Tom Guncik | Freshman Coach | Men’s Rowing | George Washington University

Describe the qualities that your program is looking for in a potential student-athlete?

Not sure if you mean the actual physical qualities that we look for, because those are important for us. But what gets me really excited about a potential student-athlete is when they’re confident enough to be themselves through the recruiting process. You ultimately want to find people who will have a good working relationship with future teammates and coaches, which is a process that takes practice. Being able to communicate honestly and openly is key for the success of the team so it should also be key in the recruiting process. I get excited when I find a person who I am able to have an honest and easy conversation with. The coach shouldn’t have to fake it and the recruit should feel like they don’t have to either. After a number of interactions with a person you should be able to figure out when a person has the right personality to succeed in your team.

Could you give us an example of a current or former player who exceeded your expectations, highlighting the reasons that player excelled?

In my first coaching job I was in charge of the freshmen athletes. I was at a small, liberal arts college with a high price tag so some of the students came from families that were really well off and others who weren’t. My most talented athlete came from a family with a lot of means. We worked well together and I didn’t think much of it but I always assumed this student would go through four years of school and then end up working for a friend of the family back home. School was just a four year adventure for him. I’ve never been happy to be so wrong.

At the end of my second year (his sophomore year) I began to take on more coaching duties and one thing I did was hold individual meetings with everyone on the team. I asked them to tell me what their strengths and weaknesses were, how they planned to strengthen their weaknesses, and what their short term and long term goals were. Before the meeting I would prepare my own assessment of them and I’d prepare a challenge for them. During the meeting they’d give me their self-assessment and then I’d give them my assessment. Most of the time their self-assessments lined up with my assessment of them.

For this particular student I felt that he had the makings of a future leader on the team but that the biggest thing getting in the way of that was his unintentional reluctance to interact with people outside of his own socioeconomic class. It was a very honest and somewhat harsh thing to tell him but something he’d need to hear if he were going to be a future leader. I thought for sure that in this case my assessment included something that the student wouldn’t include. I was wrong. He said a weakness of his was an unwillingness or fear of interacting with people outside of his social circle. I was also surprised when he told me that his long term goal was to become a Navy SEAL. It wasn’t a pipe dream either. He’d already met with a recruiter, he asked me to be prepared to write a letter of recommendation for him when he would apply to OCS the following summer, and he even prepared a reading list for me to gain a better understanding of the process for becoming a SEAL.

Long story somewhat shorter, not only did he gain acceptance into Navy OCS after graduating and eventually make it through BUD/S to become a SEAL (both of which have incredibly low success rates), but he also led the team to it’s best ever performance when he was captain his senior year. You can say he had determination, toughness, or qualities like that. But what was most critical for him was 1) having a specific goal, 2) being humble enough to know he wasn’t going to achieve that goal without looking internally for areas where he could improve, and 3) looking for outlets through which he could make those improvements.