Learning to coach started in the boat by necessity
2 February 2022
By Michael Morgan
Michael Morgan has won state championships in the colours of Sydney Rowing Club and titles for New South Wales. Morgan rowed in the New South Wales King’s Cup VIII for six consecutive years at the Australian Rowing Championships from 1968 to 1973, winning the national title in 1968 and 1972. He also competed in the eights for Australia at two Olympic Games, winning a silver medal in 1968 and placing 2nd in the B-Final in 1972.
Morgan has coached Sydney RC and been a national coach on the Olympic level and a highly successful school coach for more than 25 years. The following is a manuscript he has been tinkering with for many years. Morgan does not think it ever will be a book. HTBS is happy to publish the five first chapters over five days plus, on the sixth day, a link to Rebecca Caroe’s interview with Michael Morgan on her RowingChat podcast which was broadcast earlier in January.
When you don’t have a coach, you start to be aware of what others are doing. You start to experiment and work out what feels better as well as deciding how you intend to race. In the 1960s, you didn’t have the benefit of video to see what was actually going on. With rarely a coach to have a look at you, you had to rely on feel.
The 1967 Kings Cup crew was selected from a squad of 12. Three of the leftovers – with the addition of Gary Pearce that Howard Croker recruited from the Rugby field – decided to form a crew and try for selection in the National team that was to be named following a Selection Regatta for small boats other than the eight. We christened ourselves “Rejects 67”. Australian Rowing had been asked to send a team to the North American Championships that were being held in St. Catharines, Canada.
The “Rejects” were from four different clubs, had no coach and had to borrow a boat from the Balmain Rowing Club. Howard Croker, who was a boat builder who had gone out on his own in business as a specialist oar maker, provided the oars.
Howard Croker had been coached by my father Eric in the 4th IV at Newington back in 1956. As I was the youngest in the group, Howard had phoned my father to tell him that I was going okay and that he would sort of keep an eye on me.
All of the Rejects 67 crew went on to the Mexico Games the next year, with me, Gary and John in the VIII and Howard as the team boatman at the Games.
Without a coach following the crew, they adopted a series of technical exercises which were done every session as part of their training. In some respects, each exercise was done without any thought what the technical benefit might be, but they did improve each oarsman’s proficiency and concentration levels. Square blade rowing, inside arm, wide grip with the outside arm doing the work and the inside hand just sitting down the shaft out of the way, back chock rowing through to 1/4 & 1/2 slide as well as any other exercise that came to mind. How the rowing felt became very important to the crew, and from time-to-time guest coaches were asked to have a look from outside the boat. Among them were Lance Robinson, Maurice Grace and Alan Callaway.
The synergy that comes from four self-motivated athletes was very strong.
The crew went on to win the selection race comfortably, too comfortably – the selectors deemed the crew not fast enough to be sent away. The Mercantile crew that finished 2nd in the race had been the Australian representatives the year before at the World Championships in Bled, Yugoslavia.
I and Reg Free from Tasmania were added by the selection panel to the eights squad. Both of us were ultimately selected in the eight for the two-month tour, which included the Canadian Henley and North American Championships in St. Catherines, Ontario, followed by the U.S. Nationals on the Schuylkill River, Philadelphia, and then the European Championships in Vichy, France. A very ambitious tour for those times as a lead up to the 1968 Olympics. I was 20 years old.
Australian VIII 1967
1967 Tour of New Zealand
At the end of the eight-week tour of North America and France, on the plane coming home, members of the team were asked if they were available for another tour to New Zealand in late November of the same year. Only Alan Grover, Alf Duval and I said we were available from a team of 15. This later proved a big mistake for the others because only the three Sydney RC members of that eight, who went on to New Zealand, made the Olympic Team.
With the selection Regatta looming for the New Zealand tour, Phil Cayzer, the Sydney RC coach, formed a four with Joe Fazio (recovering from a recent spinal fusion operation) and a young Kim Mackney, who had just transferred from Mosman Rowing Club, being added to the returning tourists. Although not rowing very well as a four, we won the selection race easily and were selected for the three-week New Zealand tour.
Phil Cayzer was not available for the tour, which meant that our four were to coach ourselves in a similar process to the Reject 67 crew. For three weeks the crew toured New Zealand travelling by bus with the NZ team and racing every three, four days at every conceivable rowing venue on both Islands and training sessions fitting in between. The crew learnt to be very independent.
Both of these fours established what was to be a pattern of crew members (particularly the stern three who had been on the eight-week tour) contributing and agreeing on training, rigging and day-to-day running of the crew.
Years later as a coach, I realised that the best plans were those where the participants played a part in the planning process. It is also psychologically very good for a team.
Australian Representatives, New Zealand, November 1967
After three weeks, struggling with a local boat, which riggers had the pin leaning in by some 10-15 degrees, which we assumed was a factory mistake rather than Kiwi tactic, we finally got it right and had the best row of the series. The race was won by a composite crew containing the Australian sculler Peter Edwards, New Zealand sculler Tom Mills, the New Zealand sculling coach Tom Reid and stroked by Warren Cole the New Zealand team reserve. Warren Cole won gold the next year in the coxed four in Mexico. Australia beat the New Zealand four to finish second.
Eleven of the oarsmen went on to win Olympic medals in 1968 and 1972.
The tour proved to be a wonderful learning curve with all but Kim Mackney going on to Mexico as the stern end of a very good VIII, which won the Olympic silver medal.
It should be noted that while Phil Cayzer was not able to travel, he was not at home sitting idle. Phil was getting together what was to be the other half of the club VIII that was to challenge the current champions from Haberfield. Gary Pearce and John Ranch from the Reject 67 four had transferred to Sydney RC and formed another coxed four with two Sydney boys, John Nixon and Graeme Farrell and my former school coxswain Ian Chessell. They were training like buggery to knock us off when we returned from New Zealand at the December Coxed Four Championships. Great rivalry built up between these two crews to the extent that later after many other victories both crews were still firing shots at each other over the Champion Fours Race, which the New Zealand tourists won in a great tussle.
The competition between our two fours made the eight races seem very easy in comparison.
Part II will be published tomorrow.