Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Rowing the Mahon Way

Rowing the Mahon Way
From Keystrokes – NZ Coaching Newsletter, April 2005
This article was sourced via the internet. I no longer have the source page and have been unable to re-find the link and the author of this document. The purpose of this statement is to acknowledge the contribution of the author and Harry Mahon.

Many of us have witnessed Harry Mahon at work at close quarters. I have asked Harry to put a few thoughts on paper regarding:
What he felt were the main requirements of good technique in order to produce top boat speed.
What were the prevalent faults he had seen in NZ that were hindering boat movement.

Harry Stressed:
The rowing stroke is a push and not a pull.
We must aim to move the boat past the oar, and not the oar past the boat. Hence a large white frothy puddle suggests a waste of energy in that the oarsman is pulling rather concentrating on a good lock up of the blade in the water.
The importance of the inside arm in finishing off the stroke – the inside arm coming past the body with a relaxed shoulder allowing the oar to come easily out of the water at the end of the stroke.
The sequence of legs, body, shoulders, arms and hands during the drive, and in reverse on the recovery.
Placing the blade in the water with the outside arm from a strong body position (sit tall!), and the outside arm again performing a vital task at the end of the stroke in extracting the blade out of the water with a downward
The avoidance of shoulder lift and arm snatch at the catch – the arms merely connecting the oar to the energy source.
Relaxation – easily said, less easily achieved.
Encouraging your rowers to sit and feel the boat running. Hence the importance of picking the boat up at the catch with no hesitation on the front stop.
Sculling being no different to rowing, and providing the ideal vehicle for interpreting the run of the boat – watch the stern movement.
Balance – Harry said he does not stress balance as such but works on those things that in themselves produce good balance. He is wary of balancing exercises that lead to a tensing of the body when relaxation is of prime importance.

Harry noticed:
A lot of pullers
Catches being taken with the arms, and in some instances with shoulders
Tightness of the body at the finish resulting in poor finishes and awkward body movements.
Rushed recoveries with knees coming up too soon
Resulting in arriving at the front stop unprepared in body and mind for the catch and causing unwanted body movements and pauses at the very place that they are not wanted. Harry stressed his debt to the influence of Thor Nilsen as demonstrated at the 1981 Seminar which helped to crystallize his thinking on both technique and training methods. It is interesting to note that in his eight seasons with Waikato their 15 premier titles have been achieved with a variety of techniques as Harry slowly developed his approach to what moved the boats best. The following are some comments written by a club oarsman after a session with him. For those crews who have had the opportunity to work out with Harry, a useful exercise could be to get the rowers, like this one, to put their interpretation of what they heard and did on paper as regards the Mahon Way.

In reading the following remember it is one oarsman’s thoughts on what he heard and understood.
The catch is a placing of, or anchoring of, the blade in the water so you can push against it with the legs.
The stroke involves pushing with the legs, keeping the shoulders and arms relaxed, and at the same time opening hip angle and shoulders to keep the distance between body and oar handle.
The finish of the stroke should be strong with the inside arm, and elbow pushed straight back.
In the recovery phase hands should flow out at the speed they came in, and pack up before moving forward. Emphasis here was on rhythm and flow.
Sit tall with a strong back, and can therefore have the hands higher at the catch which is stronger.
A lot of white water represents pulling and not pushing = loss of power.

Some thoughts on technique by Harry Mahon:
After having travelled to many parts of New Zealand over the past 15 months, it may be of interest to coaches and rowers for me to comment on aspects of the rowing stroke that require attention on order that the many people rowing can improve their efficiency and boat moving effectiveness.

Some key faults:
Pulling the oar with the arms rather than anchoring the oar in the water and pushing the boat past the oar (or sculls). The only pushing ‘mechanism’ available to us is our legs. Some indicators of this fault are: a washy blade (large puddle), and legs not going down quickly.
One arm rowing – this involves taking the catch with the inside arm, in many cases with only one hand on the oar. It generally involves a snatch of the catch with that hand and sometimes means that the person rows short. It is fairly obvious to see, but often a difficult fault to correct. This results in a weak finish. Energy expended on the catch is therefore not available for the end of the stroke.
Tightness (stiffness), particularly of the inside shoulder at the catch. If this shoulder is higher than the outside the entry level is lessened; as well, the tightness does not allow the power from the legs to be transferred to the blade.
Feathering and squaring the blade needs more attention. Oars (and sculls) are being gripped too tightly and the structure of the gate is not being utilised. In general, many people are not ready to enter the water when they reach the front of the slide. The blade must be squared before reaching the front so that entry can be immediate. Only the inside wrist should be used in this operation with concentration on placing the oar in the water with the outside hand. As well, people with an inadequate finish turn the blade (by varying degrees) to help with the extraction.
Lack of finish to the stroke. The power is not finished off with the inside arm. As a consequence the amount of boat run per stroke is lessened. These are probably the most noticed individual faults and the first three mentioned are very closely interrelated. There are some other less commonly seen individual faults:
Leaning away from the oar at the finish of the stroke and consequently not keeping the body weight behind the blade.
Leaning back to far at the finish and pulling up on the shoes. The person is unbalanced and has left the shoulder segment of the stroke too late.
Traveling around the blade on the way to the catch, leaning away from the oar. This creates balance problems as weight is shifted from one side to the seat to the other.
Pushing away with the legs before the blade has been locked in the water. Thus the full leg drive is not utilized and no effective contribution is made to crew power generation.

