Sunday, May 4, 2008

Emotional Intelligence

Emotional Intelligence
Dr Chris Shambrook
GBR Rowing Team Psychologist
FISA Coaches Conference, Budapest, Hungary 7- 11 November 2007

It seems to me that emotional intelligence is a bit of a change now from the theme that you had yesterday and first thing this morning so Ill try and position some of the things I’m going to talk about relative to relative to conditioning, relative to strength but will be thinking about that in terms of strength of mind to complement the eowrk that you have been focussing on in terms of strength of body and the preparation that you go through to ensure that the physical bits of the athlete are prepared as much as possible. Now obviously my role as a psychologist, completely biased I just think that the brain is the thing that is all important and the body is just the bit that we use to move the brain around. Obviously the body bit has fairly important performance implications for us in rowing as well, but if we get the mental bit absolutely right it can obviously have a big impact on the consistency and effectiveness with which the body is able to produce its peak performance at the critical times

So the emphasis today that I want is to realy get you think about how can you look at the brain in the same way that you do for the body and are there some key bits of information around Emotional Intelligence that we might be able to think about. That we might be able to identify and develop within athletes that will make them more able to produce performance that are consistent during training and of course through their regattas leading up to the critical final within the World Championships or the Olympic Games.

I also want to make sure that this session actually focuses on you the coach. I’m going to talk about Emotional Intelligence primarily, and having been around British rowing for 10 years that the coaches that I’ve had the privilege to work along side demonstrate Emotional Intelligence in abundance. They have huge experience, huge knowledge but their ability to interact with the athletes in a way that brings out the best in those athletes day in and day out is actually an essential part of the program that is on no training plan, its not written down, it not factored in its just something that coaches naturally have an aptitude toward but naturally keep working on al the time to ensure that they get the most out of the athlete in a way that they the coach lead the entire program.

So I do want you to think about yourselves as performers when Im talking as well. Your role as a coach is a critical performance challenge day in and day out and much of the stuff I talk about applies equally importantly to you as it does to the athletes that your working with. So this is an opportunity to think about how you can improve yourself to get more out of your athletes and what can you look for within your athletes to know they are going to get more out of themselves..

The other thing that I want you to think about here as well is that in my biased world as a psychologist I am not waiting for people to be broken before I come along and fix them. Most psychology work is of that nature. Most people think that you only go and see a psychologist if you are nuts, slightly mad or if there some interpersonal problems or there some loss of confidence, an inability to get along with team mates. It usually a negative perception of psychology. Within the world of elite sport that just cant be the way that it is. So what I want you to be think about today is, from a mental strength point of view from a mental conditioning point of view, how close are your athletes to being at the peak of their capabilities, mentally. What are they doing in order to achieve the psychological heights in the sae way that you are looking for them to achieve their technical, physical and tactical heights as well.

So my emphasis is very much towards making sure that the mind is as strong as possible rather than trying to fix something that is not functioning as effectively as it might do. Certainly that is sometimes part of the role of a psychologist but in the world of elite sport and performance sport it is this taking the mind and ensuring that you have no gap in, it is as strong as possible. That the way to be looking here.

And it might be part of looking at how does that appear on your training program? What systematic things are being done to ensure that athlete’s psychological strength is being developed day in and day out. Much of the great coaching work that I see actually does that but no ones putting their hand up and telling the athlete that as a result of this your concentration level, your ability to concentrate under pressure has improved ten fold over the last six months. Or your ability to make the right decision at the right time has improved and is increasingly a strength of yours. So a lot of it is done but the athletes don’t often actually realise the progress that they are going through. And for them to have the power of that development they obviously need to know that they have improved skill.

So that the kind of background in terms of where Im coming from today. And just in term of where I, the psychologist, view things I know my place within the performance pie. If we have to produce an elite performance we have got to produce the technical capacity as high as possible, we have to have the tactical know how, the tactical ability completely, clearly understood and for the athlete to act on those tactical bits of knowledge; physically obviously rowing being the endurance sport that it is there is a high demand placed on the body, the physical emphasis is absolutely clear.

So the fact that these are six nicely even sections is not actually the reality. For every given sport the proportion changes, and for every given athlete there is probably a subtle change in the proportions.

