Coaching the individual within a team honors athletic quest for high-performance

By Mim Haigh, Sports Writer – Athlete Assessments

Sandra Chu, High-Performance Consultant, Princeton Graduate, Director of Two Tigers Consulting, successful Collegiate Rowing Coach, is a proven game changer. In any sport, in any field, her commitment to excellence, ability to analyze the obstacles, develop strategies and institute changes, transforms lives and fundamentally the ability and performance of teams.

In this article Chu gives us the opportunity to understand some of her strategies. This 8 x NCAA Championship Coach leaves little to chance and her strategies and beliefs shape her program, her identity and also her consultancy.

To give you an understanding of the way Chu changes the landscape around her and the impact she has on her student-athletes, we retell a story that she shared from her own athletic career as a coxswain at Princeton. Chu told us the story to evidence the possibility of change. She says, “I was coxing an A-boat in practice and thrashing our B-boat all day long. Then, my coach switched the coxes. I did not doubt for an instant that we were going to turn around and beat the A boat. And I didn’t give my B-boat rowers the opportunity to consider losing again. We won. It wasn’t pretty, but I think this probably started me down this path of recognizing that change is more possible than most people think.”

Eventually, that path led Chu to her own Performance Consultancy, Two Tigers Consulting. On the origins of the consultancy’s name, she says, “I spent my undergraduate years at Princeton University. Academically and athletically, I’ve been a proud Tiger ever since. In addition, my firm’s philosophy is that everyone’s path to excellence is unique and it is only in that bespoke approach that we can truly achieve all we are capable of. No two tigers have the same stripes and in that vein, my approaches for all of my clients are tailored for the individual.”

Chu is Head Coach of the women’s rowing program at William Smith College and in a consulting and coaching capacity, she honors every client with an individual approach, whether they be; student, student-athlete or professional. Her approach leads to a depth of understanding, unique problem-solving and ultimately the kind of self-respect that forms the foundation of every individual’s relationship with their teammates and internal drive for the ultimate performance. She says, “integrity will drive an individual to personal excellence in all realms, not just her sport or job.”

In her 16 year coaching career with William Smith, Chu has lead her teams to the NCAA Championships eight times and the Liberty League Championships nine times. Her record evidences a consistent culture of success. Knowing her acute attention to the drivers of culture we asked her what lies behind her program’s consistent success. In a nutshell, she replied, “my expectation is that everyone in our program, coaches included, tries to be better than yesterday”. Explaining that she never coaches athletes to be mediocre, she says, “if we’re improving, we’re doing it right. I think that naturally leads to consistent success.”

Chu talks about an immense number of performance improving tools and technologies that she makes available to athletes. But she stipulates that each athlete is responsible and accountable for making their own changes. Chu’s coaching team openly discuss their mistakes, risks that they’re taking and model the kind of courage required to succeed.

Success, optimism and an unshakeable belief in human potential are an inherent part of Chu’s make up. With a background in psychology she says, “changing behaviors typically changes outcomes which then can change beliefs.” That understanding is both personal and professional, she says, “probably, I am wired for change”.

We know that Chu is also wired for challenge, so we asked her what excites her most about coaching. She says, “well, it’s no secret that I love to go fast. I love watching crews rowing well and winning is always a good time. But, at the end of the day, I am always most passionate about helping my athletes and clients achieve a goal that they thought might have been impossible. I love watching people reject mediocrity and take on excellence, and I love being part of teams and organizations that are committed to kindness and respect. For me, personally, I love being challenged by my situation. I am a natural problem-solver so there’s no challenge I won’t take on. Tell me something is impossible and I’ll prove you wrong. When I can help a team or individual achieve success because I have had to be particularly creative, strategic or had to learn a new skill–that makes my day.”

