Coaches’ Journal: Henley Regattas
July 3, 2010
By: Kyle Lemoine, Facilities Coordiniator
Attempting to contain this trip in a few paragraphs, in anything less than a book, actually, does the experience a disservice. Over the past two weeks I have seen my first of the UK, met dozens of new people, and watched dear friends row the last races of their GVSU careers. I find myself unable to properly express my honor and joy at being a part of this, and the opportunity to not only come, but to help this team and these individuals.
While it is difficult at times to place myself among the group, it is never a challenge to find a job to do. The boat needs work: rigging, changing rigging, adjusting rigging, checking rigging. The team needs to eat: go to the grocery, boil, stir, chop, pour, mix, into the oven, out of the oven. The house needs tending to: dishes, clothes, shoes, the kitchen, the living room. When race time is upon us, the boys’ legs are for rowing only, so mine become theirs when they need anything from water bottles to missing clothes.
During practice time I was able to follow the practices by bicycle, following the towpath along the river. I saw crews from all corners of the globe and watched as empty meadows were built into enclosure and grandstands and tiki bars, like an entire city being erected on previously untouched land. Our crews were fast and focused. I encouraged them when they needed it. They rarely needed it. We came to race and everyone knew it.
When all is said and done, I am doing what I enjoy. I am working with boats, working with my hands and often getting dirty. A fun new twist that the Henley Royal Regatta put on my job was the chance to watch the races from the Stewards Enclosure, for which one has to be particularly dressed. It took special care to get boats rigged for racing in a coat and tie. I take great pride in my ability to work with wrenches and riggers and grease, and still look that good.
The town of Henley, and the whole area are so spectacularly beautiful. The architecture and the landscaping are both done with more detail and care than nearly anything I’ve seen. These are set on a backdrop of natural beauty of the hills, meadows, woods and the river Thames itself and accented by birds singing from a centuries old songbook.
While may people advocate a trip to the UK or Europe with a small group, I cannot imagine having and more fun than I am with a house full of people. For nearly two weeks now there have been few times when one room or other is not bursting with laughter. We have spent hours watching World Cup soccer games, cheering for a team if only to establish a rivalry against someone else in the house.
The story of our trip to Henley would be better told as a book, maybe a reality show. It will be told tomorrow, and next week and next year, over meals and drinks, at the boathouse and at home. With luck our stories will be told again here in England as another GVSU crew races at The Regatta.
June 29, 2010
By: Daniel Schoolcraft, with input from Coach John Bancheri
As Henley week begins, I had a chance to sit down with GVSU’s head coach, John Bancheri, with a computer on my lap and a dozen or so questions. This is what he had to say.
1. What do you consider to be the characteristics of a good oarsman?
Persistence and determination. Otherwise, I’d obviously say tall and lean, but those types aren’t always available. All of the best oarsman I’ve coached have had those characteristics, and I mean persistence and determination. They were always the first to be at practice on time, always did the job, never missed the work, and were constantly determined to find improvement. And to them, improvement was moving forward; otherwise they felt as if they were moving backwards.
2. What are some of your coaching philosophies?
I consider myself a benevolent dictator; everything I do, in the end, is to benefit the speed of the bowball. We call it the ‘bowball philosophy.’ It’s nothing personal, it’s strictly business; the faster the bowball of one boat goes, the faster the bowballs of all the other boats follow. It’s the speed of the bowball of the second boat that makes the first one go faster. Everybody affects the success of the program. As a coach, my job is to maintain the program on a course that follows our philosophy. Sometimes the costs are high, sometimes the costs are low, but in the end, what is done is what is best for everyone on the team, not any one individual.