Finally some crew problems:
Slide control – either too much or too little. In the first case it means that by the time the crew is entering the water the boat has slowed considerably from the previous stroke. Consequently more effort is required to ‘pick up’ the boat again. If the slide has traveled too quickly the run generated from the previous stroke is cut considerably as the boat is not allowed to run. This generally results in a high rating crew which does not have a strong finish to each stroke. It is important that a perpetual motion situation is developed which allows for maximum efficiency.
Crew stiffness in crew movements, especially on the recovery. Additional energy is thus used which should be utilized in moving the boat. As well, balance problems occur.

Note well:
The important thing is that all of these things cannot be worked on at once and coaches must isolate the problem that they feel is the most significant and work steadily through each person’s needs. I tried to correct the whole lot at once because in most instances the time allocation came to just a few minutes per person. So take your time, and many of the smaller problems will take care of themselves.

Interview with Christian Felkel, High Performance Director, RowSA

Interview with Christian Felkel, High Performance Director, RowSA

1. What is your rowing & coaching background? (no. of years, crews coached, responsibilities, results etc)

I started coaching in 1983 in Germany as assistant coach in women’s rowing club in Frankfurt/GER. Every year we had people in the German National Team at various levels.

The highlights:
Year Boat class Event Result
1984 LW 4- FISA Championships Gold
1985 LW 4- Worlds Gold
1986 W 2- Nations Cup Gold

In 1992 I took over the lightweight men in Frankfurt/GER
Year Boat class Event Result
1993 LM 4- Nations Cup Gold
1993 LM 2x Nations Cup Silver

In 1995 I went to South Africa where I started to coach the women. They managed to qualify for the Atlanta Olympics and came 11th at the Olympics.Since 1997 I looked after the whole South African team. In 1998 we started the men’s pair. The women’s pair went to the 2000 Olympics.

Year Boat class Event Result
1998 W1x Worlds 11th
1998 M2- Worlds 10th
1999 W2- Worlds 9th
1999 M2- Worlds 7th
1999 LM 4- Worlds 10th
2000 W2- Olympics 5th
2000 M2- Olympics 6th
2000 LM 4- Olympics 5th
2001 M2- Worlds Bronze Medal
2002 M2- Worlds Silver Medal
2002 W2- Worlds 5th
2002 LM 4- Nations Cup Silver Medal
2003 M2- Worlds Bronze Medal
2004 M2- Olympics Bronze Medal
2005 M2- Worlds Silver Medal
2006 M2- World 7th
2007 M2- Worlds 5th

2. Who taught you how to coach/where did you learn how to coach?

I joined a rowing club and I worked under the coach at the club for the first few years. I also completed coach’s courses from the German Federation. In addition I went to take part in the FISA Coaches Academy in 2001.

3. Who has influenced your coaching method the most and why?

Without a doubt on the technical side it is Harry Mahon. I have never met a person with such good understanding on how to move a boat. In other aspects of coaching I am influenced by the German approach. Hard work. Long hours.

4. What advice do you have for young or novice coaches?

Listen to people to pick up on information. Share knowledge, then the other will be more open. Listen to your rowers; they are a good source of information. They way they feel when doing your programme.

5. What do you think is the most important element to get right with regards to technique?

Connection, I think without that the rower will not feel anything. So the focus should be on finding the boat and connecting to it.

6. Describe 2 drills/exercises that you think are the most important

The catch exercise to feel the connection, it is approach to the catch and entry. Start from 3/4 slide, come forward and take the stroke and feel the hang on the handle. Watch the timing of seat and spoon to optimize the exercise.Legs only, and with this attention on the hanging, that means that the bodyweight has to be off the seat. Try to use the legs just for the first 1/4 and see if you can connect and hang. Then push longer and longer. Most importantly is the connection through the back. It must not give but the shoulders should be relaxed.

7. What session do you think is your most important in your training programs?

Since good performance comes from a variety of sessions not one is more important then the other. Having said that I do believe that PowerStrokes are a great session to do, it is important to look out for poor execution but it is a powerful session. Make sure that the resistance is not too great. You need some fluid movement of the boat. Don't do more than 40 strokes at the time. I have seen that the quality of execution is suffering if it goes over 40 strokes.Example: (6 x 30) x 3

8. What is the most important thing that you think South Africa coaches should work on with their athletes?

Endurance, in rowing it is important to have a big engine, even for lightweights, and the only way to get a big engine is to train a lot. Long hours on the water are required, if water is not available then the erg. Best would be to use the RowPerfect as it doesn't impact on knees and backs.

9. Which is the best crew that you have seen rowing?

The Australian pair is one of the best as they have a rhythmic and powerful stroke, they are concentrating on quality of each stroke. Don and Ramon on a good day are going in this direction. If you catch them on Roodeplaat have a look at the rhythm and the power that is put into each stroke.

What Coaches Can Learn From Great Managers

What Coaches Can Learn From Great Managers
What Coaches Can Learn From Great Managers: “Breaking All The Rules” In Selecting And Coaching Your Athletes
By Kirsten Peterson PhD
From Olympic Coach, Vol 16. No#2, Summer 2004
Athletes don’t change all that much. Don’t waste time trying to put in what was left
out. Try and draw out what was left in. That is hard enough.

This paraphrase is at the heart of the best-selling management book entitled First, Break All the Rules. Through numerous in-depth interviews of the best versus average managers, the authors of this book question the conventional wisdom about how to select for and develop productive employees. The main findings of this book have some interesting implications for coaches interested in maximising the performance of their athletes.

Understanding Skills, Knowledge, and Talent
Central to this book’s message is that skills, knowledge and talents are distinct and different concepts. The authors argue that understanding these distinctions are critical for coaches eager to tap their athletes’ potential in its entirety. One such distinction that great coaches already know but that managers are just beginning to realise, is that while skills and knowledge can be taught, talent cannot. What is interesting for coaches is what falls under the heading of “talent” and is therefore considered unchangeable. For the sake of clarity, here is how each of these terms is defined.