We have to understand the contextual component as well. Does the athlete understand the environment that they exist in? Do they understand the rules of engagement? Do they understand the kinds of conditions that they are going to be performing in? So if they understand the context they have great technical preparation, they have incredible tactical understanding and physically they are as prepared as possible, the last two things that we can do to improve their ability to consistently perform is to ensure that emotionally and mentally they are on top of their game as well. And as I say the psychological bit here as well needs to know its place. There’s no point putting all your emphasis on the mental and emotional if the other areas have been neglected. You’ll just end up with athletes that are very mentally tough about their underperformance. They’ll be thinking “Well I’m not as good as I might have been but y psychologist has allowed me to deal with that and I’m in a good place with that. And that’s not really elite thinking.

So what we need to be thinking about here is: Where does psychology and the mental and emotional element really add value. And it really only adds value when those other areas are as strong as possible, and are as full as possible. And the other way that psychology really adds value and the Emotional Intelligence we’ll talk about is actually getting an interrelationship and a connection between people. So whether is you, the coach, and the athlete; athlete to athlete; once we start getting the interaction positive and as strong as possible then we can almost add more resource to that entire performance pie.

If it helps think of this situation: Every athlete that you coach, their personality is identical, they respond to your coaching instructions in exactly the same way, they all make exactly the same decisions at the same time, they all have exactly the same view of how the rowing stroke is and the picture in their head is exactly the same; so if we have that situation we have no personality difference amongst you athletes, what does your job as a coach now look like. And they probably all think that your coaching program is the bets coaching program that’s ever been written as well. If that could ever be the case.

If the personalities were all the same much of the art of coaching that Rene talked about, much of the art of coaching would be taken away. You wouldn’t have to think about how I change my message for this particular athlete. How do I deliver a pre-race talk to this crew compared to another crew that I might be coaching? Because actually everything would be the same. So what we are going to focus on here today is actually the science behind the art. Because we know have different everybody is and we know how different your relationship is with all the different athletes, and actually being able to put a structure on that, and get a framework to understand that sometimes can be very powerful to helping you identify how to make a breakthrough with an individual, how to get more out of them, how to get a better coach-athlete understanding and working.

So as we go through the session today probably keep an ideal athlete in your mind, someone who particularly help you relate some of these ideas to, someone who you are thinking a lot about at the moment who you need to work better with, or someone who things are going really well with and you want to keep that level of great interaction going. So with the examples I give have a particular individual in mind and it should help contextualise some of what I’m talking about.

Just to begin with before I go any further we’re talking about your relationship with the athlete and how you manage to coach them effectively just write down for me the top five qualities or characteristics that you would ideally like an athlete to have that would make them as coachable as possible, so they respond really well to you, their easy to coach. What would be the top 5 characteristics that they would have that would mean that you as a coach were really able to connect with them to really coach them effectively and really help them move on as quickly as possible. There’s no right or wrong answers here, I just get fed up of talking sometimes.

Rene mentioned in one of his questions about the athlete having responsibility. Would responsibility be on eof the qualities you would ideally like the athlete to have? Would you like them to be a really confident, pushy athlete, who’s always demanding something out of you? Would you want them to be someone who’s very skilful at communicating? Would you want them to be someone who’s really in touch with their body, kinaesthetically very aware? Just think about that picture of the ideal athlete. What those qualities would mean that naturally they get the most out of you because they are very coachable?

I’d imagine as well that if you look at the list that you’ve got of three, or four, or five items that you’ve got, those key qualities, there are probably some athletes that you work with at the moment who you would see have those qualities in large amounts. And maybe there are some athletes where you wish they had a bit more. And you know that there are some challenges because you are looking to them to be able to make a change and they are not being able to make a change. Or they just don’t; seem to see the whole process of development in the same way as you. But having that reference point of what makes the athlete coachable is going to be helpful for you today as well, because a lot of the time its all about you understanding them, them understanding you, and also knowing what are some of the ingredients that make a difference.

Your technical knowledge is probably second to none, your understanding of the training programs, your knowledge of the whole philosophy of what you are trying to do is so well thought through, so well structured that the thing that gets in the way of that coming to life and being effective is actually how you interact with the athlete and how coachable they actually are or how adaptable you are to their style. So hopefully that will help you build up a picture of the athlete to refer to as we go through today, and I want you to keep coming back to that and perhaps add qualities to the list as we go through the information on intelligence.

