Michelle Darvill, Canadian women's coach
Michelle Darvill; CAN;

“Be curious, experiment and don’t be afraid to reach out and ask questions. There are many resources and people willing to provide support.”

 This is the advice to would-be coaches from 2021 World Rowing Coach of the Year, Canada’s Michelle Darvill. From her time as an athlete, then elite athlete, then club coach and on to coach of the Tokyo Olympic Champion Canadian women’s eight, Darvill knows.

Darvill started rowing at the Don Rowing Club while studying at the University of Toronto. After graduating, she gave herself “two years to go all in” and see how far she could go in the sport. Darvill went on to compete internationally over the next decade.

Making the Canadian national team as a lightweight sculler, Darvill earned her first of three world titles at the 1993 World Rowing Championships in the lightweight women’s single sculls. Then, as a holder of dual nationality, Darvill switched to compete for Germany. Rowing out of Deutscher Rudern Club in Hannover, she secured a spot on the German national team and went on to win more World Championship medals, including gold in the 1997 and 2000 seasons in the lightweight women’s double sculls and quad, respectively, as well as competing in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

Darvill says  rowing for multiple countries gave her invaluable insight into the sport. With exposure to over a dozen different coaches, she experienced different approaches and methods of coaching. Some were more scientific and others more instinctive. All of this catered to Darvill’s insatiable curiosity and desire to learn more about the sport.

This collective knowledge transferred well when Darvill swapped the oar for a stopwatch. Retiring from competitive rowing in 2000, Darvill moved to the United States where she  guest coached at Catawba Yacht Club in North Carolina. She then moved on the Canada’s London Rowing Club and the University of Western Ontario, alongside volunteering with the Canadian national team.

Michelle Darvill, one of the Canadian under-23 team coaches, polishes a boat so as to get the smoothest surface possible for the racing at the 2012 World Rowing Under 23 Championships in Trakai, Lithuania.

Darvill’s coaching skills did not go unnoticed and she was soon a permanent part of the Canadian coaching team for the development squad and the under 23’s. Darvill found this period particularly creative, with the space to be experimental. She would try different warmups, riggings, nutrition and routines to see what worked best for her crew. She was also keen to empower her rowers, saying, “you want to set the athletes up to understand and guide them towards taking ownership of their journey.”

Darvill then took on the women’s eight in the lead up to the Tokyo Olympics. During this turbulent Tokyo Olympic cycle, Darvill admits it was not easy.

“The extra year meant sacrifices for many athletes and because there was a lot of uncertainty whether the Olympics would even happen, it was really important that the athletes had a positive and supportive training environment. There were many disruptions along the way, but the focus was dedicated to making a stronger team and finding speed.”

One of those disruptions was an horrific bike accident just six weeks out from the Olympics. During training three athletes were injured including bad bruising, concussions and one broken collar bone.

“We had to very quickly shift gears and find a way to get the remaining athletes focused and back in the boat,” says Darvill.

Once in Tokyo, Darvill recalls her time fondly. Despite facing regular covid tests, social distancing and a lack of crowds, Darvill says, “It was fabulous watching so many tight races. World Rowing put on a fantastic event, with everything running like clockwork.”

Darvill’s eight won, marking the first gold for Canada in the women’s eight since 1992.

“It was not just about winning but working together to overcome the challenge like the bike accident,” says Darvill. “After that the athletes trust in each grew even more and  the focus was on how they could support each other to execute their best race.”

Darvill now has a new challenge. Having spent 20 years in the Canadian system, she wanted to try coaching in a new environment. Darvill has joined the Dutch national team, working with the women’s squad.

Darvill is excited by the challenge, “I aspire to support athletes discovering how to be their best.”

And this is what has helped make Michelle Darvill the 2021 World Rowing Coach of the Year.