Skills are the ‘how-to’s’ of a role – capabilities that can be transferred from one person to another. Knowledge, on the other hand, comprises what you’re aware of factually as well as what you have learned from experience.

Experiential knowledge is what you pick up over time as you reflect back on your experiences and draw connections and patterns and includes, among other things, your unique perspective, your biases, and your values. The athlete who is able to analyse her competitive experiences to determine what works best for her during competition is developing her experiential knowledge.

Talent, the authors contend, is distinct from knowledge and skill and is the product of how your brain’s pathways developed and in response to your unique upbringing and which kinds of thinking and behaving were rewarded or punished along the way. In short, your talents are your recurring thoughts, feelings, or behaviours. The authors have identified three types of talents:

Striving – this talent explains the ‘why’ of an athlete. What motivates her? Is she competitive, achievement oriented, afraid to fail?
Thinking – this talent explicates, the ‘how’ of an athlete. How he thinks. Is he disciplined? Organised? Spontaneous?
Relating – this talent explains the ‘who’ of an athlete. Who he is drawn to or repelled by, is he introverted or extroverted?

Great coaches therefore, should find their players roles that play to those players’ talents and can do so in two ways. They create the environment that allows each athlete’s talent to flourish. Second, they define the right outcomes and allow each athlete to find his own route to those outcomes.

Some coaches might question the idea that qualities like ‘drive’ and ‘motivation’ are unchangeable. There is little that is as frustrating as the highly skilled athlete who is not motivated to train or compete to her perceived potential. Few sports psychologists escape the question from coaches wanting to know how to better motivate those one or two gifted, but seemingly uncoachable athletes. Great coaches, like great managers, have learned something from this kind of frustration, and have learned to redefine the issue. Accepting that an athlete’s source of motivation is unchangeable does not necessarily mean that you cannot succeed with him. It may just mean that you have not yet individualised your approach enough to help this particular striving talent emerge.

Lesson #1: Individualise Your Approach to Cultivate and Maximise the Talents of Your Athletes

Great managers will tell you to focus on each person’s strengths and manage around his weaknesses. Don’t try to fix the weaknesses. The lesson for coaches? Don’t try to perfect each of your athletes. Instead do everything you can to help each athlete to cultivate his talents. Help each athlete to become more of who he already is. Keep in mind that this does not mean that athletes cannot learn to do things differently. Skills and knowledge are malleable. Talent, however, is not.

Great managers can describe in detail the unique talents of each of their people, what drives each one, how each thinks, and how each builds relationships. Great coaches do the same. Ask your athletes about their goals, about where they see their career heading, and how they want to interact with you. Other great questions for your athletes:
Ø Do you want public recognition or private? Written or verbal?
Ø Tell me about the most meaningful recognition you ever received. Why was it memorable?
Ø How do you learn best?
Ø Who was the best coach you had? How did he or she help you?

Great managers consistently reject the Golden Rule: Don’t treat your people as you would like to be treated….treat them how each of them would like to be treated. The hardest thing about being a manager is realising that your people will not do things the way you would. But get used to it. Because if you force them to, two things happen. They become resentful – they don’t want to do it. And neither is productive over the long haul.
Lesson #2 – Spend Most of Your Time with Your Best Athletes
“The harder he works, the better he performs, and the more leeway he gets from me.” – Jimmy Johnson, NFL Coach

Great coaches such as Jimmy Johnson break conventional wisdom management rules by refusing to apply one-size-fits-all approach to the athletes in their charge. They reject the traditional approach that suggests that the best use of time is to bring up the lowest performers, and to assume that their best athletes are doing fine without them. Great managers agree, for the following reason:
It’s fair – the only way to treat someone fairly is to treat them as they deserve to be treated (not treating everyone the same) bearing in mind what they have accomplished
It’s the best way to learn – You as a coach can’t learn about excellence by only spending time with those athletes who need more work. Ask questions and spend time with your best athletes. Listen to what they do, watch how they do it. Replay it, dissect it, and understand what happened and why it worked.
It’s the only way to reach excellence – The best managers don’t use ‘average’ but ‘excellent’ as the standard to judge performance. Those who are already performing above average are the ones most likely to reach excellence.

Lesson #3 – Be a Catalyst
Great managers refuse to limit their role to controller or instructor. Instead, they spend their time trying to figure out better ways to unleash their best performers’ distinct talents. Certainly all coaches would consider teaching to be central to their role, since sport acquisition is obviously critical to athletic success. Taken on its own, however, skill is often not enough. Consider Michael Jordan and the Chicago Bulls, who languished as play-off non-contenders for several seasons before Michael was persuaded to redirect his considerable skills to put the interest of the team’s success over his own. Here are some ways that you become more of a catalyst with your athletes:
Ø Strive to cut out a unique set of expectations for your athletes that stretch and focus them
Ø Highlight each athlete’s unique style. Draw his attention to it; help him understand how it works for him and how to perfect it
Ø No news is not good news for athletes – it kills behaviour. Great coaches don’t forget to continue to reinforce the talents of their best performers. If you see your stars acting up, it is a sure sign that you have been paying attention to the wrong behaviours and the wrong people

As the authors of ‘First, Break all the Rules’ rightly pointed out in their introduction, there are more differences than similarities between the world’s best, be it coaches or managers. Beyond these differences in style, however, there do appear to be some universal truths in how best to help your athletes achieve their best. Don’t be afraid to break some rules along the way.

Talent Identification

Talent Identification
By Tudor Bompa
From Periodization: Theory and Methodology of Training, 4th Ed. Human Kinetics Publishers. Pp 273 – 285.

