We spoke with the Development squads Head coach Nick King and Coach Julian Johns.
Firstly, where did you guys learn to row?
NK: I learnt to row as an undergraduate in Oxford. I rowed for my College 1st 8 and did a little bit with the University Lightweight Squad. It is currently hard to believe I was ever that light!
JJ: A bit at school (Monkton Combe). Very agriculturally at University (ploughing the water!) And properly at Curlew. I was very lucky to have had Rick Geer & Ray Cassidy coach me at Curlew. Rick was an exemplary cox/coach for the men’s 1st VIII who also generously spent hours & hours coaching from the boat & the tank. Ray was incredible at the cementing the basics (50 pence pieces on the wrists, straws etc) while Rick could tell from your blade (while I was at Bow!) what I was doing with my shoulders, seat & hands..! I was never the best technical rower but I pushed myself physically as hard as I could to ensure I never slowed the boat down. It’s very difficult to row at the top level. But the patience that both Ray & Rick had to guide & develop me has stayed with me to this day.
When and why did you come to coach at Curlew?
NK: I started coaching again because injury put a stop to me rowing. That must have been around 2012 ish.
JJ: I was an active member of Curlew & felt that I needed to give something back to the club. I wanted to introduce other adult learners to the beauty & power of rowing & so I started to get involved with the learn to row programmes. Anne who was instrumental at the time in building the club from the Novice upwards was a huge influence & support. Plus I really enjoyed it!
Any curlew coaching highlights?
NK: Mostly it is the smiles and fun. Curlew manages to maintain a positive outlook and if people enjoy the sport then that is a clear reward in itself no matter their level of ability. There are three women who I have taught to row who have raced at Henley and four more who have competed at qualifiers. These are the quietly satisfying moments. As a coach one can never take too much credit. It is the athlete who has to put their body through the ringer.
JJ: Yes! Crews wining their 1st races. And helping rowers find their internal strength & competitive spirit that perhaps they didn’t know they had & seeing them push themselves to victory or PBs again & again. And a few have even rowed at Henley.
What’s the main struggle coaching a development squad?
NK: There are two challenges with any dev squad. 1 is to make sure they are taught to row correctly from the start. This is something we are better at now. Teaching rowing at a club is very different from at an Oxford College. At Curlew we have people 2 maybe 3 times a week. There needs to be a lot more recapping and the messages need to be super clear. At College we had crews out most mornings. It is of course so much easier when everyone lives in the same place and the river is literally round the corner. This means trial and error tends to result in much quicker initial development. It is more like when you learnt to walk. The second challenge is to align everyone’s ambitions and ability to commit. There is no easy answer to this as adult life is complicated and rowing can suck up a lot of time.
JJ: 2 things 1) I wish that I could spend more time to help our rowers & crews train & row to the best of their ability! 2) Building that squad mentality – you can only win as a crew / squad. We are all in it together from cox to the crew to the coach, so getting everyone to train & succeed for each other is sometimes hard! Especially when the weather, training, ergs & race results don’t quite go as we’d like!
What can people do to keep rowing ready while off the water?
NK: Did someone say cardio and core?
JJ: Build internal physical & mental fitness. How far can you push yourself when no one else is around. for eg can you do 100 sit ups. Not necc in one go but over a session can you be patient enough to push yourself to do 30, then 20, then 10, then 5, 5 more then 2, etc. Then the next time try and do 100 with less blocks. Essentially can you take the time & patience to push yourself! ps. I am trying this now & I promise you it’s not easy…! For mental fitness using visualisation -slowing down the rowing stoke as much as possible so that if anyone saw what you were doing they’d be a bit confused! Seriously it works – Elite tennis players & violinist have been doing this for years. It’s all about muscle memory!
Do you have any plans for the Dev squad when we finally get back on the water?
NK: Frankly at the moment I am not looking much beyond just getting back on the water. Once there we can work out what we can set about doing. I would love to get another boat of people we taught to row at Curlew to Henley qualifiers. It is a big ask but doable I reckon.
JJ: Yes – rebuilding that cohesion & synchronicity of moving the boat together! If you can’t row together as a crew even with lots of power you’ll never win. We’ll be building the short twitch muscles needed for sprinting too. Hence heavy weights in winter are important to build the lighter but more reps in summer. You need to build power & strength over winter & spring to then build the explosive strength needed for summer sprints & Henley!