I was interested to Rene speaking as well where he talked about the importance of, when you are working effectively with an athlete you have to talk to them, listen to them and observe them. And then you have to have the team meetings and the regular one to one meetings to make sure you are absolutely on the same page. Those again aren’t necessarily things that happen in a structured ordered way but they are actually the things that make a critical difference to the level of trust that exists between you and the athlete. The amount of trust that they have in you means that they are going to be more likely to go the extra mile psychologically. And also, the trust that you have in them also allows you to believe that ultimately when it comes doe to the start line of a critical performance you are going to trust them to think the right thing to allow them to do the right thing at the right time. So if the quality of the talking, listening and observing is something that makes a difference to this whole Emotional Intelligence area as well.

Intelligence is normally talked about in terms of IQ, Intelligence Quotient, which would measured by being able to see how effectively people can identify geometric shapes or solve maths problems. But at the end of the day you can have someone who is high in IQ, the natural intelligence that we usually measure but Emotionally Intelligently they are not very high with the way they interact with other people.

You can see at the top left there we have two football players from Newcastle United who probably aren’t very intelligent in terms of the IQ sense of the word but their Emotionla Intellience has not helped them out here. Ending up fighting your own team mate in the middle of a Premiership football match; and a member of the opposition actually pulling you apart. There is something that has happened here in the heat of the situation that has meant that mentally these players have stopped at all productive. They have really lost the plot completely.

I think the baseball player next to them is a bit better at fighting than the football players are as well but similarly the emotions have got on top of this individual and we see a very extreme example of what not being mentally prepared for anything that might happen causes a complete breakdown in performance.

Similarly Zinadine Zidane in the World Cup final, not the best header he’s ever produced but you see these situations time and time again in sport and these are the extreme examples of when athletes minds don’t work effectively under pressure, when their Emotional Intelligence fails them. As I say these are extreme examples, but equally when you look at Emotional Intelligence there are other factors that wouldn’t be as obvious as these ones. So we would be looking at inability to change direction, so mentally I had a path set out for me, I had a clear view of where I was going and how I was going to get there; something happens which means that I have to change course and some athletes aren’t great at that kind of flexibility in their thinking. Some aren’t great at changing their decision making under pressure. Some aren’t great at interacting with other crew members because they don’t quite see things in the same way, they don’t have that ability to change their view in order to think what’s the right result we’re looking for her, how do we work together to get the best outcome for our situation.

The guy with the computer as well, I don’t know if you’ve ever felt a bit like that from a coaching point of view. You think that you are putting all the right inputs in but the machine or athlete is just not responding and it gets pretty frustrating when you think the message isn’t being heard. Even in a very kind of stale stagnant situation like a business scenario you do see people letting pressure, time and deadlines get on top of them. And with a lot of the work that you are involved in being very deadline driven and a lot of markers along the way towards a final success there will be different points which aren’t to do with the actual final competition itself where the pressure is higher and the need to be Emotional Intelligent is even more critical.

If we look at positive examples of when people are mentally really on top of their game and need to be on top of their game with the Emotional Intelligence that is being demonstrated is actually a critical factor to success. These situations are far more helpful for us to see what it is we are looking for when we talk about Emotional Intelligence. And what are some of the characteristics that we’re after that if we could start to measure them within ourselves and within our athletes we could actually get a situation where we want to move towards this kind of scenario. On the previous slides its very obvious we don’t want those kinds of situations happening.

But what’s going on in these slides: So open heart surgery – the mental performance here is absolutely critical and not just the lead surgeon. The interplay between the lead surgeon and the anaesthetist and the other doctors that are part of the team is absolutely critical. I understand that there is something within open heart surgery called a “widow stitch” that is the surgeon gets the stitch wrong it kills the patient there and then. And that’s performance pressure. So the ability to be clear headed under pressure, to be able to be totally in control of what I’m focussing on, completely aware of people around me and information I'm getting in from them. Ability to change my thinking and change my approach if I need to, those kind of qualities are absolutely essential to ensure that you have a very pure psychological performance taking place. Mentally these people need to be on top of their game for a prolonged period of time as well. Its not as if it a short procedure.