The process of identifying the most talented athletes to involve in an organized training program is one of the most important concerns of contemporary sports. Everyone can learn to sing, dance, or paint, but few individuals ever reach a high level of mastery. In sports, as in the arts, it is therefore important to discover the most talented individuals and select them at an early age, then to monitor them continually and assist them to climb to the highest levels of mastery.

In the past, and even today in most Western countries, a youngster’s involvement in sport was based mostly on tradition, ideals, and desire to participate in a sport because of its popularity, parental pressure, a high school teacher’s specialty, the proximity of sports facilities, and so on. For East European training specialists, such methods are no loner satisfactory. They discovered that individuals who, for example, had natural talent for distance running often ended up as mediocre sprinters. Obviously the outcome rarely led to high performance.

A coach must invest work and time in individuals who possess superior natural abilities other wise the coach wastes talent, time, and energy, or at best produces mediocrity. The main objective of talent identification is to identify and select those athletes who have the greatest abilities for a sport.

Talent identification is not a new concept in athletics, although not much is formally done about it, especially in the Western World. In the late 1960s and early 1970s, most East European countries established specific methods for identifying potential high class athletes. Some of the selection procedures used were discovered and directed by scientists, who then advised the coach which youngsters had the required abilities for a sport.

The results were more than dramatic. Several medalists in the 1972, 1976, 1980, and 1984 Olympic Games, particularly from the former East Germany, were scientifically selected. The same was true for Bulgaria in 1976, when almost 80% of its medalists were the result of a thorough talent identification process.

A group of scientists and rowing specialists in Romania in 1976 selected young girls to participate in rowing. The initial 100 girls were selected from 27 000 teenagers. By 1978 the group had been reduced to 25, and most of these made the team for the Moscow Olympics. The result was 1 gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze medals. Another group selected in the late 1070s produced 5 gold medals and 1 silver medal at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles and 9 medals at the 1988 Seoul Olympic Games.

The talent identification process has to be a preoccupation of training specialists and coaches, to further its advances and improve psychobiological criteria used to discover more talented individuals for high performance athletics.

Using scientific criteria in the process of talent identification has several advantages:
Ø It substantially reduces the time required to reach high performance by selecting individuals who are gifted in sport.
Ø It eliminates the high volume of work, energy, and talent on the part of the coach. The coaches training effectiveness is enhanced by training primarily those athletes with superior abilities.
Ø It increases the competitiveness and the number of athletes aiming at and reaching high performance levels. As a result, there is a stronger and more homogenous national team capable of better international performance.
Ø It increases an athletes self confidence, because his or her performance dynamics are known to be more dramatic than other athletes of the same age who did not go through the selection process.
Ø It indirectly facilitates applying scientific training, because sport scientists who assist in talent identification can be motivated to continue to monitor the athletes training.

Talent Identification Methods
In training there are two basic methods of selection, natural and scientific. Natural selection is the normal approach, the natural way of developing an athlete in sport. It assumes an athlete enrolls in a sport as a result of local influence (school tradition, parent’s wishes, peers). The performance evolution of athletes determined by natural selection depends on, amongst other factors, whether by coincidence, they take part in a school sport for which they are talented. It may occur, therefore, that an individuals performance evolution in slow, mostly because the selection of the ideal sport was incorrect.

Scientific selection is the method by which a coach selected prospective youngsters who have proven natural abilities for a sport. Thus compared with individuals identified through the natural method, the time required for those selected scientifically to reach high performance is much shorter. For sports in which height or weight is a requirement, for instance basketball, volleyball, football, rowing, and throwing events, you should strongly consider scientific selection. The same is true for other sports, such as sprinting, judo, hockey, and jumping events in athletics, in which speed, reaction time, coordination, and power are dominant. You can detect such qualities with the assistance of sport scientists. As a result of scientific testing, the most talented individuals are scientifically selected or directed in an appropriate sport.

Criteria for Talent Identification
High performance athletics requires specific biological profiles of athletes with outstanding motor abilities and strong psychological traits. Training science has made impressive steps forward in the past decades, which is one of the min reasons for constant improvements in athletic performance. Other dramatic improvements have also bee in the quantity and quality of training.

If, however, an individual involved in sports has a biological handicap or lacks the necessary abilities for a sport, then even excessive training cannot overcome the initial lack of natural abilities. Scientific selection is therefore vital to hig performance athletics.

Individuals not selected for high performance athletics are not excluded from sports. They can take part in recreational programs in which they can fulfill their physical and social needs and participate in competitions.

Optimal training requires optimal criteria for talent identification. Not necessarily in order of importance, some of the main criteria are as follows.

Ø Health is an absolute necessity for everyone participating in training. Each youngster must, therefore, have a thorough medical examination before being accepted into a club. The physician should recommend and the coach should select for training only healthy individuals. During the examination, medical and testing specialists should observe whether a candidate has physical or organic malfunction and make recommendations accordingly. You should not select an individual with a malformation for dynamic sports, for instance hockey, basketball, track and field, swimming or boxing. On the other hand, such discrimination should be more liberal for sports with static characteristics such as shooting, archery and bowling. Similarly, physiological status of an individual, that is the ability to move arms, legs and so on should also play a role in talent identification, because physiological disparities can play a restrictive role. Once again, the eventual discrimination between candidates has to correlate with the physiological needs and specifics of a sport.

Ø Biometric qualities, or anthropometric measurements, of an individual are important assets for several sports and, therefore, you must consider them among the main criteria for talent identification. Heigh, weight, or length of the limbs play dominant roles in certain sports. It is however difficult to predict the dynamics of an individuals growth and development during the early stage of talent identification, which is performed at the age of 4 to 6 for such sports as gymnastics, figure skating and swimming. During the primary phase of talent identification, therefore, look mostly for harmonious physical development. You can do this by examining the leg joint and hip and shoulder widths and the ratio between them.

