Interview: Calvin Ferguson Coach New Zealand

Calvin Ferguson is in Henley coaching the New Zealand national team double, lightweight double and lightweight single scull crews.  We caught up with him between races

How did you get into coaching?

I rowed for 19 years and had enough of that and so coaching was the next logical step. I didn’t have any formal training as I learnt as I went.  I started at Union Wanganui Rowing Club and had a group of club rowers in 2004 who raced at senior level (one below open club events) and we had some success.  Then I was given some junior and U23 crews because my athletes trialled successfully and that was my introduction to New Zealand representation.  I always wanted to coach at a high level and in 2007/8 I coached Mahe Drysdale in the single and he won the World Championships.

What is the hardest thing to coach an elite athlete like Mahe?

When we first started together I had to make technical changes to Mahe’s stroke.  He only won the world title in 2005 by a small margin and I had to make sure that didn’t happen again so the logical thing to do was to improve his stroke efficiency.  Mahe took on the changes that I suggested – he was happy to try new things and give me feedback too and that was rewarding.

What would you advise another coach in that scenario?

If you are coaching an experienced athlete and you need to make technical changes to their stroke, it can be hard to do.  If you are not sure of yourself, ask other coaches.  Sharing knowledge is important and you can do the same thing in many different ways.  If you ask and learn it makes you a better coach.

When you first start, many coaches want to do everything themselves because you want to do it well.  Asking questions is not a sign of weakness it’s part of the challenge you are taking on and I think it pays to remember that you wouldn’t have been given the job if you weren’t up to it.  Be open to suggestions from other coaches because nobody knows everything.

Do you have any mentors or coaching heros?

I look at succesful coaches like Dick Tonks (Head Coach NZ Rowing) and I try to take a little piece of everyone and add in my own flavour.  He’s a guy I can talk to one on one and ask anything.

How do you teach a technical change?

First I acknowledge the reasons the change is needed and I need the athletes to do the same.  If they aren’t sure about it I use video them to show them what I mean.  This allows them to have more buy-in.  They may suggest something else causes the issue and so we will try it their way and my way too and find a solution.

I use drills to teach technique.  Use repetition to get it right.

So what’s the big secret to the NZ fast boat speeds?

I have spent time the the Danish national team and the Italians and the balance of their training is a bit different from ours.  The UK programme is similar to the NZ one.  We do a lot of mileage but the programme is balanced.  We do the work, the hard yards.

Its important to have the right technique to move the boat efficiently.  Do the right testing and when you train, know if you have had enough recovery or not.  Have a solid cool down procedure too.  There are no secrets in rowing.

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