Guy Williams is well known in NZ rowing circles and a welcome addition to the PROSKIFF team. From 22 July he will be helping get more of our high-performance rowing skiffs on the water in clubs and schools around the country.
Having recently returned to Canterbury rowing to take on the head coach role at St Andrew’s College, Guy is pleased to have found a way to return to the region and the sport he loves.
A qualified builder, he plans to build houses during the winter months and spend the rowing season building up the squad at St Andrew’s. “It’s great to be able to combine my two passions,” says Guy.
The coaching position is part time, so to make it work financially Guy needed to find a way to fill the rest of the week. “I knew Michael from when we coached the winter RPC programme together,” says Guy. “I loved working with him around the rowing stroke, and other things.”
Both Michael and Guy share an exacting standard when it comes to their respective crafts. Guy builds high end architectural homes, where his attention to detail comes down to the finest millimetre, whilst Michael’s boats are designed and built to consistently high standards. “You know with PROSKIFF, the level is high from boat to boat, with little variance in quality,” says Guy.
“I spoke to Mike when the job posting at St Andrew’s went up, and we came up with the perfect solution; to work with him part time at PROSKIFF.”
The timing could not have been better, both for Guy and PROSKIFF. "We're starting to get some real momentum as we get our name out there and more and more of our boats win medals at Nationals and Maadi," adds Michael. "We’ve probably needed to bring on someone for a while, but I've been pretty selective about who as I won't compromise on the quality of our boats or service to our customers. Having someone of Guy's caliber is awesome, was an easy decision and a win-win.”
Guy brings a unique set of skills to the team. His years as cox set him on the path for coaching. More than simply steering the boat and shouting out when to row faster, a cox’s role is about leadership and being able to read people well.
“A common misconception is that the cox is only there to count the strokes,” agrees Guy. “In truth, the role is to set the tone. It’s about providing encouragement and clear guidance, and being a strong voice. You need to know each rower well to provide the right motivation and support.”
Guy talks about the importance of knowing when to be the voice building the crew up and when to be the voice of calm, as an integral part to get the best from the crew on the water, in training and on race day.
“It’s important to know the crew and what works for them individually and together when prepping. Do they need building up and hype or quiet, for example.”
We asked Guy about the challenges in being the smallest crew member. “When you are 55kg and have to stand out among a bunch of 6’4’’ rowers, you’ve got to be confident,” laughs Guy. “They are all big guys.” He adds how “having and exuding confidence is also what gives the crew confidence.”
“Amid all the noise and tension of a regatta, the voice they need to hear is the cox.”
Being a good cox also involves getting what the coaches want across to the rowers. This means there is a lot of involvement with the coaching team, which helped make the transition from cox to coach fairly seamless.
Guy talks about the pros and cons of his experience on the water and how it influences his coaching style.
“The transition from cox to coach is in some ways easier [that from rowing] as we work with the coaching team more closely. So in a sense we’re almost coaching already, which is a big advantage as we are exposed to a lot of different coaching styles,” says Guy.
“The lack of experience as a rower was the only real disadvantage – not having been through the physical side of rowing.” Guy addressed this by taking up the oars himself for a time. “When I left school I did 2 years coaching in the UK and spent one of those years rowing.”
Being a selector is another feather in Guy’s cap, an opportunity that came from Rowing NZ who asked him to take part in the Under 18 South Island squad selection in 2013. “As a head coach, you are selecting internally to achieve the fastest crews for the boats, particularly at the business end of the season.”
“For the regional squad you are bringing lots of different rowers together from different programmes, and it is an exciting challenge to see which fit with one another the best.”
As any rowing coach will attest, rowing is different from other sports in that you don’t have the luxury of rotating players all through the season. “Whilst everyone is rowing together for the first half of the season, after Christmas it changes, you start making selections and specialising,” Guy says. “As a coach or a selector, you want to select the fastest athletes in the top crews; boat speed is the most important factor.”
Guy stands by the belief that it is the rowing crew that wins races, and the hard work they put into their fitness and performance. “As coaches we work hard to teach them what they need to know to get the best out of themselves, and the coxswains help them bring it all out when it counts.”
And the boats? “Well, crews need every competitive advantage they can get and as much of their energy turning into boat speed as possible. Good, stiff gear can help shave off seconds, which at the top level can be the difference between first and third.”
Guy is looking forward to the coming rowing season with a sense of optimism for the future of the sport in the region.
“It is massively beneficial to the rowing community in the South Island to have a boat builder in Christchurch. Having someone with Michael’s experience and support on hand at regattas to help the coaches and crews is something not to be taken for granted.”