Spotlight On: Joe O'Neill

This month's spotlight on is about our Club Captain, women's coach, and Life Member, Joe O'Neill. Joe has been around coaching novices, university rowers, masters, NZ University Trans-Tasman teams and the club women's squad for the best part of 11 years. As well as this Joe spends the best part of his free time planning out boat allocations, managing boat loads and ensuring the club runs smoothly. We asked him a few questions about his time coaching and what advice he has about what makes a good crew tick.

How long have you been coaching and how did you get into it?

My first season coaching was 2009-2010 although I coached corporate crews for a couple of years before that. 

I got into coaching through my daughter, she started rowing at Onslow college and I started following her round to regattas, then her coach persuaded me to get in a boat, which led to me joining up with some ex corporate rowers and forming the “masters” squad. From there, we masters started coaching corporate crews and I asked if I could have a crack at co-coach of the novices. 


Why do you coach? What motivates you?

I enjoy teaching, I enjoy seeing the improvements that the athletes make with my guidance. It may sound cheesy, but it’s satisfying when I can help a crew or athlete do something noticeably better. I really should have been a school teacher.


What is your coaching style or philosophy?

I have two main philosophies when it comes to coaching. Firstly, I don’t believe the theory that nice guys finish last, I think that nice guys can win, and I encourage my crews to behave that way. I also try to impose a “never make the same mistake once” approach to my coaching. Don’t be lazy, if you see a mistake, stop, and fix it now, don’t let it get ingrained in the stroke. 


Tell us something about your own sporting background/rowing career?

I think I was that guy who was pretty good at most sports, but not excellent at any of them, I played football and rugby at school, to first 11 and first 15 level. In my second to last year at school I injured my knee playing rugby and took up rowing as part of my recovery, in an attempt to make the Hong Kong schools rugby tour of Australia. The rowing did the trick, I made the team and quit rowing immediately. I continued with Rugby and Football throughout my life, not getting back in a boat until 2009. 


What other sports do you enjoy watching or playing?

I watch way too many sports, I’ll stay up all night to watch the Ryder cup, the Ashes, Football (any cup), anything at the Olympics, snooker, darts, you name it. I’m a massive football fan, I had a season ticket at the Arsenal through the 80’s and have followed them the length and breadth of England. I don’t really play any sports any more, my last football game was about 5 years ago for North Wellington, I made a brief comeback at the end of their season to cover for an injured player.


What’s one of your (or some of) your best memories from coaching?

It would be unfair on all the crews I’ve worked with to have a best memory. I have loads of good memories, my first time on the podium was special, it had taken three seasons to get a crew there. Rowing at Henley was special, but the whole UK trip was fantastic, training out of London rowing club’s shed on the tideway was special. Coaching the NZ Uni crew was a lot of fun, the athletes were at the top of their game and it was just a question of making the team work, it was a different challenge.

Hopefully the best memories have yet to come.


What do you think makes a successful rower/crew?

First and foremost, enjoyment, you’ve got to enjoy what you’re doing, if you don’t love messing about in boats, there’s no point. Most of us aren’t paid, so we’ve got to be having fun, it just makes sense. 

If you want to win medals, just keep doing it. There’s no secret formula, it’s just about turning up, doing the work, being honest with yourself and your coaches, and just keep going. Michael Jordan took 7 years to win his first Championship, that’s not including the school and college years. There’s no back door, there’s no easy route. The most enjoyable races are the ones you worked hardest for.

Article added: Sunday 04 April 2021


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