In the Spotlight: CUWBC’s Chief Coach

Last Saturday, CUWBC’s Chief Coach, Rob Baker, was presented with the Education Performance Award in British Rowing’s Coach of the Year.

It would be easy to list Rob’s greatest achievement as simply winning all the Cambridge v Oxford University Women’s Boat Races in 2017 (openweights, lightweights and spares) – something that has not been achieved for 20 years.   However, it is his tremendous impact on each member of the team that has brought individual, national and international success to the group beyond that (at U23 and senior World Championships level), due to the high performance programme and culture he has developed at Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club over the last 5 years. We spoke to a few of the athletes that he has coached during that time and here’s what they had to say:

Fiona Macklin – rowed with CUWBC Lightweights in 2014 and in the 2016 Blue Boat. Has since returned to CUWBC as a Volunteer Coach and Executive Committee Member:

“I’ve been lucky enough to know Rob since his second year at CUW and it has been such a privilege to be coached by him. Not only is he incredibly technical, precise and perceptive as a coach, but also kind and caring as a person, mentor and leader.
A particularly special feature of Rob’s coaching is his openness to change; he will always be hungry for more and look to adapt, picking pieces from other rowing styles.
As cheesy as it may sound, CUW has changed my life – and Rob has played a huge part in that. I’m sure I’m not the only one. “

Melissa Wilson – learned to row at Caius College BC, Cambridge, then CUWBC. Last year represented Great Britain at the World Rowing Senior Championships: 

“Rob became my coach after my first year of rowing, and from then on has remained the main source of guidance for me right through to the World Championships last summer. He is brilliant at keeping the bigger picture in view – an element that is both a huge strength of his coaching, and also has a really positive impact on the lives of athletes outside their training. He wears his capacity lightly, so it’s wonderful to see him receive recognition for the transformation he’s brought to Cambridge women’s rowing; developing athletes to win Boat Races, pursue international competition and fulfil their own potential.”

Adam Davy/PA Wire

Imogen Grant – learned to row at Trinity College Cambridge then came through the CUWBC Development Squad. Last year represented Great Britain at the World Rowing U23 Championships:

“I have been lucky enough to have been coached by Rob for 3 years now and through that time I have been developed from a clueless novice to someone who has represented Great Britain. His coaching is just the right amount of demanding the best but also showing you how to do it, and a session is never wasted. His door is always open to chat, and he always takes time to see you as a person, to tailor the programme best for you, to be flexible with your academic commitments. It’s this combination that makes him such a great coach!”

Hannah Roberts – CUWBC President in 2015/16 and now rowing at University of London BC:

“I think the demands and pressures of being a Boat Race Coach are underestimated by most people. It is wonderful that his efforts are being recognised. He is ever the cool professional and I know that I am a better athlete for spending three years under his watchful eye.”

Hannah Roberts CUWBC President 2016


Fay Sandford – CUWBC Blue Boat 2011, 12, 13 and now CUWBC Executive Committee Member:

Rob is a brilliant coach because he combines a rare understanding that his squad is scholar athletes, with competing priorities for their time. His response to this challenge was understanding and flexibility. Efficient sessions with a clear, shared understanding of goals means everyone can focus on getting the most out of each minute. An efficient mindset is crucial in rowing (and every high performance programme) where every inch and split second counts. Working alongside a highly demanding academic programme could only mean one thing – that efficiency translates to all aspects of the CUWBC scholar athlete life.

Rob’s understanding of the two priorities allowed him to design a programme that flexes around immovable academic commitments, reducing the stress on trying to balance the two. Rob has been key in developing CUWBC into the high performance programme and family it is today through his commitment, passion and understanding.

This award is so well deserved.

Lottie Meggitt, CUWBC Lightweight 2013, 14 (Captain 2014), now working for Newton Investment Management

I started trialling in Rob’s first year as head coach and was lucky enough to experience the professionalism he brought into the club. It’s also been really impressive not only how he changed the club, but also how he has changed as a coach and modified his approach to get the best out of a team of student athletes. I also have Rob to thank for one of the most fun ‘holidays’ I’ve ever had when he very bravely took a small group of us to Ireland on a training camp thinly disguised as a surfing trip. Any man brave enough to take ten students, a minibus, a few boats and a surfboard to the home of Guinness is a hero indeed.

Oonagh Cousins – learned to row at Caius College BC, then came through the CUWBC Development Squad. Last year represented Great Britain at the World Rowing U23 Championships:

“This award is so well deserved. Rob taught me as a complete beginner and gave me the platform to aim to row at the highest level. I am so lucky to have been part of the club he has developed at CUWBC. Its a challenging but incredibly inspiring environment. Rob expects the best and fully believes in your potential to do so, and therefore his athletes are able to fufill their potential. The dedication of all the girls extends from making the most of every stroke to a professional approach to life as an athlete. He has had a massive influence on my life and I will be forever grateful to him.”


Cover Photo (C) Light Blue Images