Ø At a later age (teens), you may use hand plates (growth plates in the wrist region) and hand radiography (X-Ray) techniques to test whether growth is complete. If the tester concludes growth is complete, the coach may make decisions as to whether the height of the given athlete is optimal for a particular sport.

Ø Heredity, a complex biological phenomenon, often plays an important role in training. Children tend to inherit their parents biological and psychological characteristics, although though education, training, and social conditioning, they may slightly alter qualities.

Ø The view on the role of heredity in training is neither uniform nor unanimous, but the athlete’s genetic potential will ultimately limit the improvements in physiological capabilities. Klissouras et al (1973) implied that systems and functions are genetically determined: the lactic acid system to the extent of 81.4%; heart rate 85.9%; and maximal VO2 93.4%.

Guidelines for Talent Identification Criteria
The criteria for talent identification, including tests, standards, and the optimal model, have to be sport specific. In many sports, especially those in which endurance or high volume of work is crucial, base the final selection on the athletes working capacity and the bodies ability to recover between training sessions. Dragan (1978) identifies the following test criteria:

Ø High anaerobic and aerobic capacity
Ø Coordination, concentration span
Ø Tall, long limbs, large biacromial diameter
Ø Resistance to fatigue and stress

The Quality of Approachability

The Quality of Approachability
By John Leonard

Recently at a swim meet, I had "accidental contact" with a young coach whom I had never met before. He came to offer his thanks and appreciation for what ASCA and WSCA are doing in the drug wars in our sport. After a few kind words, he mentioned that he didn't agree with all of ASCA's "philosophies," but knew that things are "a balance" and wanted me to know that he appreciated my efforts. Very nice of him.

I thanked him, and then asked what particular things he didn't agree with.... I am always interested in how the things we are working on are perceived. I was prepared for criticism of some program or project that we were undertaking, because I have certainly come to recognize that you can't please all of the people all of the time. What he said however, surprised me.

"Well, maybe its not philosophies, exactly... its more like, well, uhummmm... ah .... well ... ummm, it's that you seem so unapproachable sometimes."

Unapproachable? Me? Moi? Mr. Telephone-stuck-in-head, Mr. Walk the deck at every meet, talk to everyone, Me? Me? Gulp. What am I hearing?

I got over the shock, and asked him what he meant. He said, "you always seem so busy, and I never get to talk to you." As he said it, I saw something else cross his face.
My response was, "Gee, it doesn't seem like that to me. I spend about half of every work day answering phone calls from coaches, and another hour a day answering e-mail from people I often don't even know, and another hour a day writing letters in response to letters I get. If I'm unapproachable, an awful lot of people have gotten past it."

My new friend thought about that for a moment, then said, "you know, as I said that a second ago, I thought maybe really the problem is in me, not in you." Now I wanted to leap on that and agree with him... anything to avoid blaming myself ... but I resisted, and thought some more.
"You know" I said, "I think if you walk around this deck, you'll find an awful lot of coaches who bring me ideas in hopes and belief that I, and the ASCA Board, can help bring them to fruition. We have a pretty good track record in that regard.

"I know" he said, "and I think that's why I feel like I'm cut off ... I have ideas I want to get out there also."
A light came on like a cartoon in my mind.
"How old are you, coach?"
"I'm 29."

Well, at the time of this incident, I was two days short of my 50th birthday. "Coach, you know, you may have something there .... when I was 29, I couldn't even bring myself to talk to any of the name coaches in the sport. You're a long way ahead of that curve, you already have some ideas."

Some age-old principles of communication came back to me. The most relevant of which is that work expands to fill the time available. So does communication. I do an enormous amount of communicating. Everyone I have known and know now, communicates with me, some quite regularly, some everyday. Some, several times a day. And we are all like that. As a swim coach, we spend most of our time getting and receiving information from those we know. We rarely or scarcely have time for those we ... don't know.

So we are all "approached" and communicate very often, sometimes it seems, way too much. But each and every one of us spends most of our time communicating with those we know.

For a person like me, working with an association, or a person like you, working with another kind of association, known as a team, there is a huge temptation to reach "saturation level" with communication, and not seek out those people who are a "stretch" for us to communicate with. In my case, this young coach reminded me that I spend so much time receiving communication ... incoming calls, people coming up to tell me something, e-mail, snail mail, third hand reports, that I can neglect to get out and force myself to find ever more people, who I don't know, to get more input from, and seek out ideas. And that's a good idea for every coach.

And I think the young coach had a sudden realization that he was behaving a lot like the young parent who bemoans the "lack of communication" from the coach, but never telephones the coach, or comes to talk to the coach. He saw, I believe, that the opportunity was there, and he wasn't taking it.

The second principle of communication that this reminded me of is that unapproachable is in the eye of the beholder. I have never met a person associated with swimming in the coaching profession, who would not, when asked at a reasonable time and place, take all the time in the world to consider your question, and give you a respectful and well-thought-out response and try and help you. Its a cornerstone of our profession that we help each other to the best of our ability. I was thirty-two when I first got up the nerve to ask George Haines a question, after sneaking up behind him for years to listen to what he would tell his athletes at nationals. I was thirty-five and starting work at ASCA before I could bring myself to ask Coach Peter Daland for advice. Doc Counsilman came to me early in my career, and reminded me "how we do these things," or I might never have met him, and that turned into a lifelong admiration and respect and eventually friendship. I don't know that I ever would have felt worthy to approach Doc for help if he hadn't taken the initiative to help me out by straightening me out.
For young coaches today, including my new 29 year old friend, the key coaches in swimming are the Richard Quicks, the Mark Schuberts, the Skip Kenneys and many others. Those gentlemen are just as "approachable" as Doc, or George, or Peter, or Don Gambril. Respect their privacy and their need to take care of their own teams first, and then introduce yourself, tell them why you are coming to ask them something, then ask. You'll find them just as friendly and approachable as every other great coach throughout history, and as eager to help, and continue the tradition of established coaches helping the next generation the same way they were helped.

