After three decades coaching at Berkeley and Brown and 11 Intercollegiate Rowing Association National Championship titles, Steve Gladstone took the job as head coach of men’s heavyweight crew to much hype in August 2010. Over the past year, he has made major changes to the team’s culture and training regime, with mixed results. The team’s fall season kicks off Saturday with the Head of the Housatonic. He spoke to the News Wednesday about the past year and his outlook on the team.
Q: How did you find your first year here?
A: When you arrive at a new situation, the most important thing to deal with what’s present, and, in a word, what the culture is. I spent the good part of the year digesting that and working to build some changes in the boat training and more importantly, the mindset toward the training.
Q: What changes have you made?
A: The major changes primarily related to technical elements of the training. But underpinning that is a more positive sense of people being in this process together. It’s not sufficient to simply train individually at a high level — if you are going to succeed, with nine people in a boat, you have to learn to work together. I’ve also worked to foster a tone that it’s possible to go fast without overthinking the whole process. The fundamentals are teamwork and hard work, and you have to approach them directly.
Q: What did you think of the team’s performances last season?
A: There were moments where there were life-signs. That being said, at the critical moments, I would say we underperformed. I would say, for instance, at the IRA [National Championships, where the Bulldogs finished in 10th place].
Q: How is the team shaping up for this weekend’s Head of the Housatonic?
A: Basically, the fall is devoted to hard training and working very carefully at low rates to improve the technical efficiency. That’s the most important objective of the fall. I won’t be putting together a boat until tomorrow. The athletes will give full measure at the time and event but the training is not tailored for being fast. I would hope the crew would be fast but I would characterize the event as a training exercise for the spring. [Still,] from what I’ve seen in the opening weeks, the tone of the squad is entirely different. Top to bottom, the attitude is terrific. I’m optimistic.
Q: What do you think of the current composition of the crew team?
A: I think there’s a good mix. There are some seniors who have demonstrated really high capabilities: Tom Dethlefs ’12, who was a gold medalist at the U23 World Championships, and of course Joseph Alagna ’12, who was a varsity oarsman last year. Those two seniors jump out as the most distinguished, but there are also strong sophomores and juniors.
Q: Three rowers — Dethlefs, Owen Symington ’14 and Harry Picone ’13 — competed at international regattas over the summer. What do you think of that?
A: There’s no question that exposure to training and racing at that level has a very positive impact on the Yale boat. What I would say is that the more guys who engage in that over the summer, the stronger we’ll be.
Q: What do you think of team’s overall culture?
A: I think that the Yale culture, the University’s culture, is not a whole lot different from what I’ve experienced at other universities. What it amounts to, as always, is getting a group of people who are willing to give full measure to be the best at what they do, and that’s what generates confidence over the long haul, and that ultimately determines successful racing.
When I arrived a year ago in August, I told them they didn’t need to concern themselves with training protocol or what they’re being taught on the water — that’s my area. That template is not, in and of itself, is not going to guarantee success. What does is the diligence and cooperative hard work they bring to it. If they do that, then the protocol is proven, through championships.