Friday, August 19, 2011

Funding Elite Rowing – a conundrum by Mike Sullivan

As I continue to fund raise, some interesting thoughts have been shared on the google groups of rec.sport.rowing. One post that came from the dilemma's of funding was posted by Mike Sullivan. You can read some of his thoughts here >. Carl Douglas also comments on this thread

His first post on the subject went a little something like this:

The US elite program is sadly dysfunctional, and the biggest problem is simply money.   Masters' Nat'ls are happening in Okla City right now,  you'll see old slow farts like me there with millions of dollars in spending money for shiny new shells,  top of the line hotels, air travel,  fine wining and dining. In the meantime,  a year ago I helped a few elite men over the winter with their training in sculling, and they put together in a pair to race at the Speed Orders in Princeton. These guys were Stanford grads with the potential to make a lot of money in real jobs, smart guys, and absolute athletic studs.    They had the presence and look of pro athletes that could be making millions on a pro team,  or could go out and work in Silicon Valley and make a fortune by the time they turn 30.     They scraped together
money from parents to travel,  and from working part time (good jobs but part time),  and even then
they had to scrounge for a pair to race in at Princeton, I believe it was a 6 year old Wintech from Yale.  They got moved four times in a year and a half to uncertain rowing futures, chasing wherever the nat'l program, coach, and other athletes were supposed to train and have found it very difficult to see where their long term path to success is. No I didn't get paid for coaching them for that 4 month period,  but I
get offers all the time from Masters' people who want individual lessons,  get them ready to go butt-slow over 1k. My response was,  "no I don't have time to coach you or any other masters, but would welcome you paying me to coach our US Olympic team candidates". I would take that money and chip it in to their travel anyway, I don't need the money.
If I sound bitter, I am...   :^)
The Graves bros trained on their own in Newport the last year.   It's possible they got some help from the Newport foundation, I'm not sure, but they won trials, are going to Bled,  with very little support from the US rowing community.   Bless them but their road was difficult in ways that had nothing to do with simply the training and racing.
Ursula Grobler might be the single best rowing talent in the US, and perhaps the best chance the US has for a gold in rowing outside the women's eight.    She's gotten some great help here and there,  Rebecca has been doing good,   but has been bounced like a pinball,  been scrutinized to the Nth degree, criticized, and exploited.   If she were making a pile of money like pro athletes, then some of this scrutiny might be warranted, but she's scraping the bottom like every other elite.
The poor ppl at the local club that have to deal with me.   A guy told me he had $5k to spend on a new
single.   "what should I buy?". 

"you should buy a $2500 Maas 27 and give the other $2500 to the US
Rowing Foundation toward the nat'l team effort".
Then I shrug.  I suppose he could raise $10k, buy a used Empacher for $5k, and give $5k to NRF.  That would be cool. When I coached out of Newport years back,  there were just beginning to be some guys who had singles that wanted to keep them in the rather limited one bay boathouse.    My rules were
simple.   You can have a spot,  give us a little money but I'm going to give your boat to use by an athlete who has nat'l team aspirations that cannot afford his own boat. I'll pick the guy,  there'll only be one,  and these are the hours where he will row it, and he can negotiate with your schedule
for additional hours.     

We insured the boat, and my boatman fixed all dings no matter who dunnit.
Most boat owners liked that arrangement and accepted it,   Not sure if I'd find many takers these days if I did that again. Sort of a commie act, I guess.

I want to append the rant with the following.   I know some masters are offended deeply by my attitude,
clubbers in redwood city see my attitude as 'elitist' and get bothered by some of my advice on boat
purchases, I've seen it here.   I should point out that I teach hundreds and hundreds of new scullers, adults and kids to scull at two different clubs.   In the past three weeks I've introduced a dozen adults to sculling,  treated them with the same respect I treat elites,  taught them all the same things, the
exact same approach and discipline to boat handling on and off the water I expect of a competitive elite.
My attitude is peculiar, but is definitely not elitist.   I've spent too much time with raw, old, out of shape,  unconfident, uncoordinated non-athletes who really want to learn to scull, and learn to scull correctly for me to accept that criticism.