As for me, I'm going to make it a point to meet three new coaches I don't know, everywhere I go, and spend some time talking to them. Thanks to my new young friend, I was reminded of the valuable truths above.

And I hoped he learned that "approachable" is within you, not within the person you want to approach. Do it with your team parents, with your school administrators or other teachers .... and do it with your fellow coaches.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Careful with Drills

Just some observations from my coaching yesterday:
1. Drills are designed to help athletes grasp the concepts that the coach wants them to apply to their normal rowing. The actual motor pattern in the brain is quite different. The athlete must conciously try to integrate the drill into their normal rowing in order to create a better, more correct, motor pattern. This will then become automatic over thousands of better strokes.
2. The drill on its own will not automatically create better technique.
3. Overdoing the drill can actually cause more problems in the normal rowing technique if the athlete makes changes to try to "row the drill" all the time.

I recommend the following:
1. Do the drill for 10-15 strokes maximum and then return to normal rowing and try to integrate the elements learned during the drill into normal rowing.
2. Repeat the drill in sets so: 10-15 strokes drill - 10-15 normal - 10-15 drill - 10-15 normal etc.
3. Row 1 stroke drill, 1 stroke normal or 2 drill, 2 normal.
4. Return to normal rowing but thinking about the emphasise of the drill in normal rowing

E.g. Rowing Square Blades
To emphasise holding the spoon buried to the extraction, emphasizing the hand movement down and away to ensure clean extraction
How To Do It:
1. With a stable boat (1 pair balancing in a four) row with the spoons square the whole way through the stroke for 10-15 strokes
2. Then row normal for 10-15 strokes. Remind the rower to move the hands down (and have a clean extraction) by pushing the fingers of the outside hand down.
3. Repeat twice
4. Then row 1 squared - 1 feathered for 20 strokes
5. Increase the complexity by rowing all four so the boat is now more unstable. Repeat the sequence all four.

Tuesday, October 2, 2007

African Coaches Conference Presentation - Preparation for SA Junior Team

Preparation for the SA Junior Team
Jamie Croly

African Rowing Coaches Conference
University of Johannesburg
22 September 2007

The Junior World Championships is an annual event on the International Rowing Calendar organized by the International Rowing Federation (FISA).
It is open to entries from National Federations (i.e. RowSA) and has 13 boat classes for Junior Men (7) and Women (6). All athletes must be J18 (turning 18) in the year of the competition or younger.
The regatta runs over 4 days and attracts entries from over 50 countries. The 4 rounds that rowers may have to compete in are HEATS, REPECHAGES or QUARTER FINALS, SEMI FINALS and FINALS, depending on the number of entries in each boat class. There are up to 6 lanes per race and finals are grouped into 6 lane races
A FINAL = 1-6
B FINAL = 7-12
C FINAL = 13-17

It is the intention of the IC to select boats that are capable of rowing in the Top 6 places at the Junior World Championships. Crews that do not display this standard of performance will be unlikely to be selected unless of a transformation nature.
Through a well structured assessment, selection and preparation as well as a well organized tour the aim is to give all of the athletes involved an experience that will ensure that the are enthusiastic about continuing on to future high performance programs.
The Junior Team should be seen as the start of the Olympic pathway.

Physical power is absolutely critical for the achievement of high performance. It is unlikely that any person that does not achieve the performance standards set out on the slides will be capable of making an A Final at the Junior World Championships.
The ergometer is an excellent measure of physiology and will be used throughout the assessment, selection and preparation of the Junior Team in order to measure physiological gains in performance. The ergometer will be used in conjunction with racing in single sculls and pairs, and other selected boat classes.
Physical size has a large effect on the ability to produce power on the ergometer and so bigger people must produce faster times and more power. Increased mass adds drag to the hull and so must be overcame by increased power production.
Strength training is critical in the development of power and all athletes selected will participate in a strength training program. It is essential therefore that all juniors have access to a facility that offers strength training equipment.
Even if the physical factors are achieved it is still necessary to row with a high skill level and technical efficiency. Coaches and athletes must emphasize the development of effective technique in the early season (Sep-Mar) that will allow a high volume of training load to be achieved in the preparation for the Junior World Championships. Athletes with poor technique will be extremely unlikely to achieve the performance targets particularly the boat speed targets.

The ergometer targets listed above indicate the power levels that athletes should aim for in order to achieve an A Final at the Junior World Championships.
It is important to achieve all the items listed particularly the 7str (starting strength) 250m (anaerobic power) 2000m (aerobic capacity) & >5000m (aerobic endurance) testing. Weaknesses in any one of these areas will limit performance at the World Championships
7str – ability to move the boat from stand still to race pace as soon as possible – will enable crew to be in contention in first 50m of start
250m – ability to row anaerobically in first 250m of race and gain position in early phases. Important for race positioning. Rowing from behind is physiologically hard and mentally tough to be behind in first part of race. If the other crews get clear water it becomes extremely tough as the crew will be rowing on their own
2000m – Aerobic capacity – indicated the crews maximal ability to deliver and use oxygen. Vital for 2000m race performance
>5000m – indicates the efficiency that the athlete uses fuel for performance. High efficiency will delay onset of fatigue and allow high force production to continue for longer.

