BY BILL MANNING
PHOTO BY ED MORAN
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We race outdoors on varied and inconsistent bodies of water. Mostly 2K, but sometimes not. Straight or with turns. Starting level or staggered. The water flowing in the direction of the race, flowing against us, or still. There may be bridges, and of course, there is wind.
Upon arrival at an unfamiliar venue, simply slow down. Athletes will feel their nerves and be stressed. Coaches yelling to rig boats, do this and do that, and complaining increase athlete anxiety and hinder performance. Better to speak softly and project poise. Calm coaches give athletes confidence.
Survey the scene and appraise the landscape. Keep parents and others away from the trailer and team tent. Communicate where everyone can meet up so that the trailer/tent remains a safe space for the athletes always. Know where the restrooms are. Athletes of all ages will ask. Find shade.
Attend the coaches and coxswains meeting regardless of how many times you’ve “heard it all before.” Pay closest attention to safety, such as finding out whether the warm-up pattern differs between training times and race times. Ask, “Has anything changed since last year?”
Talk to the locals. The locals know their bodies of water far better than those who show up once a year for the championships. They know how the wind affects the course, how accurate the buoys are, and how the lanes may differ—knowledge that could advantage, or at least prevent ignorance from disadvantaging, your athletes.
Learn the directional orientation of the racecourse. With this and a simple weather report, you know if it’s a head-, tail-, or crosswind before arriving on site.
On the water, use the first-round trip to ensure the rig is correct and the boat good to go. Tell athletes to return to the dock to address any issues and then send them back out to re-test the equipment. Encourage looking out of the boat to learn what the markers are and where they are and to feel how the shoreline compares to the course, noting where it moves closer or farther away from shore. Be crystal clear on the placement of the finish line and whether or not it appears angled relative to the land. Then turn the focus to getting the rowing right.
Rehearse the warm-up. It may necessitate turning more frequently than at home, and athletes should get comfortable doing this. Time the warm-up from launching to sitting ready at the start. Appreciate that traffic will disrupt things and add time.
Regardless of how many times a coach has raced at a venue, it will be the first time for some athletes, and none of them likely knows it as well. Communicating what you’ve learned and what your coxswains and scullers need to know is essential. The coach’s knowledge is useless unless the athletes possess it on the water.