James Nelson: The Coaching Experience


Assistant Coach, James Nelson, Seattle Prep Rowing.

Luke Whalon, Staff Writer

Meet James Nelson: Coach, mentor, and most importantly, a rower.

Nelson works as an Assistant Coach alongside a thriving coaching staff for the Seattle Prep Crew team.

Coming out of college in 2017, Nelson had a pretty good idea on what he wanted to do moving forward: “I knew I wanted to continue rowing in some sort of fashion. I wanted to train full time and coaching fit right in with that.” Immediately, he found an opportunity at the Texas Rowing Center in Austin. There, Nelson began his coaching journey, teaching rowers in summer camps and in high school learn-to-row programs.

That summer, he was offered a job from the Seattle Rowing Center and he eagerly accepted. At the same time, an opportunity arose to train for something big: “I was away competing at World Championships in Bulgaria in the men’s lightweight quad.”

For context, World Rowing Championships, an international rowing regatta (another term for a race), is one week long and a highlight of the international rowing calendar. Additionally, lightweight means that the rowers must be under a certain weight. A quad is a certain type of boat that consists of four rowers, each with one oar in each hand. A similar boat class would be a double with two people. In Bulgaria, Nelson’s crew finished tenth. The following year, Nelson competed in the lightweight pair at the 2019 World Rowing Championships in Austria and finished seventh overall in that boat category.

Following this, Nelson was encouraged to apply to be a coach for Seattle Prep. He ended up getting the job and started coaching for Prep for about two years before heading to Santa Barbara, California for training: training for the Tokyo Olympics. Here, Nelson dedicated hours on the water under the leadership of his own coach, leading up to trials in Sarasota. There, he and his double partner, Galen Bernick, competed but did not qualify for the Olympic team.

In August of last year, Nelson made a pinnacle decision to step away from full-time training. Looking to Seattle, Nelson was lucky enough to find an open coaching position under Prep’s Head Coach Tom Kellett: “I came here and my first full day living here, I started working for Seattle Prep again and started coaching again. Since then, it’s just been here.”

As a coach, Nelson is driven to let the athletes make their own changes to improve their rowing. Nelson is adamant that an athlete must first notice a need for a change, implement that change, and then hold themselves accountable to that change. He believes that as a coach, he is there to assist the athlete in making those positive changes. This means being a resource for the athlete while answering questions and providing them with insight from outside of the boat. When asked about the coaching staff as a whole, Nelson responded by saying: “The best teachers are students themselves.”

The “positive attitude and a want to learn and improve” are things that Nelson admires about the student-athletes on the team. “There is clear drive in the team that is hard to find in other places”. Nelson marvels at the large number of Juniors on the team and is proud to see many of those athletes stepping up to be leaders.

When asked about the future of the rowing team, Nelson asserted that Prep “can continue to be regional champions…that this can be something continuous.” Last year, the team won regionals for the first time in the program’s history, earning themselves a banner in the school gym. Ultimately, this coming season is a foundational season for the Seattle Prep Crew team and many, including Nelson, believe that this team can build off its victories and can continue their momentum to dominate during this coming year of competitive racing.