Giving feedback on the water

30 May 2021

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Harry was an amazing guy because he came to life so much when he got in the coaching launch, and the motorboat when he was following along behind, because he was so quiet off the water, and really quite reserved off the water.

Once he was on the water, he was able to grade and mark every stroke and give you feedback, every single stroke, on whether it was a good stroke, whether it wasn’t a good stroke.

So I might be doing a piece of work, and he would be saying, ‘Yeah, that’s a good stroke’. And… more specific than that as well. I want you to work on… if we’re looking at this finish, you know, whether I’m holding the work through here.

I think I talked earlier about this idea that, you know, the finish of the stroke was, you’ve got it here, it’s like scraping your fingers down a blackboard. It’s going to be painful but you’re gonna scrape out this last little bit to get the last little bit out.

So you might say, am I getting the work? And then, am I being quick? And it’d be, ‘Yep, that was a good one. Yep, that was a good one. No, that wasn’t a good one’. And I would start to figure out what a good one and a not-so-good one felt like.

And Harry was able to keep that communication going. Which is funny because, as I say, he gave me a lot of responsibility; though he gave me a lot of responsibility, he also gave me a lot of feedback.

Now, I was always an athlete that responded well, and Harry seemed to give me positive feedback most of the time. I certainly know if you talk to some of the guys who were in the eights he coached, there might be people to whom he’d given a lot of feedback, it was like, ‘No, no, no, you still haven’t got it. You still haven’t got it. You still haven’t got it’.

But he knew what he was looking for. And he knew what good felt like when the athlete felt it. And I hope eventually when those athletes got it, then they felt great. And then they were able to repeat it. But Harry gave a lot of feedback when you were out on the water.

Whatever it took

I think Harry had a very good idea of how good people could be.

And sometimes I know he would push people quite hard. And I’d see him coach other people relentlessly. ‘No, that’s not it. That’s not it. That’s not it. That’s not it.’

Eventually they’d get it. But he would, he would spend as long as it took to get someone to do something right.

Now, with me, I tended to respond fairly quickly. So I’d never say I’ve felt the uncomfortable end of Harry’s developmental feedback, which he was very ready to give.

But I would say, for me, I never felt the difficult side of that, but I did see it in action. But I know it came from a place of knowing how good people could be.

And I think most people who were coached by Harry would say, he cared about them being the best they could be, and he would get them there, whatever it took.

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Greg Searle

British rower Greg Searle was already an Olympic Champion in sweep rowing when he was first coached by Harry Mahon in the single scull.

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