Coaches and selectors are looking for athletes that are pushing themselves to the maximum in order to achieve and surpass the performance targets.
Athletes must choose rowing over other activities and sports. The focus must be on achieving the performance targets and as such many other activities will have to be put aside or done in a reduced capacity. You cannot do everything!
All training and racing must be conducted with the objective of winning. This is NOT school sport – performance is everything! Coaches will be constantly measuring athletes on the water, on the ergometer and in the gym to look for increases. Athletes and coaches must be concerned with numbers. If the numbers are improving the boat speed should be improving and therefore the ability to meet performance targets.
Athletes are also expected to be actively involved in the training process. They are an integral part of the process and must assist the coach to evaluate and structure training. Athletes should try to understand more of what the training program involves as well as to understand how the program is constructed and what the program is trying to achieve. This allows for effective feedback.
Coaches are not always around and also get sick or have other commitments that will mean that on occasion athletes will train on their own and must be able to complete the training without the coaches prompting.

The athletes should not participate in any other sports programs whilst members of the SA Junior Team. This will ensure that the coaches have continuous control over the training load and that it is not affected by outside factors. Others sports such as rugby, hockey, netball and cross country also carry a significant risk of traumatic injury which would mean the withdrawal of a boat from the team.
There will be no holidays during the preparation period as this would mean regression of the training state.
There will also be very few days off. Athletes can expect to feel some sensations of tiredness most of the time. This is necessary as the body adapt to a higher capacity. The only times that the athlete is likely to feel really good is at the JWC.

An athlete that lives the 24 Hour lifestyle is constantly analyzing what they do and how it will influence their training. Will going out at night leave them tired for the hard morning session? What are the best days to put appointments on?

The training load outlined on the slide is the minimum load that must be achieved in order to develop the physical attributes necessary to achieve the performance targets.
Endurance is one of the critical components and in order to increase it the body needs to develop increased capacity in the organs (heart, circulatory system and muscles) as well as increased efficiency through the increase in metabolic enzymes as well as well as improved skill through technique. Endurance is developed over many months and years especially with Junior athletes that are still growing. You cannot “get fit” in weeks. Preparation for the Junior World Championships is developed over 2-3 years of structured training.
It is especially important that from January onward the endurance load is increased to a minimum of 100km per week consistently. The load may be lighter in the Sep-Jan part of the season if the coach wants to spend more time on perfecting technique.
It is also critical to take part in a strength training program. This does not always involve the traditional “weight lifting” exercises but can range from body weights, through medicine balls, strength bands, and up to exercise machines and free weights. Athletes should seek the help of an experienced coach or fellow athlete when beginning a strength training program. The athlete should begin with exercises that use the body weight and once they are competent with those may progress onto other forms of resistance training
The preparation period is extensive and must take place all year round. After a period of light training (2-3 weeks) after the last season the athletes recommences training and builds it up over several weeks until the training load is at the required level.

All endurance is beneficial and “alternative” sessions can be conducted when it is not possible to row or ergo or the athlete wishes to do something different. When calculating the weekly load and taking into account the alternative endurance exercises the distance traveled can be multiplied by the factor next to the number to give an equivalent of rowing distance. However rowing specific training is critical for high performance at the Junior World Championships and must be maintained throughout the season.

Strength training is absolutely critical. You will NOT reach the performance targets without some form of strength training program.
Strength develops slower in women that in men mainly due to the lower level of testosterone which is a primary reason for development of muscle mass. This is not to say that women cannot be really strong. Per cross sectional area of muscle women can be as strong as men. It is mainly a combination of lower muscle mass and higher body fat levels required to maintain reproductive function that women are “weaker” than men.
Because of this women must be more consistent than men with strength training as their gains will take much longer to achieve but will regress at the same rate as men once training is ceased.
With Junior Women strength training can be extremely beneficial and will significantly reduce the possibility of injuries particularly those of the repetitive strain type. Strength training also gives stability to joints.
It is important to start the strength program slowly with either medicine balls and strength bands in J14 and J15 and progress through circuit training and onto formal strength exercise as the athletes matures through J16-J18.
Any athlete that does not take part in a rigorous strength program and attempts to complete the training load will run a risk of injuries. Strength training must be started well before the training load becomes high so that the required strength to cope with the high forces developed has already been achieved.

Just as the body increases its capacity to perform work (exercise) when a stress is applied so it will reduce its capacity when no work is applied. If more than 9 days go by without a strong training stimulus then the body will begin to significantly reduce its capacity for work. After a period of several weeks (i.e. December holidays) off there will be severe regression and reduction in performance.

Just as the body increases its capacity to perform work (exercise) when a stress is applied so it will reduce its capacity when no work is applied. If more than 9 days go by without a strong training stimulus then the body will begin to significantly reduce its capacity for work. After a period of several weeks (i.e. December holidays) off there will be severe regression and reduction in performance.

In order to be selected to the SA Junior Team there are several steps that athletes need to take in order to be selected.
1.They must meet the requirements of FISA in that they must not be older than 18 in the year of the championships
2.The athlete must complete the selection process.
3.They must meet the standards set by the RowSA International Commission.
4.The crews must then show an improvement in times and testing standards through the winter

The preparation time for the JWC is 22 weeks from the SA Schools Regatta. This includes the time for testing and selection.
Athletes must be available for all 22 weeks of this preparation and must be available to complete training on all days of this preparation period. There is not time for the athlete to be absent from training for holidays etc. Absence from training can be reason for RowSA to withdraw a boat/athlete from the team.
During school holidays the coaches will be organizing training camps from 2-3 weeks duration
An athlete can expect to have approximately 8 days off over the 22 weeks of the training period.
Training will take place at Roodeplaat Dam on at least 4 sessions each week. The training program will have 9-10 sessions per week, some of which will be under the coaches supervision and others the athlete will have to complete on their own.
Athletes will compete at the Gauteng Senior Champs, SA Snr Champs and several squad regattas in the lead up to the JWC