3. How has crew affected the success of rowers you have coached?
Starting with myself, I don’t think I would ever have finished high school or college had I not been involved with rowing. It could have been tiddlywinks or soccer, but I was lucky to have rowing coaches that drove me to succeed and in turn, I hope that I’ve done the same for other student-athletes. But to specifically answer the question, there was a picture posted on a rowing website, an off-color group picture of one of the better crews I’ve coached in my career, from my former college in 2002. I look at that picture and I see an engineer, an ivy-league coach, an orthopedic surgeon, a Manhattan headhunter, an entrepreneur, and a chief financial officer. All these guys were committed athletes; they were persistent, and they were determined. Unfortunately, at times in college they played a little too hard, but they also worked hard, studied hard, and as a result have shown those qualities in their lives. And that’s just one boat. I could say this story about year after year of all the guys that have stuck it out and put the time into this sport, and say that everybody that has made it through my programs are highly successful and that I’m proud, very proud. And that’s not to say that anyone who hasn’t made it through the program isn’t successful, I’m sure that they’re successful in their own right; my heart lies with the athletes that stick it out through our program. At GVSU specifically, it’s been fantastic to watch the majority of the athletes who had never even saw or heard of crew wind up competing at such a high level, travelling all over the United States and overseas.
4. At the end of your fifth year, how do you feel about your work so far, and what do you see in the future?
I’ve been coaching now for 30 years, and coming to GVSU was a position I didn’t expect to hold, but Chad and Brie Jedlec, my predecessors of five years, convinced me that I would thrive in this environment. And in the years prior to my arrival, GVSU had some very good results in various years. In the five years I’ve been here, I think what I’ve been able to do is develop and maintain a high level of competitiveness throughout the entire program. This is a result of tried and true methods in our sport, and those methodologies have given us three ACRA National Team Points Championships in a row.
5. Who or what would you say has influenced your coaching styles or philosophies?
Well, obviously the immediate answer would be my parents and the way I was raised. I tell people I yell only because my Father yelled at me, but in reality, he did what he had to do, to do what was right and guide me along. I grew up in a tougher situation than some, but he made sure that certain things were done, and as a result, I think I’m the same way as he was. As for coaching, it would have to be my high school Coach Bob Garbutt, and mentor Jack Strotbeck. Strotbeck encouraged me to stay in school and stay involved in rowing, which in turn led me to earn a college degree. As a coach, my mentors have been Rudy Wieler from the University at Buffalo, Larry Gluckman from Trinity, Mike Thompson, and many others. I could go on and on because I thought it was important to learn from a lot of different people, and it’s been a continuing process. Some of my best teachers have been my better athletes, with whom I’ve developed great relationships and trust. It’s funny being asked this question while we’re here at Henley, because my coaching philosophy and technical style follows the teachings of turn-of-the-century Coach Steve Fairbairn, who was a famous coach at Jesus College of Cambridge University, and coached for many years on these very towpaths. His book, Fairbairn on Rowing, continues to be my guide.
6. Outside of rowing, how do you like to enjoy yourself?
During the year it’s hard to think of anything else but rowing and it takes a huge toll on your family and personal life, especially when you’re coaching such a varied group of men and women, from lower levels to higher levels of rowing. I enjoy board games like Scrabble, travelling, and visiting family whenever possible. I especially enjoy the opportunities to watch my 12-year-old boys play sports like basketball and football, and I’m looking forward to their upcoming football season.
7. What was it like preparing to take two full teams to England this year?
We had originally planned to only take one eight of men and one eight of women. However, we knew that a few seniors and upperclassmen who had been involved would not have had this opportunity to come had we only taken such a select group. So we decided to include a larger group, which increased the cost and the preparation. It changed our housing, changed who we were getting equipment from, it changed a lot of variables. We started preparing for it back in September and October, and it’s been quite a large amount of work. I don’t think I’ve ever prepared for one thing any more than this Henley trip, and even with all the preparation, you’re still at the hands of your guests. For instance, with the equipment, the boats I felt were good pieces of equipment, but oars are like golf clubs: it’s something you’re used to the feel, to fitting them correctly, and I didn’t get quite what I wanted. I think one thing we’ve all learned in rowing is that it’s an ever-changing environment, and luckily we were able to adapt. Mark, Mike, and Scott were able to get the oars over here, and that helped out. So in the end, it was a lot of work to get the team here, and a lot of people put in a lot of effort to get things done, from parents, athletes, alumni, and the institution, it’s amazing what it has taken, but we’re here, the women were here, they’ve done well, and the guys I anticipate will do very well. In ten or twenty years from now we won’t remember how much it cost us or the effort that it took us to get here, but we’ll remember the great memories from what we’ve seen and what we’ve been able to accomplish and do together.
