Coach Siobhan McLaughlin is always on deck for her rowing athletes…

  • June 08, 2023

CAO’s Empowering Stories from Behind the Bench – June 2023

As an athlete, educator and coach, the opportunity to help others was something I found enjoyable and rewarding.

By David Grossman

Siobhan McLaughlin has always been one for wanting to try something different.

Whether it was back in grade school selecting sports to play, making the right choice for post-secondary education, or analyzing a preference for a career.

One thing became increasingly clear in her journey through life. It was the eagerness, passion, and devotion to educate and coach. Both have proven to be among her greatest strengths.

When one examines the world of sport, the emphasis is to win championships. There is also the various individual awards and trophies while setting a personal course to reach for the top. But that’s not always true for everyone. Some just prefer to compete for fun and enjoyment.

Living a life involved in various aspects of sport, McLaughlin clearly wants to be an eyewitness to success with her students and athletes. For them, it’s an objective that is not always measured with a medal or banner. What counts most for McLaughlin, is the esteem in watching those she teaches and coaches, strive to do their best.

Those who know McLaughlin are aware that she is not one for being intimidated or discouraged. She fits the description of a person with integrity, principles, having lots of energy, being a fierce competitor and thrives on working harder – even when those inevitable days of disappointment do show up.

Born in St. Catharines, McLaughlin is one committed to education and career development. After studying and working in London, Ont., Saskatoon, and Ottawa, she returned to the Garden City – a name often referred to St. Catharines by tourists.

With the picturesque Niagara escarpment running through the city, St. Catharines remains very special to McLaughlin. She feels the same way about Ridley College. McLaughlin was a student at the co-ed private school from grade five to the time she graduated and headed off to the University of Western Ontario.

But she has come home – to Ridley. In fact, she’s been back for 10 years. Her job, as girls rowing director, has helped student athletes in social skills and teamwork. McLaughlin is also razor-sharp in conveying a concise message about the benefits of working hard and excelling on the water. For example, look at the 13 medals won by Ridley at the 2022 Canadian Secondary School Rowing Association championships. Under her tutelage, count on a lot more to come.

What also contributes to the success of the Ridley rowing program, is that the school is located about 10 minutes from the banks of Lake Ontario – and home of the Royal Canadian Henley rowing course.

So, how do education and rowing fit into the life of McLaughlin?

“My parents are teachers and so a good education has always been very important in our family,” said McLaughlin, who was on the Ridley academic honor roll for five consecutive years. “As a student, it was always about grades. I was also involved and very active in a variety of sports – from field hockey and swimming to volleyball and soccer.”

There’s rowing, too.

As Ridley’s 1996 Athlete of the Year, McLaughlin’s introduction to rowing occurred back in grade 9. That’s when one of her friends had mentioned that Ridley’s acclaimed rowing program was looking to add another girl.

That would be the start of something big for McLaughlin.

Having already benefitted from a learn-to-row program, one that was offered through the municipality’s recreation department, McLaughlin was aware the city was home to the internationally acclaimed and world class facility. There was also a strong history, tradition, and great culture of the sport. Rowing and Ridley were like bread and butter – one needed the other.

“I remember those early years, the indoor training was tough, but I really liked the sport, the atmosphere and we had a great group of girls (at Ridley),” said McLaughlin, who recalled her first race and being in a boat with seven other rowers and the coxswain (member who does not row, but steers the boat and faces forward) that had gone on to win a medal.

Memories rarely fade. For McLaughlin, there were some dandies. While going on to earn a Bachelor of Sciences degree in Kinesiology at Western, she would also find time to compete for the school in the Ontario University Athletics (OUA) championships. It’s a sport that Western has dominated for years.

McLaughlin would add to her resume of accomplishments. She was selected to the Provincial team and would become a Canada Cup title winner. As a Junior National team competitor, she rowed internationally for Canada at a meet in Poland.

Ridley would also be where McLaughlin started a coaching career.

“It was 1997, I was home for the summer and Ridley needed a coach,” said McLaughlin, who now has Rowing Canada’s equivalent of the level 3 accreditation for NCCP (National Coaching Certification Program). “As an athlete, educator and coach, the opportunity to help others was something I found enjoyable and rewarding.”

The coaching bug would continue in London, while she was building on her education credentials and earning a Master of Sciences. McLaughlin helped coach a local high school rowing program. Then came opportunities as provincial coach of rowing in Saskatchewan for one year and, in 2008, as head coach of the Ottawa Rowing Club.

“Never in a million years would I have thought it would happen – to return to Ridley, to teach and coach,” said McLaughlin, who has now coached for 26 years. “Teaching recreation and leadership courses, the coaching clinics, seeing students do so well in (rowing), it’s very rewarding.”

Ashley Van Roon, now pursuing a teaching career, has glowing remarks about McLaughlin.

Rowing was new to Van Roon in her grade 9 year at Ridley. She remembers being coaxed into trying the sport and then competed, as a junior, in a sculling boat with three senior aged students. Van Roon would go on to become Rookie of the Year in the sport and one of the top athletes in her graduating year.

“(McLaughlin is) a leader, open-minded, very approachable and cares about every person on the team,” said Van Roon who, after Ridley, accepted a full athletic scholarship to row and study at the University of Tennessee. “I was extremely lucky to have (McLaughlin) as a coach. She is the one who is responsible for my success in the sport.”

Inspirational is a word that Charlotte Langlois uses to describe her feelings about McLaughlin.

“There is so much encouragement and enthusiasm from her,” said Langlois, who is in grade 11 at Ridley and rows in the lightweight category. “We all see the knowledge she has and the dedication to everyone.

“I can remember the first time that I met her – she was genuine, very understanding and continues to make sure that everyone is on the path that they want to be on. I never had a coach so inspiring that it makes you want to be there, show up and eager to learn.”

The Coaches Association of Ontario series, “Empowering Stories from behind the Bench”, continues to put the spotlight on individuals – like McLaughlin – who educate the use of strong coaching fundamentals of improvement, guidance, and training.


Embrace the experience and I will tell the players that this may be the only time that they get a chance to be in something like this – and to go out and enjoy it.

David Grossman is a veteran multi award-winning Journalist and Broadcaster with some of Canada’s major media, including the Toronto Star and SPORTSNET 590 THE FAN, and a Public Relations professional for 45+ years in Canadian sports and Government relations.