The Formula 1 race car, I think that’s a phenomenal example of how effectively you can practice to connect mentally. I think theres about 25 people around that car working together for about 15-20 seconds by the time they’ve got out, the cars come in, they’ve refuelled it, changed all the tires and sent the car out again. But their ability to be completely focused on their role, but be totally aware of the other peoples roles around them, but als have the ability to change their thinking if something doesn’t go right, like there was one of the Grand Prix’s three of four weeks ago where one of the guys got run over by the driver that had entered the pit lane a little bit too quickly, so that was one man down and we’ve still got to change the tires and get the car out as quickly as possible. The driver wasn’t perhaps as Emotionally Intelligent at that point as he might have been. But the interplay there is critical and psychologically everyone knowing that there are on the same page and that they are supporting each other makes a huge difference. And that’s the area from a rowing point of view is key, the knowledge that I’m being backed up and being supported and we are all thinking along the same lines is essential. They spend hours and hours and hours rehearsing that whole process just as within any sport performance.

The basketball coach in a time out, critical situation, thirty seconds to a minute to communicate key messages, key strategies in a calm manner that allows the performance to go out and perhaps the last play of the game and produce the wining shot. So again we’e got a demand there mentally which is the coach making the choice how do I need to interact with my athletes here, what message do I need to send ny the way in which I actually engage with them.

The riot police working as a team, its critical for them that they are able to maintain a performance focus under intense physical threat. So again you can see that mentally, if you have a weak link in that squad of riot police the whole team becomes vulnerable.

So if we look at these different situation we can see the importance of connecting together effectively being able to trust in each other under pressure, being able to maintain strong decision making at a critical point, under threat of my impending death or somebody else’s impending death and that’s pretty extreme . And most of the time all we are talking about is how fast we can row 2000m and get as mentally together as possible. So if these types of things can be achieved in this situation in terms of psychological togetherness we can really make an emphasis to ensure that mentally our individuals and crews are at the top of their game to ensure that they are doing everything possible to ensure that all of that physical and technical work is not wasted.

Ad it might be worthwhile think here, of the demand for you as coaches and the athletes that you work with. Most of the Emotional Intelligence that your athletes will develop is going to be through the many minutes, hours, days, weeks and months that you spend training. There is a relatively small amount of time competing when we look across the rowing calendar. That difference between training interaction and training quality, establishing the base for the performance psychology, which is the area that you can get the biggest impact and what you can try to do in terms of the psychology for that key period.

Top right hand corner as well, I had to put the rowing coach up there as well because I think critically the performance required, Harry im going to nick your phrase, “the Coaching Intelligence” that’s required here as well to be observing one to eight performers, to be completely aware of what’s going on and the key things you are working on, to be communicating with each of the different athletes in the way that you knoe that you need to, switching your style of communication within an outing to ensure that everyone is getting the most out of your perspective and your external view. That is a huge skill. And it’s a skill that I see a lot of the rowing coaches taking for granted. And one of the key things about the elite psychology is that identifying your strengths and then challenging yourself to deliver them even better, that’s something you need to be challenging yourself with and your athletes with. Can you make your strengths even stronger? Can you make the things that you naturally do as effective as possible even more powerful. That’s where the skill that you as coaches have to provide that commentary, to provide that expert input is something that can always make a critical difference to your ability to be on the top of your game day in and day out is obviously something that influences the final product and the final crew that you end up coaching.

So its worth thinking about some of the similarities across those individuals and across those teams and start to think about what that looks like in an Emotional Intelligence framework.

And what I wanted to leave you with over the course of the lunch period to think through is if we have these different scenarios. On the left we’ve got people not showing Emotional Intelligence, not producing the right kind of clear thinking in pressure situations, not responding well to what are probably predictable events. And on the right hand side we’ve got a considered, clear decision making, clear choices about how I interact with the performers.

Just to start with think what are the differences for the individuals. So on the left hand side, for an individual that looses control of their emotions and their though process, what’s the immediate impact for them? How does that immediately impact on what they are going to do next? How does that impact on the other people around them? What does that do in terms of the quality of relationship between those people right in those next few moments. Ad equally once that person has demonstrated that lose of control of that inability to thin effectively at those key moments how does that influence both themselves, from that point onwards and how does that influence their interaction with you and other people from that point onwards? How does that change the dynamic of the relationship? Because ultimately your success with your athletes comes down to the quality of that relationship that you are able to maintain over time.

On the right hand side, the same thing. If you are consistently delivering great quality interaction, your clearly thinking in the right way under pressure, you’re making the right decisions, you’re making skilful chaices about how to interact with different performers, what’s the impact on a moment by moment bases for yourself and for the people around you and what’s the impact in terms of an ongoing relationship? What kind of things are you going to be able to draw upon? What going to be the quality of response that you get from other people around you by you leading in that Emotionally Intelligent way. And again absolutely no right or wrong answers here, but its just thinking about the human dimension and understanding that we do have to deal with the personalities and if we can make some subtle changes to how Emotionally Intelligent we are that actually makes a big difference to the ongoing demands we can make of other people, it makes a big difference to the ongoing motivation that people demonstrate for us then they are going to be far more engaged.

