summarize collegiate rowing and develop a framework for the athletes to understand the commitment involved so that they don't get in over their heads and do not over commit. Check. 

7. Teach the technical skills of the sport or rowing in a new way where every athlete learns at least one way to be more technically proficient and efficient. Check (at least 100% of you surveyed say yes).

8. Push and guide the athletes on the ERG to start to change your mindset - the erg is not a test- it is a tool. Every day is a test. Check (at least 75% of you say so).

9. Create an environment and RSR culture that rewards attitude and effort. I believe we did this too. 

10. Push the athletes harder than they have ever been pushed while still enabling them and guiding them so that we don't push them over the edge. Some of you are still writing me about this- so I would say at least 60% of you would agree with this statement so far. 

11. Change the lives of 32 girls by showing them that they are stronger than they think. Braver than they think. And totally amazing. I am not sure I will ever know if we hit this metric. 80% of you that answered the survey said you are tougher than you thought and you are more capable than you thought as a result of RSR. I hope that I met this metric- it's the most important one to me.

I am assuming that you are asking about the racing results though. And the answer is no, I was so impressed by all of the RSR athletes' performance and effort. We were 26th as a team out of 41 total teams in our first year and this is a truly outstanding result. I and the other RSR Coaches could not be more proud - and excited for next year! 

I do look forward to hearing your thoughts on this- do you think that we hit these metrics?