BY BILL MANNING
PHOTO BY ED MORAN
Successful coaches possess a clear understanding of what the rowing stroke should look like. They picture it in their mind. It is the fundamental, necessary first step to teaching others. Only a coach certain of what an athlete should do can help them develop correct technique. One coaching message may still yield multiple rowing interpretations but muddled coaching messages are guaranteed to produce multiple, often incorrect, rowing interpretations.
The laws of physics determine the basic parameters of the stroke. These are widely agreed upon and readily found in any book or video of highly successful rowing. Style, on the other hand, is a particular approach to the stroke and in this there is great variety and, often, corresponding confusion.
When it comes to style it is less important which style is the absolute best and far more important that the style doesn’t interfere with the fundamentals of rowing and, generally, that the crew row the same style together. Adhering to the basic laws of physics, coaches should develop their own technical picture/shape of the stroke. This is picking their style. This includes the desired rhythm too. The technical stylistic considerations are many:
- Drive the legs, back, and arms sequentially or simultaneously?
- Pause at the release or not? If so, at race rate or only lower rates?
- Keep recovery speed consistent or accelerating?
- Square over the toe, as part of the entry, or allow the water to complete the squaring?
- Inside arm straight or bent?
- Wrists flat or arched?
- Bodies centered over keel or turning into the riggers?
There are fast athletes who do all of these things. This fact alone proves that none of these considerations will ultimately limit the effectiveness of the chosen stroke cycle.
To determine a preferred style, imitate with understanding. Coach what others do successfully but know the difference between their substance and style. Coaches do not need to reinvent the proverbial wheel so long as they understand how the wheel works. An additional consideration is that both coach and athletes must feel comfortable with the desired stroke mechanics and rhythm. If disagreement exists, progress will be fundamentally limited. A final criteria is that the preferred stroke should be one that the athletes can learn. There is no sense in asking young athletes to attempt something well beyond their developing capabilities or asking those with a different body shape to imitate Olympians. Coaching skill begins with knowing what to teach and continues with knowing how to do so and adapting the coaching to fit the athletes.
With a clear picture of what to teach, buy in from the athletes, and a little time, a coach can dramatically improve their rowers’ skills and boat speed.