Q&A: Merion Mercy Crew Coach Michael Brown

The Villanova alum recently received the 2012 Schuylkill Navy Coach of the Year award, which follows the school’s victory at the 2011 Henley Women’s Regatta in England.

Photo by Jared Castaldi.
Photo by Jared Castaldi.

The muscle, mental focus and endurance required to power a winning crew team isn’t lost on Villanova’s Michael Brown, coach for Merion Mercy Academy and a recent winner of the 2012 Schuylkill Navy Coach of the Year award. Though each race may only last a few minutes, Brown shares his insights on why the sport is a life-long calling.

MLT: How did you get into the sport of rowing?
MB: I was cut from the freshman basketball team at La Salle College High School, and my only ride home was with my older brothers, who rowed. Thirty-nine years later, I still think I shouldn’t have been cut.

MLT: Seems like things worked out for you, though. What are some of your accomplishments?
MB: As a high school oarsman, I was fortunate to win a city championship, a Catholic League championship and the Stotesbury Cup Regatta. After college at Villanova, while competing for the Malta Boat Club in Philadelphia, I was in crews that won senior and elite lightweight National Championships in 1984. A few years ago, I won several national masters championships.

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MLT: And coaching seems to have followed naturally for you.
MB: I started coaching at Merion Mercy Academy in the spring of 2005, which was their first rowing season. Since then, the highlights of my career there have been Merion Mercy winning the 2011 Henley Women’s Regatta in England, winning back-to-back Scholastic National Championships in the Varsity 4, and participating in Merion Mercy’s first “Reunion Row,” where 97 percent of all former rowers attended.


MLT: What does an athlete learn from this sport?
MB: At Merion Mercy, they learn what it’s like to be in a sustainable, competitive rowing program, which has garnered success both on and off the water. The athletes recognize that, when each individual summons the courage to endure, it was for her
teammates’ sake and not her own.

MLT: How much of the sport is mental coaching and how much is physical?
MB: For the high school rower, the physical side of rowing is about power, endurance and balance, 90 percent of which can be learned in the first year. It may take a lifetime to master the other 10 percent. On the mental side, the most difficult challenge is believing in yourself. Training is 5,000 minutes of work for a five-minute boat race, with no halftimes, timeouts or substitutions.

MLT: It’s not a common youth sport, so why should parents embrace rowing as an option for young athletes?
MB: With very few elementary school or youth programs available, high school rowing offers the opportunity to learn dedication, discipline and teamwork in a competitive environment against other student-athletes learning the sport for the first time, too. They’re all literally and figuratively in the same boat. Perhaps most importantly, parents will definitely gain an appreciation for early-morning practices on Saturday.

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