The erg is no substitute for on-water rowing, yet it remains the best tool we have for improving sport-specific fitness and the basics of the stroke. On terra firma, coaches can manipulate their athletes’ bodies into the correct position, in effect, showing them how to row. Little tricks like marking the chain return area of the erg to emphasize hand heights also help to demystify technical elements.
De-emphasize the connection between erg scores and selection.
When it comes to testing, start novices off with 2k pieces and only gradually move to the dreaded 6k as a means to reduce anxiety. Also, de-emphasize the connection between erg scores and selection, at least early on. There’ll be plenty of time for that later. You could also arrange the ergs in a line, the way you would seat an eight, to have your crew work on timing and following a stroke. Using the winter to teach drills you plan on using in the spring saves the precious time on the water that would otherwise be used to explain the drill. Finally, keep the focus on good technique. Your rowers are creating muscle memory; what they learn now, indoors, will be with them for life.