Michael Morgan: My Coaching Journey – Part IV

Coach Michael Morgan

7 February 2022

By Michael Morgan

Michael Morgan continues his story about his coaching journey in Australia. Part I of his story is here, Part II is here and Part III is here.

It has been said before that when you think you know it all, it’s time to give up.

Michael Morgan perhaps? – “Failing to plan is planning to fail”
Probably me that said, “Failing to plan is planning to fail”. I have said it so many times that I can’t remember where it came from. Unfortunately, I only became computer literate late in life. What I could have done with XL and a spread sheet when I started coaching in 1974? Perhaps there are plenty of rowers like Islay Lee that are grateful I didn’t have that facility? I like to think that as a coach I was a meticulous planner.

“You can write on the back of a match box how to row”
It has been often said that rowing is a very simple exercise. If it’s so simple then, how come over the years so many books have been written on how to row?

When I was asked to say a few words at a Newington coaches meeting, I took heed of Dr David Mulford’s comment when he joined Newington as Headmaster that his previous Chair of Council asked him to confine his reports to one A4 page. Putting this thought into practise and a view to the old saying that, ‘you can write on the back of a matchbox how to row’, I wrote:

Rowing Lessons learnt over a few years with school crews

  • The majority of crews come off the back too fast and then stop at the front. This results in them effectively rowing short as well as killing the run of the boat.
  • ES &EO (Every Stroke and Easy Oar). The exercise has its origins in Victoria but is a favourite of mine and Bob Buntine. It helps address all of the above and can be adopted in many forms. When crews get tired and lose their form, it’s the easiest way to not practice bad habits.
  • Most crews don’t row enough kilometres even though the line ‘miles makes champions’ has been around for years.
  • Time is the greatest enemy and yet how often do I see crews slow and unsupervised getting on and off the water (not to mention the damage bill and time lost on repairs). If it takes a crew 10 minutes to cover 2km and they lose conservatively 10 minutes each normal weekday over their 18 weeks of school term training. With 2 weekdays training a week they will be down 72kms over the season.

Add this to the time that the coach sits talking to the crew while they sit still. I suppose the theory is that you can’t listen and absorb information while moving.

It is frightening how many minutes and kms you can be down over a season.

  • Numbers and Statistics tell us a lot. In a 6-minute boat race, the crew spends 4 minutes with the blade out of the water therefore the recovery is the major part of the race and yet rarely gets that  proportion of our attention.

A 1% improvement on 6 mins. is 3.6 secs. This is over a boat length. What makes up 1%?

Back to the earlier point about time. A Year 10 eight might cover 1000 km over the season. How easy it is to be down a 100km over that time. That represents 10%. I am sure those missing kilometres would go a long way to a better result.

  • We all know that Speed = Length x Power x Rate. We see it in manuals; on noticeboards etc. Do we really understand what it means or how to achieve it?

 What is often not understood is the difference between Strength and Power? What does Length really mean?

Rate can be achieved by rushing to the front and stopping but is that what we want?

Speed can be achieved without rhythm but can it be maintained? I think what gets left out of the thinking are the words: rhythm, beat, swing, tempo.

  • Good athletes make us all look good as coaches. The best shed, program, coaches and equipment won’t win a boat race without the athletes. Recruiting suitable types is always a priority. We have to sell our sport. – Michael Morgan

Less is best
Most coaches say too much. One of my many coaches was Norm “Cocko” Grounds. In about 1966, Norm was coaching the Sydney eight. As we came under the railway bridge at Ryde, Norm said, “in a moment I’m going to stop talking, so that you can concentrate on what I am about to say”. By the time Norm had told us what we were going to concentrate on when he was saying nothing, we had arrived back at the clubhouse (about 5 kms away) at Abbotsford and went in.

I had the pleasure of coaching the Newington first eight with Bob Buntine from 1984 to 2000. Bob would come down every Thursday afternoon and on Saturday mornings at 10 am to take the boys for their second row. During this time, I generally went and coached the year 7 boys and left Bob to himself. Occasionally, I would go with Bob to either just observe or video the crew. Some days I seemed to sit there for an age wondering why Bob wasn’t saying anything. Why doesn’t he tell so and so this and that? I learnt a valuable lesson because when Bob did speak, he had their full attention. Sometimes he would be just waiting for them to row one stroke in time and then he would say “well done”.

Another line of Bob’s was that “you can’t win a boat race sitting on a bank”. That was fine until in 1984, two nights before the Head of the River, both Newington eights went out training and sank off Gladesville point.

Sometimes I think it would be better to turn the megaphone around and look at the crew with it” Bruce Evans (before electric megaphones became the norm)

Bruce always had a simple way of putting things, which was probably why he was such a good coach. When you turned the old tin megaphone around and looked at the crew with it, you went to a very narrow focus. So often people see but they don’t really see the real picture because their focus is so broad, they miss the detail. Like looking at a forest and only seeing trees until you focus on one tree and suddenly you see the tree is full of monkeys.

Somewhere on the coaching journey, I attended a coaching seminar where a large group was shown a video where, in about a two-metre circle, a group was to make bounce passes with a basketball across the circle and for about a minute the attending coaches were to count how many bounce passes had been made. At the end when asked, most watching seemed to have a number around the 30 marks. When the lecturer then asked if anyone saw the Gorilla? We all looked blankly at each other until the lecturer replayed the video. Someone wearing a Gorilla suit was continually running across the circle, but the audience was so focused on counting the bounce passes that no one noticed the Gorilla. Sometimes “we see but don’t see”.

Part V will be published tomorrow.

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