Mehdi Garidi has recently arrived in Fujairah to take up the new position of National Modern Rowing Coach of the United Arab Emirates.
National and International Experience
Hailing from Algiers, Algeria, Garidi comes to the UAE with a distinguished career which commenced in 1992 when he started rowing. He soon demonstrated his leadership qualities, being appointed the stroke in the pairs, 4s and 8s and becoming all-Algerian champion in these different categories. Mehdi competed internationally and most notably represented Algeria in the African championships in 2003.
He became a Board member and Vice Chairman of the Algiers Rowing Club which, established in 1867, is the oldest rowing club in Algeria. Developing his skills further, Garidi became head coach of the Algiers Rowing team at the age of 22, assistant coach of the Algerian National Team and finally National Coach and Technical Director of the Algerian Rowing Federation.
At different stages, assuming responsibility for the maintenance and repair of the craft and working as director of a Sports Centre have broadened his technical, leadership and marketing skills. At one time Garidi was the youngest technical director of modern rowing in the world.
Mehdi Garidi had many things to do while stationed in Algeria, including plans to finish his university studies that his rowing career had put on hold.
The invitation to move to the United Arab Emirates was a surprising new turn of events as Garidi was not looking for a coaching job in another country.
“The UAE is a good opportunity,” says Garidi. “I like rowing. I like to spend my time encouraging children and young people to row, to teach them how to row and to push them to get results. It’s my world!”
When asked what attracted him to the UAE, Garidi said, “I like the challenge of helping to make a team and build a rowing world in the UAE.”
Coaching in the Emirates
The new UAE Rowing Coach seems undaunted by the fact that the country currently has no rowing boats, no rowers and not a lot of people who know about modern rowing. He said:
“The UAE has many traditional rowing boats, there is a long rowing tradition and the people here love rowing. I also like the fact that those overseeing modern rowing in the UAE have a big vision. Traditional rowing is like sumo wrestling in Japan. Sometimes there are 60 boats in a traditional rowing regatta with 10 or 16 rowers in each boat. We have to use this Emirati tradition as we build a new tradition of rowing in all the various Olympic categories.
The new UAE Rowing Coach sees the establishment of an overall vision and strategy as a team task but he has many dreams to propose.
From the establishment of a rowing club in Fujairah he wants to see clubs established in every emirate. The rise of UAE championships will give something to which these new rowers may aspire and from the development of a national team, Garidi is looking toward UAE teams competing in the Arab Games, the Asian Games, international regattas and ultimately at the Olympics. “We will try to improve and become better and better,” he said, “All things in good time.”
His appointment as a national coach has been the first task but from now there is a need to purchase boats, build hangars in which the craft might be housed and appoint local coaches to spearhead rowing in different clubs around the country.
“I cannot coach all the clubs alone. We must have other people to coach and my plan is to appoint and develop the coaches, to teach them rowing and how to coach and I will assess them.”
When asked if coaches need to have a distinguished record on the water he said, “It is not essential for coaches to be excellent rowers but they need to feel rowing. They have to feel what the rowers feel.”
When asked why Fujairah was selected to be the base for UAE rowing Garidi offered this reply:
“I had the same question. I soon discovered that Fujairah had a strong tradition and fine record in traditional rowing and this was the main reason why Fujairah had been chosen as a place from which rowing would be encouraged. As many members of the UAE Rowing Committee live in Fujairah it makes sense for the base to be in the eastern emirate. Added to this was the strong support that the Fujairah International Marine Club had given to the support of traditional rowing and the promise that the Club would support in every way the establishment of modern rowing in the UAE.”
The Fujairah International Marine Club has granted the UAE Sailing and Rowing Federation substantial office space in their ship-shaped building on the corniche, as well as much personal encouragement from the Managing Director, Major Ahmed Ibrahim Mohamed Darak.
One of the important facilities needed in Fujairah will be a modern well-equipped gymnasium for the rowers. The new coach said:
“If rowers are not in good physical condition they will not survive. The first thing to go will be their back. Many people think the development of big arm muscles is the first priority but this is incorrect. Fifty percent of the work of the rower is in the legs so rowers must develop very strong legs. Then attention must be given to developing back strength and after that strong arms will give finish and speed.”
“Thirty percent of a rower’s training time is spent in the gym rather than in the boat. Rowers in the UAE national team will have to work hard seven times a week. My Algerian National Team rowed 6,000 kilometres last year putting in 15-20 kilometres every day and 100 kilometres a week,” said the new UAE Coach, giving a glimpse of the work that was in store for UAE rowers.
In order to build towards a UAE national team Garidi has in mind getting started with 14 to 15 year old rowers—people who are strong enough to lift the boats and who have a minimum amount of muscles and conditioning.
As in Algeria, Mehdi Garidi will be encouraging women in the sport of modern rowing, a challenge that requires not only training the rowers but building confidence between the coach and their parents.
Row, Row, Row Your Boat from Fujairah to the London Olympics, Experiencing the Emirates, 15 November 2009.
Dr Geoff Pound
Geoff can be contacted by email at geoffpound(at)gmail.com on Facebook and Twitter.
Image: Mehdi Garidi, who has recently arrived in Fujairah to take up the new position of National Modern Rowing Coach of the United Arab Emirates.