On that note, Chu is emphatic, coaches and athletes should always ask for help but learn how to do things themselves. She says she learns a million things every year that she wishes somebody told her they include; “Invest in people not just their performance. Ask lots of questions. Try new tricks. Make lots of mistakes and own them all. Always take the opportunity to build a relationship (aka use the phone or talk in person instead of e-mailing or texting). Treat everyone fairly (which doesn’t always mean treat everyone the same). Learn stuff, every day. Do things you are bad at…in front of other people.”

Chu’s ability to reflect on her own mistakes and try new strategies drives the constant renewal and success of her program. She gives us a valuable insight into this process by explaining the way she began using DISC Behavioral Analysis about a decade ago. She explained that DISC helped her develop a deeper understanding of each athlete and also led to a change in her coaching practices. She explains that before she began using DISC, she was looking at basic performance standards from a program or team perspective.

She says, “we had a variety of standards that athletes needed to pass in order to be boated for practices and races…I had set those standards for the team’s average potential. So, my fastest kids had an easy pass and my slowest kids were never going to pass. I was literally making us worse than mediocre. So, about two weeks after the latest testing fail, I changed the criteria. Instead of each individual athlete hitting the standard, the team’s average scores had to hit the standard. If the average scores hit the standards, then the whole team rowed. But if the average scores were slower than the standard, only the athletes who couldn’t hit the standard would be kept on land.”

“We tested. No one had any right to improve from the test two weeks earlier. Physiologically, it wasn’t possible. In fact, I was pretty scared that I had just set the entire team up for failure”. But, she explained that after using DISC, she had a more thorough understanding of each athlete in her program and she knew their individual potential. She said that in that second test “every student pulled a personal best for a 5K erg, with students improving their scores from the week before an average of 50-55 seconds. Every student ran a personal best for 4.1 miles, with students improving their times by an average of 4 minutes. This was an insane result and proved to me that I had the ability to change the goals to suit the motivations of all the profiles. My fast, goal-oriented students pulled and ran to their potential because they knew that they could provide a cushion for the slowest students. My slow, people-oriented students pulled and ran to their potential because they didn’t want to let anyone down.”

“Since that day, I have adapted this approach for every coaching moment. It has paid off and has been the source of my belief that I have to direct the team so we all get to the same place at the same time but not necessarily on the same path.”

Chu’s individualized approach dovetails perfectly with DISC Profiling which analyzes each athlete’s behavioral preferences in sport specific situations. In addition to her undergraduate and master’s degrees in English and creative writing, Chu is a qualified Athlete Assessments Consultant, enabling her to use Athlete Assessments’ DISC Profiling assessments with her teams.

On being an Athlete Assessments Consultant, she says, “the training and materials I received from Athlete Assessments have been incredibly valuable. Not only am I confident in my abilities to work with the profiles but I also know that I can get assistance immediately when I need it. They are also developing new products and programs each year that help me to continue to grow as a coach and a consultant.”

Specifically, “Athletes Assessments’ DISC Profiles not only give me an accurate picture of my clients and athletes’ behaviors, but they also provide us all with a common language. We can quickly and effectively move beyond drama and conflict by having a root understanding of each other. It makes me a more effective and efficient leader but also gives clients and athletes a much higher level of self-awareness so they can develop professionally, athletically and personally at a very fast rate.”

Sandra Chu is Head Coach of the women’s rowing program at Hobart and William Smith College. She is a collegiate coaching veteran whose accolades include CRCA National Coach of the Year. Chu is also a founder and Director of Two Tigers Consulting. She combines teaching experiences from junior kindergarten through the University level as well as collegiate, primary and secondary school admissions work to inform her dynamic pedagogical style. Additionally, she has a keen understanding of the Millennial and Gen-Z student. Chu gained her B.A.in Psychology and Creative Writing, from Princeton University and her MA in English and American Literature from New York University.


Sandra shared incredibly valuable tools and processes during our interview. So you can learn more, we’ve included a Q& A from the interview.


Where to from here…

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Are you a consultant or sport psychologist looking to achieve similar results with your clients? You too can take your consultancy to the next level and achieve the success that Sandra Chu has.

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