So I wanted to leave you with that over the course of the lunch period and when we come back after lunch I’ll get into some core details in terms of what Emotional Intelligence actually looks like, which bits of it can actually be measured and will it actually make any difference to you as a coach in terms of understanding your own Emotional Intelligence and the Emotional Intelligence of the athletes with whom you work as well.

What I’d like you to do in terms of thinking abut this grid is to just think about a bank account, a relationship bank account. So for each of the athletes that you work with you have a bank account with them in terms of when you are interacting positively, interacting really effectively, making good decision with them and for them, demonstrating trust with them. That adds value to your relationship bank account. When perhaps something doesn’t go quite as well you make a withdrawal in terms of all the positive additions you’ve made, of the trust that you have stored up.

Have a think about athletes with whom you work are you in the positive in your bank account with them because you’ve spent most of your time making good decisions, interacting effectively, changing your style to suit their learning style and you can also thin about this from your athletes point of view. How many of them have positive bank accounts for their relationship with other athletes and you as a cach ad you just get a sense of how important it is to begin adding up all of the day to day interactions you have with the athlete. And the other important thing that we see if that a lot of the time for an athlete and a coach it takes quite a long time to build up the trust the rapport, the understanding, but you can very quickly undo it so all of the time energy and effort taken to et a positive situation where the athlete is receptive can be undone very quickly, and as Rene noted earlier some people remember a comment from a long time ago that actually might make it quite difficult to get back into that positive situation.

So that we think about the Emotional Intelligence, just keep thinking have I added value, have I added currency to the relationship bank account by the way that I have chosen to interact with the athlete or have I made a withdrawal and equally where are the athlete, in the positive in credit, or have they gone overdrawn with me as a coach or the other athletes because of the way that they behave or interact.

I want to give you a few slides of context as to why the Emotional Intelligence concept is important and then I’ll get into some detail for you. If we look in the world of business and this information comes from a guy called Daniel Goleman who has written extensively on Emotional Intelligence, and if you are interested in understanding how Emotional Intelligence work in detail Daniel Golemans book are superb. Very clear detail, very rich description of how different people take different approaches to their work and how they get a better benefit to their relationship by being better Emotionally Intelligent.

If we look at some of the research that Goleman carried out within the business world when it comes to differentiating between who are the top performers and who are the really elite performers, the ones who are the elite performers time and time again score much higher on Emotional Intelligence measures. So the IQ generally of some high flyers that have the qualification and really understand the business but they cant connect wt the other people that they work with so they don’t progress into the positions of authority or responsibility even though they have all of the mental power, the mental knowledge that they might need for the role.

When you go up a level into leadership positions, as soon as you are having to take charge of leading other people the Emotional Intelligence component becomes even more important as to who delivers the best performance. So within your roles as coach despite the fact that a lot of the time you are in a leadership position, your ability to connect effectively, motivate other people, engage them ad get them on the same page so that they are all thinking in the same way, your ability to get them to do that is going to be one of the things that differentiates between yours and their success at the end of the day.

There is also some other research that Goleman carried out that examines why people go off track in their careers, what are some of the things that bring a stop to their progress and the majority of the problems were identified as interactions with other people, Emotional Intelligence problems, so an inability to handle interpersonal problems. So not getting on with a colleague, not being able to work effectively with them, not being able to solve that, leading to those two individuals having to go find somewhere else to work, or one of those individuals having to find somewhere else to work.

Equallly other people where having to go off and pursue other career choices when there was unsatisfactory leadership during times of conflict and difficulty. So the leader was not able to be strong to make clear consistent decisions under pressure, was not able to treat individuals in a consistent manner. And again think about that from your coaching challenge. The biggest challenges you have are typically when things are not going as you would like them to and your ability to manage yourself and manage the athletes and their expectations is a critical skill for you to have in your coaching toolbox at that point.

