Familiar setting but a different Boat Race challenge for Cambridge University Boat Club chief coach Rob Baker
The location and the ultimate end goals may be the same, but it has been a different challenge this year for Rob Baker at Goldie Boathouse.
To the casual observer and given the stature of the Boat Races, it may be imagined that the administrative centre of Cambridge University’s leading boat clubs is spacious and state of the art.
That could not be further from the truth for the Cambridge base, which was built in 1873 but had significant extensions and improvements in 2003 and 2013.
So when Baker left his role as chief coach of Cambridge University Women’s Boat Club to replace Steve Trapmore in the same role as Cambridge University Boat Club, he was just moving across desks to the other side of the room.
“It’s been good, it’s been challenging, probably more different than I expected,” said Baker.
“There’s been lots of good things going on with the guys and it’s a case of coming in and seeing how to work with what’s happened and also do what I want to do with the squad and push them on in my way.
“That is the challenging part in the first few years of starting with a new programme. It’s not necessarily throwing everything out that’s working well, but also not trying to do someone else’s training programme.
“It’s a case of catching the vibe of the group and the guys and that’s always different year on year.”
Baker had been with CUWBC for six years, but initially started with CUBC as an apprentice coach in 2001.
He became assistant coach, guiding them to wins at Henley Royal Regatta and was acting chief coach in 2008 before joining Rowing Ireland to lead their under-23 squad in 2009, making his return to Cambridge in 2012.
So it is interesting to learn what he means with regards to the role being different to what he expected.
“I remember what it was like when I coached the guys 10 years ago,” said Baker. “I don’t think I had huge expectations but every group of people is different and because there is no crossover between the group I coached then, you find a completely different vibe and group to what I would have seen then.
“That’s the interesting piece, dealing with people and different people.
“Some of the things are always the same and our routine is pretty similar to what it was. The Boat Race is still what it is and it could throw loads of things at us but we’ve seen most of them before.
“The race is the same, and the challenges are probably the same, it’s just with different people that throws up different levels of challenge and different pieces that we have to get right.”
It is not about the gender difference though, more about the experience of the programme.
With the Cambridge systems, you get a certain amount of continuity, year on year, of rowers that know what to expect, when throughout the training schedule.
But Baker has come in, to some extent, to a blank canvas – with a programme that was his predecessor’s and rowers not familiar with his way of working.
“I’m still at Cambridge, but I’ve got a completely different group of people so that’s the biggest difference and challenge really that there is no overlap,” he explained.
“Everything is a little new for the guys and for me because I haven’t worked with them before, and that’s the interesting piece.”
Finally, the obvious question as part of the transition is whether Baker is ever tempted to look across to the other side of room to see what is happening at CUWBC?
“I feel like the most respectful thing to do with the women’s team is let them run as they should run and not bother them,” he adds.
“But I’m there for help if they need it, and I hope and believe that the coaches feel that way. I feel like the most respectful thing to do is not get in people’s way.”