RMB Solutionist Thinking is a podcast series hosted by Bruce Whitfield. It focusses on great South African minds thinking differently and going against the norm. In this episode, Whitfield interviews the South African National Rowing Coach Roger Barrow.
At just 44 years of age, Roger Barrow has already led our national rowing team to international success. In 2012, he coached Team South Africa to their first ever Olympic gold medal at the London Games. Four years later he coached South Africa’s rowers at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. That particular outing may not have concluded in a medals haul, but rather a haul of lessons which he still refers to today.
After being named World Rowing Coach of the year in 2016, Roger turned down an offer to head up Australia’s rowing programme. It would have been the easy route to accept an opportunity in a stronger economy. But Barrow stayed and still today refuses to be affected by the odds stacked against him.
Compared to the approximately 78 000 registered rowers in the United States (the world's most successful rowing country), he has developed a number of world-class teams from less than 3 000 registered rowers in this country.
... there's nothing better, when you're the underdog competing against the GB, New Zealand, Germany - the First World countries who have a lot of the stuff laid out - where they are paid a lot better, and beating them.— Roger Barrow, Coach - South African National Rowing Team
At the time of his interview, Roger has just returned from Lesotho, where he was training his teams at Ha Lejone in the northern part of the Kingdom... in preparation for the Tokyo Olympics next year.
Rowing South Africa has stated their intention of our teams winning more medals at competitive world championships. Barrow's strategy includes making a bid for three senior medals at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics - a men's pair, a women's pair and a men's four - and two medals at the 2020 Paralympics.
And, while his crews describe him as being “the ultimate perfectionist”, he is quick to add that a number of factors affect performance and that even the best-prepared teams can suffer defeat because of conditions beyond their control... A lesson he may have had experienced firsthand during that Rio Olympics outing.
I think it's one of the few sports in the world that precision is key. If there's one person out of time, more than likely the boat is not going to go very fast.— Roger Barrow, Coach - South African National Rowing Team
That precision, Barrow says, only comes from time spent on the water. He works with a team of other specialists - each looking after the specific needs of their high-performance athletes. It means that even though South Africa has only won three Olympic medals in recent years, Rowing SA teams are consistently ranked among the top performing countries - posing a real threat to the rowing establishment.
That's the goal. It is putting people in a position that they can go out and win.— Roger Barrow, Coach - South African National Rowing Team