Great coaching can be about far more than winning medals, as a community programme at Clydesdale ARC and their coach Miki Lee Dale demonstrate
Being a great coach doesn’t have to be about the level of your technical ability, especially if success is measured by something other than the number of trophies your crews win.
That has been reinforced at Clydesdale ARC over the last few years, where coach Miki Lee Dale has been at the forefront of organising, encouraging and empowering what he hopes will become a community hub in a new boathouse.
Dale doesn’t have a lifetime’s experience in rowing – he came to it only a few years ago after returning to his native Glasgow from travelling in Nepal. However, he boasts experience in dance and yoga that bring a different dimension to organising and funding sport.
“When I came back from working in Nepal and Kathmandu, I moved in across the road [from the boathouse] and thought, I fancy this! I took part in learn-to-row then got into coaching and volunteering,” he says.
“To have a hope of gaining funding we knew we needed to change from a private club to a community one”
Since 2016, Dale has worked to establish the Glasgow City Schools Rowing Programme, working with 14 secondary schools, getting over 250 young people involved in indoor rowing and more than 180 on the water.
Each year the programme has culminated in the Glasgow City Schools Regatta on the River Clyde, with races on and off the water and a chance to celebrate achievements.
“When you work in the creative arts, to gain funding you have to do some community work as well. That’s not necessarily true in sport,” says Dale.
“The areas surrounding the club are areas of deprivation. The club can be a refuge and a community centre.
“I’m quite lucky that people come to me now because I’ve got a bit of a reputation and my programmes are quite valued. Four years ago, I used to pound on the doors of charities saying, ‘We’re here!”
“Rowing can be a tool to help a person develop”
The West Boathouse on Glasgow Green, which plays host to the summer regatta, has been home to Clydesdale and Clyde RC for 115 years. There are ambitious plans, with a budget of over £1 million, to rebuild it for another century of use.
Ken Diamond, CARC vice president, explains: “The boathouse is in severe need of refurbishment and in order to have a hope of gaining funding we knew we needed to change from a private club to a community one.”
Dale worked across Glasgow, funded by the Henley Royal Regatta Stewards’ Charitable Trust, from 2016 to ’18 but has been based solely at Clydesdale since then.
His day-to-day work is split between outreach work, visiting schools and community groups, and work at the club, either hosting those groups or coaching the club’s less experienced athletes.
Diamond says: “Miki has the benefit of being an excellent chap whose character appeals to a broad base within the club, from juniors of 11 or 12 to veterans in their 80s. That’s a unique skill.”
Athletes from schools and community groups usually row together for a maximum of six weeks, with those who want to do more joining club activities.
Dale says, “Rowing can be a tool to help a person develop,” and that is where the focus lies in his programme, with aims including building self-esteem and self-confidence, creating learning opportunities, considering risk, decision-making and looking to widen horizons.”
Most new juniors spend a year or so working with Dale before progressing up the Clydesdale pathway to work with other coaches.
“Rowing has helped me develop leadership and communication; it has helped me grow a bit more confident in myself”
Sixteen-year-old Niamh first found out about the club through the Doors Open initiative, where buildings around Glasgow host open days, and Clydesdale put on taster sessions.
“I think the only places I’d ever seen rowing was on the TV for the Olympics and the Boat Race. It just seemed like something quite foreign to me – I didn’t know how it worked or anything,” she says.
“After the Doors Open day, I went to one of the Easter camps for a week and I really liked it, so I ended up joining.”
Dara, 15, took up rowing to complement her hockey training but admits rowing “kind of overtook it”.
“Rowing has helped me develop leadership and communication. It has helped me grow a bit more confident in myself. Working with other people in the boat will help me work in other situations. It’s helped me work harder at school.”
Ava, 16, says the sport has brought her and older brother Adam closer: “In the past we did our own things and would just pass by each other going in and out of the house. Now we’ll sit down and talk about things more, whether it’s rowing or just life.”
Niamh adds: “Miki always goes the extra mile in terms of planning. He makes it easier for us to know what’s going on and that we’re up to date with everything.
“A lot of his criticism is still positive. He might say, ‘You’re doing this well but here’s how you could improve it.”
Eighteen-year-old Emma Morrison has been at the club for six years, competing at the Home International Regatta last summer. She is now one of Dale’s volunteer coaches as part of the Duke of Edinburgh award scheme.
She says: “I ask myself, ‘What would Miki or any of my coaches say to me if I was doing what my athletes are doing?’ I think of something positive that they would say to try and help.”
Morrison starts at Dundee University in the autumn and says: “I’m always going to stay in rowing.
“We always joke about coming back to the club as 70-year-old veterans, eating our toast [in the clubhouse] and rowing every week. We’re always going to be there.”
Asked about recent club highlights, Diamond mentions participation at the likes of the National Schools Regatta, and the club racing at Henley Royal.
But he adds: “It has been good to see the more social aspects develop, to see people just enjoying rowing and boating.”
Diamond admits that the Covid-19 pandemic has held up the progress of the new boathouse but says: “Hopefully we’ll be in our temporary home in Portakabins in September or October.
“Then Miki has another task, keeping the club together for a year and a half, so that when we move into a shiny new boathouse we will have retained our membership.”
Dale refers to members as the “lifeblood” of the club but, looking back over his time there, he says: “I think we’ve gained a wider sense of what is possible.
“In Scotland [traditionally], clubs are just used at evenings or weekends, but this is an example of how things could be if you commit to it.
“A club can be an asset to a community rather than it being about what a club can get out of it.”
Photos: F Gilmour / Clydesdale ARC