8. What was your opinion of the performance of the women’s team at this year’s Henley Women’s Regatta?
Overall I was pleased. However, I honestly felt we underperformed and we didn’t reach our full capacity; the oars were meant for men’s boats, and I tried to find the correct adjustments. I wish we’d had a little more time over here to be able to find the correct equipment, but that was a lesson learned. You can rent the boats, but bring your own darn oars, even if you have to sell them once you get here. I felt the gals gave it all they had. It was nice to beat second-place at Dad Vail St. Joseph’s, and we went against a tough Drexel boat; I felt that with the proper equipment, it would’ve been a tighter race. Do I think we would’ve beaten them? I don’t know. We did the best we would have with what we had. With the four, if you look at the results of their head race and the seedings for their pairing, Reading was the faster boat, and was also one of the boats to beat. We had to do something different in order to beat or even be competitive with Reading. My rationale for lightening the load was simple; the wind was beginning to die for that race, and I decided to shorten the oars so the gals could get the blades through the water a little quicker, and hopefully row above a 32 stroke rate. The gals in the four ended up losing by a little over a length. I know they gave it their best shot, and as I said, I don’t think it would’ve made a different no matter what we did. Reading was going to be too hard to beat.
9. Since the end of the regular season, would you say the boats have continued to improve over the additional five weeks of training?
Yes. There’s no question. With the women, I felt they maintained their speed, if not lost a little speed. I felt the inter-competition on the women’s team was not a positive effect in their success. Conversely, on the men’s team, the inter-competition and training has made us clearly six to eight seconds faster in my opinion. The guys embraced change and embraced the competition which helped each of them push to a higher level. To me, that is true trust, when you’re willing to give everything you’ve got, and not worry about the outcome, knowing that all that you’re doing to make that extra effort is helping your team get faster in the end.
10. How would you rank the 2009-2010 season overall?
I’d say the 2009-2010 season was our second-best season in my five years at Grand Valley. 2008-2009 was fantastic, and that cycle of seniors really did a fantastic job. Case in point, Sarah Zelenka ’09 is now stroking the senior 8 at the Rowing World Cup. This year was a great year; the injury to myself at Spring Break put me out for a while and affected my overall ability to Coach, but luckily I had a strong enough staff in place that did a great job of keeping the program going. Of note were the gals winning the head of the Charles, upsetting Harvard at San Diego, the guys finishing third at Charles and second at San Diego, and all the boats making it to semis and finals of all the major regattas. Any program would be proud to say they’ve accomplished such a great deal. I think what’s happened at GVSU in the past few years is that the expectation has far exceeded what we had expected a short three years ago. You get to a point where it’s hard to maintain that level because of the amount of commitment required to maintain it. It increases, so how do you stay at that level? You either recruit higher level athletes or find ways for your current athletes to balance their time better, and that can simply be to find easier ways to fundraise or so forth. Those are just lessons we learned from this year, which can help us further develop our program next year and in years beyond.
(Question submitted by parent) 11. Can you explain what will be happening from July 1-4? How are the races set up? 2 boats at a time, the winner moves on until you have the top two? Just give us a picture. Can you let us know the times when they race?
The Henley-style racing is fairly straightforward and very similar to NCAA or drag racing knockout brackets. A field of boats is selected from either seeding or a qualifying head race, we’ll say sixteen hypothetically, and then match races are drawn from the field. Two boats race each other at a time; the loser is eliminated, the winner moves on. This narrows the hypothetical field from 16 in heats to 8 in quarterfinals to 4 in semifinals to the final 2 in the grand final. Race times will be posted on our website. Alternatively, they can be found at the official Henley Royal Regatta website, here.