And the last area that was of interest here was that many peoples careers got derailed becase they couldn’t adapt to change and they wernt able to encourage other people to trust them. They didn’t have a strong trust network arund them. And we live in a world among elite sport were change is what we have to do all the time. We ahe to get better, last years times arnt good enough. We alsays have to look to change things and do things better. So by nature the fact that you survive in that environment would usally indicate that your pretty good at dealing with change. But the piece on, can you elicite trust, can you encourage other people to trust you, do you act in a consistent way that allows them to always understandf what kind of response they are goingt o get from you is a critical factor to think about again. How effectively do I encourage other people to trust me and come on the journey with me? To venture along this pathway we’re gign on in order to achieve success.

I see know reason why the data from business should be any different from the data from sport. There are subtle differences but ecause we are talking about human interaction in high pressure situations we’re actually still going to ahe some similar results innterms of the importance of emotional intelligence. How effectively we connect with other people makes a difference to how effectively we use all of the resources that we have available to us.

So that you can leave today with a very simple structure to evaluate yourself by and your athletes the Emotional Intelligence research that is out there in many different forms always boild down to this four part group. And the score that you would be able to get as a result of identifying concepts within each of these four boxes would allow you to see how emotionally intelligent you are. So there are many measurements out there that allow you to assses your degree of Emotional Intelligence.

If we start in the top left hand corner the first box that relates heavily towards elite performers anyway is “self awareness”. How much am I in touch with my thoughts? how much am I in touch with my emotions and my feeling?. How much am I also in touch with how my body is physically feeling? My state of readiness, my state of physical health. Self awareness is obviously critical if we are going to move forward anywhere at all. We have to know wat is going on in our head, in our emotions, and how our body is feeling. The question that you might ask yourself just to sum this area up, at any point in time going into a situation is: “How am I right now?” So before starting a pre-race talk with your crew, for you to be able to ask yourself “How am I right now?” is the self awareness part. Theres no point in having the self awareness if you can’t do the box underneath it which is “self regulation”.

And the question for that on is “How do I need to be?” I’ve just said: “How am I?” but I’m just going to do a pre-race talk, it might be a semi-final of the World Championships, it might be a B Final where there’s Olympic Qualifying at stake, “How do I need to be in this situation?”, and one of the first bits of Emotional Intelligence which is important is being able to assess “I know how I am, I know how I need to be” so I know I can make the change into that right mindset for me to deliver the performance that I need to as a coach, to get my athletes up to performance.

There’s actually, in Steve Redgraves autobiography, an interesting bit where he’s recounting just before the Atlanta final, and he’s taken himself off somewhere and he has lots of negative thoughts. I think he says something in the books something along the lines of “If someone had come along at that point and offered me a way out and a quick ticket out of the Olympic Village I’d have been on that bus with them straight away.” He said however” I recognised that if that how I carried on thinking that wasn’t going o be too useful to help me win an Olympic final and the Gold medal.” “So I had to give myself a mental slap and change the way that I was thinking and changing the way that I was talking to myself” So he went from a degree of self awareness to a high degree of self regulation very quickly. Identified how he was, and he was not in a good state of mind, and then identified how he needed to be and started managing those thoughts effectively. And that’s a skill that we assume a lot of athletes have. But you need to have that self awareness in the first place in order to start making some choices about how I need t think and how do I need to feel right now to deliver the bets performance possible.

You as a coach wil not always guarantee that you will always be feeling on the top of your game at the critical time of the year. You might be slightly under the weather because you’ve had a heavy work load leading into a World Championships or Olympic Games. You might be coaching two crews, one of them doing really well and one of them underperforming. You need to be thinking how am I right now, is tis situation that I’m in effecting me? What choice do I need to make to ensure that I'm in my performance mindset? I'm delivering the right performance for my crew.

So self awareness and self regulation is a critical skill for the coach and for the athlete but equally the other challenge that you as coaches have is that actually you spend most of your time on the other side of this grid. You send most of you time being Emotionally Intelligent about other people. So the other factors about Emotional Intelligence are: How aware are you of other people? What are they thinking, what are they feeling? What motivation level do they have at the moment? How are they looking compared to their normal body language? So your awareness of other is something that you are constantly picking up on, are constantly aware of. Not everybody has that natuarally. So this is why this four part grid is quite important because eit allows us to see which area people are naturally showing aptitude for, which area they are comfortable in.

