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Frames of Reference


Like weeds on your skeg, counterintuitive elements lurk in the stroke, ambushing our attempts to teach good technique. Persistently correcting such newbie habits a overreaching, skying the blade, rushing the slide, or pulling blades through the water, coaches strive to program effective repeatable patterns.

Two factors, however, trick the good intentions of our novices. The first is that they are not looking in the direction the boat is traveling. The second is that they need to drive the boat past the point where the blades are set. When facing the stern, the natural tendency is to move the body and hands in the direction the eyes are looking. As we know, this is in opposition to the travel of the boat and leads easily to mistiming at the front end and on the recovery.

This is especially apparent when coming off land training after hours on the erg. Shift the orientation of your novices. Ask them to “see” where the bow is going, to row with “eyes in the back of your head,” to sense where the blades are at all times, especially when out of sight. Once rowers begin to tune in to the direction that the boat is going, a switch flips and they begin to get new reference points. 

Next, ask your athletes to focus on where they set the blade in the water. Tell them to imagine that the blade enters and releases in roughly the same place. Lever or vault the boat past that point. Then let the boat run out from under the seat on the recovery versus fast-rolling over the tracks. Allow the boat to bring them to the top of the slide.

Small shifts in frames of reference can correct common mistakes quickly.

Marlene Royle is the author of Tip of the Blade: Notes on Rowing. She specializes in training for masters rowers, and her coaching service, Roylerow Performance Training Programs, provides the program and support to improve your competitive edge. For information, email Marlene at or visit

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