(Question submitted by parent) 12. I’d like to know why an hour before the race, a coach (I don’t know which coach) made changes to the girl’s 4 boat. Did the girls ask for this change?
I (Coach Bancheri) made the decision, and all final rigging decisions are made only by me. There is a simple answer to this: Reading was faster, we knew they were faster, we had to make a change or an adjustment to be more competitive, the conditions were changing, and I knew the load on the rig was heavy going in. That particular load is the same load the heavyweight men’s 4 are currently using.
For any further questions, feel free to email Coach Bancheri.
June 16, 2010
By: Coach John Bancheri, Director of Rowing (5th Year)
I missed a day on my journal partly because I am spending too much time doing social research at the Anchor and the fact that this PC and its keyboard is broke. I know I am electronically challenged but having to retype is getting old.
This morning the 4 had a chance to do 1 and 2 minute pieces (A piece is a section of a full race plan) with Villanova. The gals rowed well and have been consistently getting their puddles (hole in water resulting from the push of the blade) past the stern consistently. That is good for a decent Men’s four. Now, if they can do that at a 34 for 1500m, they will win or be beaten by the winner of their event at this regatta. What really has struck me about this four has been their willingness to help and an aggressiveness from a stroke that has a nice future here at GVSU. After the races the Villanova coaches and crews congratulated and thanked us for a good row. It was kind of cool to hang with
the “homeboys, er, girls”, chat Dad Vail and help each other get faster. For me the best outcome was after speaking with the VU head coach, Jack St. Clair, we were invited to the Knecht Cup next April and they are going to help us find low cost housing. Win-win I say.
The 8+ (8+ means eight man crew with coxswain) did some short piece work with the crew from Drexel University. They are fast and well coached by some of my “home boys” from the Jersey Shore. It is pretty cool when one of their coaches was one of your former athletes. The Drexel gals turns out have the exact identical weighted ergos as we do with their top lightweights at sub 7:30. That is
impressive for both of our crews at this level of rowing. The races went well but the gals were not happy with their starts. Today we’ll try a few adjustments in the start and see if we can get off the line quicker. If not, let it be and just focus on our strength, the body of the race. Drexel took two of three pieces, one by a deck with the wind and off the start. The next piece we rowed into the wind as a body race pace piece and we won by a seat or two. The gals looked good and had a nice rhythm going.
On what was to be a last start the gals ran into a flock of Canadian geese and were in a bit of shock at the carnage they thought they had caused on the Thames. Turned out the animals were a bit stunned but moved on their way. After they paddled off we tried a different gal at stroke seat and re-raced that piece with no geese. We were beaten by a larger margin and now we knew that we had the crew set correctly, so we switched back to the original line up. There was a definite difference in the two and I believe rhythm, as well as chemistry, is the difference. So we were down, we were up, and we were down. They were short pieces, our strength is the body of the race. A little improvement at the start will give us that much more to bring on race day.
In the afternoon practice we focused on the start and we had the gals do a 10 x start and 20 workout with a long rest between pieces. This is known as Category I speedwork and is the final winding up of the crew before we let em FLY! Now, today, with a few more tweaks and a lot of clean recovery strokes we will get the speed the crew is capable of producing. Really not much more we can do now than sit around, get fast, relax and enjoy the opportunity of rowing at the
oldest regatta site in the world.
Today we have one practice (Category 6 = Active Regeneration and some starts) and it is my turn to cook for the ladies. I am going to go with Pollo Giovanni, spinnachio con aglio e olio and my staple pasta al forno. I also invited a few boys to join us for dinner from the Leander Boat Club. These young men are training for selection to the British National Team (they get paid a full salary
if they make the team) and can use a nice home cooked meal. I felt a positive interaction with our gals and the Brits would promote great relations for GVSU and our country. I’ll try not to talk about BP or their goalie and I doubt the gals will get into a discussion re: politics.