Again because of your coaching role you have to spend a lot of time managing others, so not only are aware of others, how they are. So the question is “How are they right now, what is their state of mind right now”, you then need to quickly switch into “How am I going to adapt to get the best out of them” What changed do I need to make to manage those other people. And I think that is an interesting challenge for you as coaches, spending most of your time being aware of others, and sorting out how t manage others, but actually needing a lot of the time to focus on your own performance so that you peak for performance at the right time as well. So perhaps because you spend most of your time on the right hand side having a strategy for you in and around key times od competition to just check back in “How am I dealing with this, how do I need to be? What’s going on for me?’ That’s actually something you might want to think about how effectively do I do that?

I don’t see at the regattas and the World Championship too many athletes hurrying around and worrying whether their coaches have got everything that they need. “Are you hydrated coach? Have you had enough to drink today? Have you got everything you need in order to video us? Have you got your watch with you? I don’t see any athletes taking much care of you. I see coaches taking an awful lot of care of their athletes and making sure that everything is in place for them. Sometimes just being able to check in for yourself and just think that if I was coaching myself right now have I done everything that I need for me to be as prepared as possible. So perhaps sometimes including yourself in who you are coaching is a useful reference point to have. And you are world class at coaching so giving yourself a bit of your coaching time is probably a useful step to take from time to time.

Think back to earlier when I asked you to identify some characteristics or a key athlete who you might have in mind when we were taking about this. Think about your key athlete who you are having challenges with or who you are working well with at the moment. What’s their level of self awareness like? Do they really know what makes them tick? Do they understand their performance and their capabilities as an athlete? How effectively are they able to make changes to how they are thinking and feeling? If the pitch up for training and you know that they are not in the best mindset are they able to flick a switch and get into a really focused work approach. Are they able to get really clued into hat they are going to do.

For this athlete are they aware of the other athletes around them? And do they know how to get the most out of those other athletes around them? It’s a very simple way of just categorizing your athletes and seeing where you might need to be focussing your energy to help them get more out of themselves. Do they just need their self awareness raised so that they understand themselves more? Or do they need to get better at regulating themselves and making some key choices. Are they the kind of athletes who need to have much better understanding of the other people with whom they are interacting? Or so they just need to be better at getting more out of the people who they are working with? Do they need to be a bit more subtle about the way they communicate with the other athletes in their crew?

With all of those broad concepts in mind, for me working in elite sport anyway there is always a bottom line anyway. It all very nice having some psychological frameworks and some boxes that you can put people in, but if we improve Emotional Intelligence will it actually make boats go faster, will it allow individuals and crews to get more out of themselves. So if you could come into my fantasy land of psychology for a moment lets imagine that every bit of physical energy and every bit of physical resource has been taken to the extreme and the athletes are as physically prepared as possible, technically they are rowing the perfect stroke every stroke. I understand the perfect stroke does exist. I'm not sure I’ve seen one or met a coach who’s seen one but I'm told they do exist. Biomechanically if the boat is set up as effectively as it can be, and tactically you know the athletes know the tactics and will deliver the tactics perfectly. So if we have that situation, will getting the athletes connecting better together, working more effectively together, understanding each others needs more effectively, understanding their own needs more effectively, on a day to day basis. Is that going to help you to get more from your athletes? Is that ultimately going o mean that you get a faster boat or a more consistent boat? Is it enough of a factor every day to make a difference that you can focus on.

And for me the psychology is always that. It’s something that might make ½% difference every day but if those ½%’s add up that actually means that at the end of a year it means that you have contributed a significant amount to making sure that that psychological factor has been taken care of. So the question here is because a lot of the wrk you do as coaches is about manaeing relationships, helping athletes understand themselves, helping them peak for performance mentally as well as physically would you get more value by having open discussions with them about how effectively we are working as a crew psychologically. From an Emotional Intelligence point of view are we as good as we could be? Athletes are used to having performance challenges set out for them. They are used to being given ergo scores to drive for, weight targets to go for in the gym, water times to aspire to, and because those targets are really clear the athletes really make an effort to get as good as possible and as prepared as possible to deliver those targets. So therefore is you present a psychological challenge to them in the same open public way would it be possible to get them to pursue becoming stronger athletes psychologically and would you see that that would give you a better stronger crew at the end of the day.

A lot of the time we hope that athletes are going to get better psychologically. The athlete that shows all of the potential when we are training but never quite delivers when it comes to the competition. We hope that they are going to get better but perhaps if we set them some explicit target is might actually encourage them to see that their mind is something that can be a really powerful tool for them and an essential part of performance.

