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Home » IRL Alumni Spotlight - Kate Smith

IRL Alumni Spotlight - Kate Smith

Most of us know the game Duck, Duck, Goose from playing it in our childhood. Yet last year as a 24 year old woman, I found myself in tears sitting on the floor in a circle of adults playing a game of Duck, Duck, Goose. The tears were not from laughter, nor were they from sadness. What I had witnessed was the culmination of weeks of patient, focused, and individualized attention and coaching on the erg that led an intellectually disabled, nonverbal man to speak.

Kate Smith Coaching Photo 1What connects this man on an erg to a newly emigrated deaf boy from Honduras learning to communicate through sign language as he’s also learning to row in a barge to a group of public high school girls who have developed the mental toughness and physical strength to bring their Head of the Charles results from 57th out of 85 last year to a 12th place finish this year, is reflection. Reflection is the skill above all others in my coaching tool bag that has led to the successes I’ve seen working with a widely diverse group of athletes in my career. This reflective process coupled with mindful action and a fostered connection with each athlete has allowed me to empower my athletes to be successful well beyond what I could have imagined when I started coaching just over three years ago.

I began to use reflection as a coaching tool in 2013 when I started my year as a Fellow at the Institute for Rowing Leadership (IRL). At the IRL, my classmates and I spent a full year of deep reflection on how we coach, why we coach, and how we can be better coaches. By constantly analyzing and reviewing the choices I make as a coach, from how I interact with an athlete, to how I communicate with my staff members, to how I rig a boat, or which exercises I choose to incorporate in a core circuit, I am unable to get stuck in a pattern of bad habits or even good habits that don’t work in every scenario. 

Kate Smith Coaching Photo 2

Having developed the ability to adapt my coaching to fit the athlete, I’ve been able to lead an array of athletes, many of whom wouldn’t be considered “traditional” athletes, to find success and transform themselves through the sport of rowing.

The skills I learned at the IRL have helped to shape the continuously growing success of the public high school program I head at Cambridge Rindge and Latin School and come to bear daily in my position as the Assistant Director of Outreach at Community Rowing Inc. (CRI). At both programs, my colleagues and I work to share the skill of meaningful reflection to empower and transform the lives of more and more people through the sport of rowing.


 The Institute for Rowing Leadership at Community Rowing Inc. is the only sport specific post-graduate level coaching education program in the USA. The IRL provides an intensive yearlong Advanced Certificate in Rowing Leadership fellowship program for future leaders with a curriculum based on both academic and experiential learning methodologies. Fellows spend 16-20 hours a week in the classroom learning from Boston-area professors, coaches and professionals and 16-20 hours a week on-the-water coaching and implementing lessons learned in the classroom. The IRL Fellowship Program accepts applications twice annually with an early admission deadline on January 4th, 2016 and a regular admission deadline on March 14th, 2016. For more information on the program and details on how to apply, please visit www.IRLatCRI.org.

Written for the IRL Alumni Spotlight Series in conjunction with our partner USRowing

Posted by Kate Smith - IRL Alumna '14 on November 13, 2015  |   Tags: ,   |  0 Comments

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