BY VOLKER NOTLE | PHOTO BY LISA WORTHY
Modern movement theory begins with the idea that human movement is controlled not by simple stimulus-response mechanisms or by a sequence of regimented commands within an information process. Rather, our movements are target-oriented and problem-solving, and movement learning is a search for multiple strategies of movement organization that are considered successful when the movement achieves the intended goal. The coach is a mediator whose essential task is to create favorable conditions for the learner to find optimal solutions to the movement task.
Coordination strategies are not improved by coaches’ prescribing how to execute movements through technique models. Even in high-performance sports, it makes sense to set movement tasks in the context of movement perception; the athlete is supposed to feel the movement and find individual solutions independently. In order to harmonize the “ideal” biomechanical model of a particular technique with the “imaginary world” of the athlete, the external view of the coach and the internal view of the athlete must be consonant.
As the late world-class coach Karl Adam has stated, “The optimal form of movement can be found only through systematic trial and error; it cannot be forced through movement analysis and kinematic rules derived from it.” In other words, rowing in an unstable boat cannot be learned properly by performing the motion on an ergometer or a boat stabilized by the crew.
Also, it’s of little help to the beginner if the coach gives detailed instructions such as “Do this first, then this, then this.…” Yes, a beginner can learn basic movement sequences under stabilized conditions with a didactic teaching approach, but this is inefficient, time-consuming, and not tailored to individual rowers.
At the beginning of the learning process, novice rowers need relatively little input from a coach because they discover many correct movements on their own through trial and error. As rowers get better, the coach is needed more. In the early stages, beginners need a rough idea or picture of what they should be doing. This can be accomplished by watching videos of an experienced rower or by demonstrating the movement in the boat.
Then rowers need a chance to experiment and learn through feedback. For this, the single scull is the best learning tool because it gives learners immediate feedback that results directly and only from their own actions. Learning in a single scull enables the coach to leave the beginner alone to forge his own experiences as long as conditions are safe.
Although not ideal, rowing can be learned also in other boat classes, such as the eight. Here, the coach must allow beginners to repeat the movement often and experience the sport in circumstances that mimic as closely as possible “real” rowing, including maintaining balance. Rowers should perform many strokes as a complete crew, which requires more skilled attention and empathy from the coach.
Regardless of which boat beginners use, the primary responsibility of coaches is to provide properly rigged equipment, instruct crews in a safe environment, and convey the right information in a concise manner.
After learning first steps, rowers need a coach to specify improvements necessary to progress. The coach should identify the alteration that will help the rower and the crew best and communicate it so the rower perceives the change correctly. The rower then needs time not only to understand the movement but also, and most important, to realize how it feels.