October Master’s Feature: Be Your Own Best Coach
September 30, 2011
So with one more month or so left to go in the head racing season, now is a final chance to make any improvements, meet the goals you’ve set and have that final race go just how you want. First you need to evaluate where you’re at. As a coach, I was never much good at really observing my crew on race day. Instead, it was all about, “Are we winning?” It’s easy to think you had a good race if you placed well, but competition changes. You need to be able to clearly evaluate your performance.
As I write these articles, I find myself speaking to and imagining my audience as scullers. Partly because that’s who we coach at Calm Waters, but also because from what I’ve heard, most clubs provide coaching for their sweep program more often than their scullers. As I’ve said before, you need to be your own best coach. That’s particularly true for single scullers, but even sweep rowers who have a coach often get little individual attention.
So with one more month or so left to go in the head racing season, now is a final chance to make any improvements, meet the goals you’ve set and have that final race go just how you want. First you need to evaluate where you’re at. As a coach, I was never much good at really observing my crew on race day. Instead, it was all about, “Are we winning?” It’s easy to think you had a good race if you placed well, but competition changes. You need to be able to clearly evaluate your performance. Was the start clean and strong? Did the adrenaline jack the rate up too high? Were you able to settle in and find a rhythm that set you up well for the rest of the race? Did you end up with too little or too much left in the last 1,000 meters? Did you lose time around the turns? Have trouble passing?
There’s nothing like racing to become a better racer, but sometimes we can’t get out there as often as we’d like. Alternatives include finding training partners and having mock races with them. The advantage of mock, or practice, races is you can try different strategies without having so much on the line. Should you be more/less aggressive? Higher/lower rate? Find out what works best. If you have no one to row with, you can still go the distance and try different things to see if some new race plan works better.
Then there’s always visualization. See yourself sticking to your race plan – clean start, strong settle, good rhythm, steady pacing and just enough energy to finish strong. Determine where your weaknesses are and try to work on them in practice. If you’re simply not fit enough, it may be next year that you tackle that. Meanwhile, be a little less aggressive and find a better pace that can keep you going.
If you have trouble passing, do a leap frog practice with a training partner, preferably someone with similar speed. Start with one boat a length up, the lead boat rows steady while the lagging boat picks up the pressure until he/she gets a length up and slows back down to steady pressure. Meanwhile, the lagging boat, which had been the lead boat, picks up his/her pressure to get past and back to a length lead. Keep going for a set amount of time. Even better if you can do this workout around some turns.
And speaking of turns, if you’re racing on a course with a lot of twists and turns, it’s going to be important to turn well and not give up too much speed in the process. First, make sure you’re turning your head to look during the drive and not at the finish. Wearing a mirror will help you see what’s immediately behind you but chances are, you’ll still be turning your head occasionally. Most people tend to pause and dip to one side when they look at the release. The boat is much more stable mid-drive. Unless you’re on a really sharp turn, try not to dedicate the entire stroke to the turn. You want to maintain your speed so instead of approaching the catch as always, and then pulling harder on one side, approach the catch prepared to turn. For example, let’s say you need to turn to port. Reach out further with your starboard arm, letting the port arm lag. Catch with each oar at the same time even though the arms are offset stern to bow. Now focus on using the starboard side of the body to push/pull harder and faster until the handles are even and then finish the stroke with equal pressure on both oars. Not only does this allow you to finish that stroke with more forward momentum, but you’re turning the boat when the blade is at a better angle to turn, i.e. closer to the bow. Basically, instead of finishing with the hands/arms offset, you start offset.
Start being your own best coach and make your final race of the season your best. Good luck!
Charlotte Hollings and her husband, John Dunn have spent more than 70 years immersed in the sport of rowing. Both have rowed on the U.S. National Team, winning several international medals. Charlotte’s coaching career has taken her west to Stanford University before heading back east to Boston University and then Cornell University. John remained close to home, coaching at his alma mater of Cornell University for 18 years, first as the frosh lightweight coach, then varsity lightweight and finally varsity women. In 2001, Hollings and Dunn started the sculling camp Calm Waters Rowing in Lancaster, Virginia. For more information, visit www.calmwatersrowing.com.