Rob Baker is Chief Coach, Men at CUBC and has an admirable track record in getting the best out of his crew, always going the extra mile to prepare them physically and mentally for the tough challenges they have to face. Find out more from Rob’s interview where he shares his belief in ‘one vision for the rowers and a shared vision for the future.’
Rob, you joined CUBC as Assistant Coach in 2001, leading Goldie to wins in 2006 and 2007 – how did that feel?
“It felt great! I’d been at the Club for a few years as the third coach and was itching to lead Goldie, the guys were great and we had a formative experience, many of these crew members are now some of my best friends.”
How important is the role of a coach in the success of a crew, and how do coaches ensure a crew performs at its best?
“The rowers win the race and deserve all the accolades; the coaches are there to try and bring the best out in them and most importantly to get them to perform as a crew. So coaching is very important, it’s a great responsibility to be in charge of such an important team and special athletes, and we have to guide them with one vision of rowing. One of our biggest jobs is to prepare the athletes to manage race day. All the pressures and challenges that comes with it need to be thought through, practised and prepared for with high levels of mental toughness.”
How do you ensure the athletes are in top physical condition and what role does the equipment play in that?
“The athletes physiology is paramount in a race which is physically so demanding, so we spend a huge number of hours training and analysing performance to get the best out of the team. RP3 rowing machines are a key piece of our land training, and telemetry is now a very important part of the way we train on the water and analyse performance. These are expensive pieces of equipment that we need to update regularly.”
In 2015 you returned to Cambridge as the first full-time, paid coach for the women’s squad, overseeing their move to the Tideway for their Boat Race, and leading them to dominant wins in 2017 and 2018 in both the Blue Boat and Blondie/Osiris races. What did these significant changes and successes mean for CUBC and women rowers at Cambridge?
“There was a great legacy of coaches for the CUWBC before me, Roger Silk and Ron Needs being two of the most influential in the 90s, but Ron and Roger weren’t paid so I am grateful to have been able to be a full-time employee after these volunteers did such a great job for nothing.
2017 and 2018 were some of my most enjoyable years coaching. Bringing the Club up to the standard that was required took a lot of work and was really challenging at times; winning in 2017 was the fruition of all that work. The athletes in those first few years did all that was asked, but we were racing Oxford crews with far superior experience and pedigree. In 2017 we had the program where it should be and the athletes that came in had the experience and pedigree we were looking for, so in the end it felt like it came together very quickly and was great fun to coach and see what amazing results they achieved.”
And what were the main reasons for the rowing clubs, Cambridge University Boat Club, Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club, and Cambridge University Lightweight Rowing Club, joining forces in 2020?
“The clubs uniting was a drive to be better together, use the resources and collective experiences to try and make a better unified Club.”
Since the 2018-19 season, you’ve been the chief coach for the men’s squad. What are your priorities for the crew this year?
“Priorities are always simple and the same: make better rowers and be better as a unit. The nuances and intricacies of this are always the challenge and what makes it fun. Everyday is a learning day, and what feels like a simple sport can be reinvented in many different ways!”
As the son of a university boatman it may be no surprise that rowing is one of your passions too, but what would you say to those who might be interested in rowing but ‘don’t think it’s for them’?
“Just try it, you have nothing to lose! So many people who come to Cambridge have no ambition to row but fall into it somehow. Cold, early mornings don’t sound so inviting, but the community that you get involved in and the people you get to work with make it all worthwhile.”
What are the three best things about being a coach at CUBC, and what do you love most about this community as a whole?
“1. Working with motivated, intelligent people is a privilege and something I always value very highly. So few people get this honour.
2. The Boat Race is such a special event, it’s either the best day of the year or the worst. Whilst this is a tough challenge to take on, that’s what it’s about and that’s what makes it so special.
3. I love the challenge of coaching. My mind is never far away from what we need to do to be better and what we can achieve. It motivates me to get up in the morning and inspires the way you think about every detail of your life.
This community is part of me. It’s been over 20 years now that I started at CUBC and so many people I am close to are part of this too. Everyone here wants the same thing for the athletes and crews and knows how tough and how rewarding the process is.”
Did you know? It cost £6,750 to purchase the new ergs and RowPerfects needed for the 2023 campaign. That’s the equivalent of nine people giving £50/month + gift aid.
Join us for ‘Pulling Together’, CUBC’s annual month of giving, and your gift will help fund the essential equipment our students need to succeed. Every gift, no matter how large or small, makes a difference. Donate today.