10 comments:

  1. Wow, Mike Sullivan's negative post really gets me down. While I empathize with the challenges of limited funding and other support in the sport of rowing, belittling Masters rowing and then suggesting we should financially contribute to the success of 'real' athletes seems too harsh an attitude for an internet-wide readership- especially on a page linked to garnering support for one. I don't think he should let himself off of the hook too quickly about being elitist, but he should definitely check his jaded comments as a coach. And Ursula might not find this the best marketing strategy.

    For the sake of those who look to him on a daily or weekly basis I hope he is, as he says, usually more balanced. But for those of us who strive to get better and faster and who have much less than Ursula, Peter, or Tom when it comes to equipment, coaching, training advice, other financial support, or (sometimes most importantly, especially as a female) moral support- the negativity of a burned-out attitude can really drag us down.

    Maybe Mike has a plentitude of older, well-resourced, recreational rowers around him, as well some competitive on the elite level- but this is not the world I live in. Nor is it the world of most of the younger rowers who competed with me in OKC.

    We relate all too well to the things that Mike is frustrated about, but let's try some positive brainstorming for solutions please. When I plan to go to some events next year that might get someone like Mike Sullivan's attention, my co-workers naively ask me if I could expect to get recruited for elite development and I tell them in this sport, at this time, my only expectation is to do as well as I can with as little as I have and call it a good day. I guess I'm not the Masters rower Mike might have been asking for support from, but I could be, especially if we all support each other more.

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  2. On the rec.rowing boards there is talk about solutions and brainstorming.
    Lots of energy spent on boards typing. I only get a posted comment when its about being negative. Less posts on the positives or helping solutions.

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  3. I'll look for and focus on the positive, then. Good luck, Ursula.

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  4. Master's rowing brings a lot of cash into clubs and more people rowing & competing is good for US rowing in general. I have to agree with Anonymous on the negativity of the above rant. It's better to inspire people than criticize them.

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  5. Master's rowing is not important because they're slower when older? Are lwts are not important because they're slower than heavyweights? Is woman's rowing is not important because they're slower than men ...?

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  6. I'm really excited that there are posts on my blog. And an invested debate too! But I only get this when siting someone elses's post.

    So lets me add my own interpretation:
    I started rowing as a master. It was master's rowing that gave me the thrill and love for the sport. Working full time, trying to make enough time to train, race was still the most fun I had. I loved the camaraderie of masters rowing and the crazy passion for racing, training and coaching.
    Then when I stopped working to train full time, some of that fun factor went away. Now your results were your job. Your money was tied to that. And having to ask for support is well, tough and not fun. Now I have the time, and no money.

    No-one group is less important. But when you are out or developing, there is no support. And how we have continued success for U.S Rowing if there is no support to keep you. I think Sully who post this comes from was asking that. I wish rowing was more sponsored. So how can we get there? That's was the posts in rec.sport. rowing continue to explore. I'm sorry I posted only the start of a conversation, as a way to say, funding is a problem yet we want our athletes to win.

    Here in Bled, we are in the hotel with the kiwi's and the aussies. Lets just say, we look pretty amateur next to these teams. But I guess with that said, our team is still showing big hearts. That great American guts and glory for gold attitude. It would be optimal to have both. That's what I'm trying to get at.

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  7. We hear so much on the news these days about basic programs getting cut. There are so many people out there that want to shrink the government, I'm sure it would be politically impossible for the US to support athletes the way many other nations do. I started rowing as a student in Canada, and am still amazed by the level of funding I received even at the local level. The winners at our Regional Championships were all supported to go to the Canadian Nationals - had our way paid, everything! We weren't high level, elite athletes, just Regional winners. It was incredible to have support at that level.

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  8. Ha! I found myself quoted on your blog. Thank you all for the discussion and comments.

    I'll hold off on comments until after the worlds, nice job in the heats, U, and good racing in the semis!!

    I'll point out that I am quite intentionally provocative in my posts to rec.sport.rowing on important issues to me, and things I would say on that forum would be diplomatically contrived for a wider audience, or to convince a group of ppl to adopt a policy. If you follow the discussion there, you'll see that I acheived my aim of illiciting thoughtful responses. We old-time usenet ppl know how to get attention! :^)

    Here's a link to the full discussion that appears to have wrapped up, but there are reverberations in other RSR threads:
    http://groups.google.com/group/rec.sport.rowing/browse_frm/thread/8dac081974c9451e?hl=en#

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