The program is planned by the coaches with the required loads necessary to achieve a successful result at the JWC. This will be of a continuously high load and intensity that will systematically prepare the athlete for the speeds required at JWC. There will be continuous assessment of the athletes physiological progress in the form of monthly ergometer testing.
The training program will take into account the school timetable so not all boats will follow an identical program but they will all have the same load and intensity. Coaches will schedule rowing on days that school finishes early in order to maximize water time and to ensure that athletes are not home too late at night. They will use later days for less time consuming training sessions such as strength training or ergo.
The training program will not be reduced in volume to accommodate academics or other social engagements. The only way that training can be reduced is to reduce the performance target at the end but that target is non negotiable = Top 6. If the athlete cannot complete the training volume then they will be withdrawn from the team. Athletes will be expected to have effective time management in order to sustain the training load as well as maintain an acceptable level of academics. This may include a reduced social life or free time for social activities ie. watching TV.

The training program will have 8-10 session per week depending on the stage of the season and the training objectives for that week. Some “lighter” rest weeks will have less sessions and “harder” weeks will have 9-10 sessions. On training camp athletes can expect up to 3 session per day.
During the weeks most training will take place in the afternoon as that is when the most time is available. The coaches may however schedule several morning session that the athlete will have to complete on their own. These will generally be shorter session and those that do not require much lifting from the parents i.e. run, ergo etc.
The program varies in order to allow periods of recovery as well as progressive overload. Recovery is usually planned to take place as a gradual restoration of energy capacity and will take place over several days. It is not practical to simply have time off as the body reacts by starting to regress.
The hard weeks will take place as progressive overload where the training load is built up to a higher level than previously tolerated followed by a recovery period that allows adaptation to the new load.

The training program is designed around the time needed to recover adequately from training sessions. The coach will assess the time required for energy systems to recover from the training stimulus and schedule the next training session accordingly.
Therefore it is important that the training conducted as scheduled. If a session is missed it is lost forever as you cannot simply just “catch up”. The cumulative stress will then be too much for adequate recovery to occur before the next session. If adequate recovery does not occur then during subsequent training the athlete is not capable of training at the intensity/speed required for an increase in capacity.

Rest and recovery are the most critical aspects of the training program. The athlete is always weaker after training and only stronger after rest, recovery and adaptation have occurred.
OFF on the program means OFF. Not catch up training missed, not time for all night party, not late night study sessions. Rest and recovery are enhanced mainly by sleep and good nutrition.
Athletes must be getting 8 hours sleep per night minimum as well as naps where possible. In order to achieve this effective time management is critical as well as choosing a sporty lifestyle where training is very high priority. If the athlete chooses partying over recovery then they should not expect to see improvements in performance.

There are many factors that effect stress on the athlete and all can reduce or interfere with the rate of recovery from training.
Social – fights with partners, late nights, alcohol, even too little social life!
Nutritional – insufficient calories, inadequate nutrients, inappropriate meals
Medical – illness, menstrual cycle etc
Financial – costs of training, gym contracts, camps, tours, food, transport etc
Travel – Time in cars, busses, planes etc
Academic – study loads, exams, homework etc
Parental – interference, reluctance, fights, divorces etc
Coaches will plan training in order to keep those they can control to a minimum as well as being available to advise on those that the athlete can control or that the parent can assist with.

It is extremely important that the athlete has a neutral or positive energy balance. I.e the amount of calories eaten must match the amount expended through life activities as well as training. If a negative balance is achieved then training will begin to suffer as a result of a poor energy supply.
A well balanced diet consisting of a large amount of carbohydrate (60%+) – pasta, potatoes, rice, fruits, vegetables as well as protein and fats. A variety of fresh foods i.e. fruit and vegetables should be enough to provide the vitamins and minerals needed.

Carbohydrates are critical for maintaining training load as they form the fuel source for the majority of training that will take place. A deficiency in carbohydrates will lead to an inability to maintain training loads
Fats are extremely important for women's sport as they are required for production of hormones critical for reproductive functions and bone density. Low fat diets and high training loads will increase the risk of amenorrhea and osteoporosis later in life. Diets with sufficient fats and strength training can reduce the risk of these conditions.
Protein are also extremely important as they are required to maintain or increase muscle mass – required for force production.

Please do not try and fad diets such as the zone diet, no carbs after lunch etc as you will fail to meet the training requirement

Athletes are 100% responsible for what goes into their body and what is found in their body. It is extremely important that all medication is checked with the SA Institute for Drug Free Sport before it is taken.
Supplements and herbal/homeopath medications are not regulated and do not disclose all active ingredients. It is strongly recommended that you do not take any of these substances.
Athletes that take medication for long term conditions must fill in and have accepted by SAIDS a TUE or ATUE form

The tour will be entirely arranged by RowSA incl flights, other transport, accommodation, entries, boats. A manger to arrange the tour as well as accompany the tour will be appointed by RowSA at the time of the National Junior Selection Regatta.
Athletes will be part of touring party from the time of departure from SA until released from the tour after the regatta or upon return to RSA. Athletes may not leave the team for other activities on the tour i.e. sightseeing or other functions.
Parents are responsible for payment of an equal share of the costs of the tour before the tour leaves RSA. This cost includes the manager and coaches costs. RowSA will not be arranging any fundraising efforts although parents may get together and organize something. Any monies raised will be shared equally between all the touring party to offset costs equally. Any other reductions that parents may have such as free flights etc will also be used to equally offset the tour costs.
Parents may use voyager miles etc only if they are compatible with the airline and flights booked by the tour manager. No member of the touring party will be flying separate to the group.