Thanks so much to everyone who made this opportunity possible. The Entire Team (Novi’s too), Bob Stoll, My Great Assistant Coaches, The University, Student Senate, Alumni, Parents and Friends. Especially to my wife extremely tolerant wife Jill and my “busy” boys, Patrick and Salvatore who turn 12 next week. I’ll miss them on Fathers Day and on my birthday, but especially on their 12th birthday (6/28). On their next birthday they will be teens and I will be dumber than ever.
June 14, 2010
By: Coach John Bancheri, Director of Rowing (5th Year)
We are here, we are ready, and we are well on our way to a fantastic time at the Henley Women’s Regatta. Have there been bumps? Heck yeah, and that makes the trip all that much more interesting. My favorite was getting into an exchange with the cabbies at Heathrow. We needed three cabs and they wanted to charge 55 Pounds each (this was after I spoke w/ a gypsy driver inside on price). After a friendly British exchange with a few cabbies, we had a few others agree to take us to our hotel for 35 Pounds a cab. Net savings = Thursday night dinner for the team.
Upon arrival we found the home the team is staying in was built in the 1880’s. According to our agent, the home was once a lunatic asylum. Go figure! It is on the Henley registry and is a well appointed home on one of the more expensive streets in Henley. What really struck me was the efficiency of space usage and the fact that the backyard was professionally manicured, with a summer room that I could live in. Myself, I’m staying in a 3rd floor flat a few blocks away (close to my new favorite pub) from the team. Oh, the Brits are a bit defensive these days regarding US public opinion (re: BP) so I deferred back to rowing and football (soccer). Oh, Italy’s tonight at 7:30!
I have walked more in the past three days than I have in the past month. Excellent, I am saying to myself. I intend to keep walking. I have also purchased a used bike today so I can follow the crews along the Henley towpath. That is how all the coaches instruct their crews here at Henley. They ride a bike and carry a megaphone. Bob, I promise I will look where I am going.
The first practice was the usual, get a new boat, rig it up, row, come in, adjust and re-row. We were also on the water with our Dad Vail friends from Drexel University. It was kinda funny watching the crews’ energy and how they observed each other. After friendly chats with the coaches from Bath University (UK) and Drexel University(USA) we agreed on separate “scraps” (short race pieces) in the next two days. I expect it will be a lot of fun and it will give us an idea of where we stand in the big picture as Drexel raced last weekend in Reading.
We are off to a great start. I have asked the gals not to worry about the small stuff, just to focus on rowing as hard as they can as they are as well prepared as ever.
June 12, 2010
By: Coach John Bancheri, Director of Rowing (5th Year)
I woke up this morning at 3am all excited for the trip over the “pond”. The first thing I noticed was a great article written by Lisa Saladino (GV Asst. Coach) on GV Now which was edited by Brian Bowe regarding our trip to Henley. Check it out here.
Honestly, I cannot wait to get there because although I love to fly, I hate long trips in a pipe with rockets. That is okay, because by this evening we’ll be in England on our way to making good on what I’ll call the most mercurial season in my career. From our gals upsetting Radcliffe (Harvard) in the heats of the San Diego Crew Classic to the Dad Vail in stormy seas with a bad call by myself that may have given us the fastest time in the semi finals, but it landed us in lane two on a day that heavily favored lane six, then finally the ACRA showdown with Purdue that ended up being a 1500 meter dash from a floating start. Our gals were gracious, they accepted the result, held their heads high and moved forward. What was most important was that they kept moving forward, albeit with a few bumps in the road.
Now, after Friday mornings time trials where they were pulling sub five minute 1500 meter time trials consistently and a few line-up changes, I have to say we are as prepared as we are going to be for the Henley Women’s Regatta. We arrive to practice in Henley on Monday morning and pick up our equipment we have rented from the Kings College School.
There is more on the way and I hope you get a chance to read our athletes daily updates in their fantastic Journey to the UK. You can access all Henley information here at our website.
p.s. Big Bob you are there with us regardless!