Q&A with new head lightweight rowing coach Trevor Michelson

After leading the lightweight rowing team to qualify for the International Rowing Association National Regatta for the first time since 2014, Trevor Michelson is elevated from interim head coach to head coach.

by Caroline York | 7/21/23 1:05am


Courtesy of Trevor Michelson

After coaching for Dartmouth women’s and lightweight rowing since 2017, Trevor Michelson was recently named head coach of the Dartmouth lightweight rowing team. Michelson had been serving as the interim head coach after Dan Roock’s retirement in 2022. The Dartmouth sat down with Michelson to catch up since the coach’s last Q&A.

What initially drew you to begin coaching at Dartmouth in 2017?

TM: It’s actually a pretty funny story. The former Dartmouth lightweight coach had reached out to me about a position that had opened on his staff midway through the fall of 2016. I was really interested, but I had committed to staying at Wesleyan University, which was my alma mater. I just couldn’t and didn’t want to break that commitment, so he filled the position. That summer, Wyatt Allen, the heavyweight coach, had a position open, and I interviewed for the job, which he filled with an internal candidate. When the lightweight position opened a second time later that summer, he put me back in touch with the head lightweight coach. Because I had turned down the job in the first place, it showed loyalty. My connection with Wyatt Allen just landed me the job. 

You started as a lightweight assistant coach, then transitioned to assistant coach for the women’s rowing team before ultimately going back to the lightweight team. What adjustments did you make to your coaching style for these two teams, if any?

TM: It was something I was really worried about, but I really didn’t make any adjustments. I tried to be careful with my language because I was really terrified of calling the girls “guys” and I didn’t want to offend anyone that way.I think the beauty of rowing is that it’s all the same. Then coaching the lightweights was obviously a no-brainer for me. I think the big difference is weight management, which doesn’t really exist in open weight rowing. I emphasize having open communication with  my athletes to make sure they’re on top of it.  

Do you have any coaches whom you look to for inspiration?

TM: Dan Roock, who was my boss at Dartmouth, is one of the great coaches in the history of collegiate rowing. Wyatt Allen, Dartmouth heavyweight head coach, a star rower in his own right, Olympic champion and also just a really good coach. Ted Bonanno, who was one of my first coaches. Phil Carney was my college coach and was like a second father to me. I talk to Pat Tynan, the women’s rowing coach at Wesleyan University, almost every week in the racing season. I consider them all mentors, but I’d also consider them all really good friends.  

I’ve just been really lucky to be surrounded by good, talented coaches and just really good people. Just today at the World Championships, I was rigging a boat. I wasn’t not sure how the boat was sitting in the water, so I called Wyatt and Dan, who both helped me right away. They’re always available, and they all just mean the world to me.  

Under your leadership this past season, the team qualified for the International Rowing Association (IRA) National Regatta for the first time since 2014. What changes, if any, did you implement to spark this newfound success?

TM: It was a good year for us, and it was really exciting. I had a meeting with the team in September and said that I’ve seen a lot of head coaches come in and try to change everything, which is usually unsuccessful. What I had over others is that I’ve been with this program for seven years, and I’ve known most of the rowers since they were 17. I pushed the pace a little bit more than a new head coach might be able to.  

We just set out with the goal of working hard and getting better every day. I tried to get us a little more structured in some ways and then let the leadership of the team take ownership of situations. I tried to just be myself and bring the energy every day and feed off the athletes’ energy and have them feed off me. I set some really lofty goals, which we ended up failing at, but I’m a big believer in the quote, “shoot for the stars so you land in the clouds.” That’s what we did this year. I’m excited to learn from what worked this year and improve it for next.  

You’re currently serving as an assistant coach for the U.S. U23 Men’s National Team with recently appointed women’s rowing head coach John Graves. How do you see that role as a learning experience for you in your new head coaching role?

TM: Getting to work with Wyatt and John has been awesome. Getting to work with some of the best heavyweight men in the country, and we’ll see soon, but hopefully some of the best Under 23 men in the world, has been a blast. Talking to the rowers about what they do at home, and how they think about and approach everything is something that’s a good opportunity for a coach to learn from. Athletes learn from coaches, but coaches learn from athletes as well.  

What is your favorite lightweight rowing team tradition?

TM: I think one of the coolest traditions is bequests, which is basically gear that’s been passed down for years. Every piece of gear has 20 or 30 years worth of history that belonged to people that came before the athletes — people who gave the current athletes these opportunities. Another tradition is, in the summer, they do weekly updates where every kid on the team has to send an update to all the other guys on the team about how their summer’s going, and what they’re excited about for the next year, and reflect on the past year. We also do SlimFast, which is a weekly race series that we do in the fall. We have record times from 10, 15 years ago that we can look back to and compare to. 

I’ve heard from rowers that you often use a megaphone to hype the boats up. What goes through your mind when you’re trying to hype a boat up during a piece?

TM: I don't know what goes through my mind. I’m speaking from the heart, or maybe even from the stomach! I think one of my abilities as a coach — maybe my guys would disagree — is that I can sometimes squeeze out a little more from them if I’m hooting and hollering. I try to do that as often as I can.