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Chief Women’s Coach, Paddy Ryan, shares the challenges and highlights of his career

Paddy first started rowing in his native Australia and when he moved to the UK in 2000, joined the Thames Rowing Club. Paddy also spent six years at London Youth Rowing (LYR) helping the small charity grow to a London-wide group, supporting thousands of teenagers every year.

Paddy began his career at CUWBC in October 2013 as assistant coach, bringing a wealth of experience from his career and his time on the Tideway and most importantly his recipe for ‘knowing how to win’. His top three career highlights include, as an athlete, winning Wyfold Challenge Cup at Henley Royal Regatta, winning the first Blondie Race in 2016 as Assistant Coach and then as Chief Coach, working with the winning 2022 Blue Boat. 

Paddy, you have a reputation for being exceptionally kind. Do you also have to be quite hard with the crew to get them to perform at their best?

“I am exceptionally kind and enjoy having you say that. I don’t compromise much on what I want to see from them but I remind them (and myself) this isn’t my story alone. It is our story and the women here don’t need me to be tough as they are tough enough on themselves. It’s important to make sure the support we provide is constructive, that rowers learn resilience and have the answers to the tough questions they will inevitably have to face. The best things in life are tough to achieve. I just wish they could all make it into the top boat.” 

How do you get the best out of each and every rower when they can be so different?

“I try to be fair, consistent and open with the challenges – being creative in working around issues is important. For example a 2k test can be intimidating so we work around the issue with a series of different tests to make them realise they are capable of more than they thought… lowering the wall so we can jump over it.”

How do you prepare the rowers for the psychological pressures and challenges they experience taking part in the Boat Race?

“I deliberately put them under pressure in training. Dealing with pressure helps create resilience.” 

How do you think rowing has changed for women in the last ten years and why?

“I think mostly what’s changed is that people have started to ask questions about rowing for women in regards to whether rowing practices have been developed for them specifically, as opposed to women taking part in programmes that were really designed for men. So for example, we need to ask these questions in regards to training, nutrition and mental health.  As yet we do not have solid answers but there is a growing field of expertise looking into this.

I think it’s also fair to say that female rowers still don’t get the same treatment when it comes to competitions, quality of coaching, equipment and resources. We’ve made great strides at Cambridge to address that.

It’s also worth saying that in recent years we’ve become more open when talking about periods and the possible impact on performance. We now use tracking methods that enable women to stay healthy and to normalise the impact of their menstrual cycle.” 

Is there still more to do to make rowing a fair, equal and accessible sport for all?

“I do believe we need to explore physiology more. Most of the knowledge comes from studies that have been conducted on men and when women have been included, the research doesn’t cover the span of their whole menstrual cycle. It’s really important to find out more and ensure women are experiencing best practice for them, avoiding any fads that actually have no basis.

Rowing is much fairer, more equitable and more accessible than it was. However it’s still a sport that demands a lot of time, special equipment, training and extra nutrition for the type of distance we race – you eat a lot more when you’re training twice a day. We need to acknowledge these things to make the sport more accessible for people from disadvantaged backgrounds.” 

What do you think were the benefits to the club and the rowers of Cambridge University Boat Club, Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club, and Cambridge University Lightweight Rowing Club, joining forces in 2020?

A few things jump out at me here. One being the removal of L’s and W’s. We all row and have equal value.

I also think that it is the right thing to do in this time to show how coming together makes us stronger. Coming together has benefited all sections of the Club.

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