Issue 94 - December 1996
Regional Development Coaches
A forthright Scottish turn of phrase makes John McArthur an unlikely candidate for the Diplomatic Service but he's adamant that he has become accomplished in the fine art of tongue biting.
'You become a diplomat by making mistakes and I've made enough mistakes to be a great diplomat.' McArthur's candid admission speaks volumes for the role which the ARA's new breed of Regional Development Coaches will have to play. McArthur has spent the last 18 months as the ARA's guinea pig in a region of the country which he only knew as being 'somewhere between London and Glasgow and on the left a bit.'
The world of West Midlands rowing was a culture shock for an ambitious coach who left Loch Lomond 12 years ago, with his mate Peter Haining, in the single-minded pursuit of becoming a national coach.
By 26 he'd coached the lightweight coxless four up to the Bled World Championships. But life's odd. By 32 he found himself sampling the scenic delights of the West Midlands rowing circuit. 'I hadn't been to a poxy river regatta since I was a boy.' A translation is needed here. Poxy is not Scottish slang for good - never has been, never will be. But rowers in the West Midlands are learning that anything not perfect in every respect is 'poxy' in McArthur's rowing lexicon. The weather is poxy, the paint job in his new flat is poxy and, yes, rowing in the West Midlands was poxy. But all that means is it wasn't up to his exacting standards.
'I admit it. I'm obsessive and 'in your face' but I believe in raising expectations. The new training techniques and methodology I was using in 1989 were only just filtering through when I got here.'
This frankness has led to a few disgruntled individuals but for many like Bewdley and Stourport oarsman-turned-coach, Stuart Winter, having a mentor has proved inspirational. 'He's put ideas in my head I would never have had, which I've used with other crews and he's taught me that things are either right or wrong - there's no middle ground with him.'
And McArthur's mantra is now one Winter is happy to call his own:
'Technique, technique, technique - teach them right first time and you'll never have to go back.' 'As far as I'm concerned regional development coaches are the way forward. John's certainly given me the confidence to pass his teaching on - one of his mates even mistook one of my crews for one of his and I took that as a great compliment.'
But McArthur freely admits not all clubs have benefited from his pursuit of performance and excellence. Former Captain of Stratford BC, Chris Atwell, points out: 'You can't train what you haven't got.
The idea is good, and I benefited from his seminars personally, but for one reason or another Stratford BC hasn't felt any impact from the appointment. We're aware he exists and that we're not getting the most out of him but I've never satisfied myself how this problem can be overcome.'
The assumption that every club has active and willing coaches is Mr Atwell's principal concern. 'We have no coaches as such so I feel we'd benefit more from a team of floating coaches.'
This observation highlights the vicious circle which affects many small clubs: plenty of active rowers but no dedicated coaches. Breaking the circle though must lie with the clubs according to Gary Harris, chair of the ARA's National Coaching Committee, and a member of Birmingham RC. 'Ultimately clubs have to professionalise their approach to coaching.' The ARA's plan is to eventually employ nine regional coaches based around teaching institutions or sports development centres with the specific brief of helping coaches to coach. Mr Harris explained: 'The ultimate aim is to show clubs what a professional can do and encourage them to go that one step further - after all there's only so much you can squeeze out of volunteers.'
Success though will depend on individuals in the region having reasonable expectations and trust in the scheme, Mr Harris believes. 'If people fear one club is going to get all the attention and that club is scared that everyone is going to get a free ride on their back it won't work.' The regional chairman, Robert Bayliss, is certain of the benefits. 'By improving the coaching base we may not produce a Redgrave but we will improve the overall standard of rowing in the region.'
And for the ARA's new recruits McArthur recommends a good dose of vision .'Find out what the clubs want, what their challenges are, make sure they feel you're working for them and then give them a vision to focus on.'
A Regional Development Coach's CV
© Copyright Jonathon Carr-Brown, 1996.
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