To give you a little bit more framework and we’ll compare these bullet points in a second, to some specific athletes. If you have an athlete who is really emotinlaly intelligent they will be really good at noticing their feelings ans their thoughts at any point in time. Its almost like they’ve got an ongoing part of their brain that is thinking what am I aware of, what am I thinking, what am I feeling, is that right for me at the moment, have I made the right choices? If you think about how most of us work psychologically typically we find ourselves in a situation where we find a stimulus and we respond based on how we have responded many times before. So it is a very basic stimulus-response relationship. What these athletes are doing really superbly is that they see themselves in a situation, they have a stimulus and they now put thought in. So instead of going from my initial stimulus to the response that I’ve shown many times before, they have the stimulus and think “What am I thinking, what am I feeling, what do I need to think what do I need to feel?” and choose my response.

That ability to have that commentary ongoing is something that allows the great athletes in training to be laying down a blue print of success that when it comes to competition they don’t have to rely so much on that thought because they have put a really strong blueprint in their brain that allows them to go onto autopilot and step up and use the pattern of the performance to deliver what they have spent so much time ingraining in their mind.

So they are superb at noticing their thoughts and feelings, paying attention to them, recognising whether it’s an important thought or not. If it’s not important it washes over them, if it is important they are ready to act. And finally they use their thoughts about what they are thinking and feeling to make a decision about how to respond. Typically you’ll see when you are coaching an athlete technically and asking them to make a change, if they are not making the change effectively they are using that stimulus response model a lot of the time because their brain and their body is not being interrupted by a strong enough new thought to change the pattern of behaviour. So you hope somhow they have to be encouraged to think in a different sequence, think in a different way in order to give their body the chance of making the change that you want it to. So they have a new thought to create that change in movement.

But this also obviously applies to you as a coach, so how good are you at noticing your thoughts and feelings, paying attention to them, noticing their importance, and ten using those thoughts and feelings to choose a response.

In any given crew you might have different skill levels in terms of how that applies. So even if we go back to the self awareness, self regulation, awareness of others, management of others, in a given crew and this is completely made up (referring to pic), I'm not referring to any cases in particular. The stroke person might be fantastically self aware, and they might self regulate realy well but they might have very little awareness of others in this particular scenario. The person at three might be an ideal performer for you, they might be very self aware, they might be good at self regulating and they might also be very aware of everyone else in the crew and their needs and how to interact with them. The person at bow, you may have an individual who isn’t particularly self aware and not very self regulating but they may be really good at picking up on the needs of other people, they spend a lot of time thinking about what the other people in the crew are doing and not so much about themselves. And in this particular situation the person at two may actually be far more aware of what the coach is thinking and feeling and that can be thinking about how the coach is viewing and appraising me rather than in tune with those other people that are around them. So you get different ways in which the Emotional Intelligence might be made up.

Obviously from you from the outside as the coach, you need to be aware of each of those individuals all of the time, you need to be aware of the whole crew functioning together, but also you’ve got to be aware of internally yourself as well. How am I thinking and feeling, what my emotions and reactions at the moment. Is the fact that we’re on our second outing today and they are still not making the changes that I’ve asked them to, how’s that starting to affect me, my motivation my desire to think flexibly, think differently, to present the message in a different way. But as soon as you start getting even a small group of even five people the Emotional Intelligence challenge becomes very big very quickly. And you may want to think through your crews and have a bit of a think and understanding of what style of athlete sits in ach of the seats of the crews that you are working with.

And very simply you can use a framework like that. Just to go through, if we have the concepts of noticing feelings, paying attention to them, recognising their importance and choosing a response, take a given athlete, so for this particular person they are great at noticing their own feelings and paying attention to them but they don’t recognise the importance and chose a response. And they are good at noticing the feelings of other people but they don’t do anything else below that. Ideally you would have all four ticks on both sides, to see that an athlete is fully aware of themselves and acting appropriately and fully aware of other people around them and making good choices. This is trying to bring a framework to these concepts so that you can evaluate people in a consistent way.

In terms of your own challenges and the challenges of the athletes I would just like to throw these out as well. How good do you think you are at these? How good do you think your athletes are at these quite specifically? And are there any areas that if you were improved in one of these concepts it would have a very positive imact on how you work with the athletes around you. Pretty much every time I turn up to training, Mr Thompson sitting there (Paul Thompson GBR women’s and lwt coach) will always say to me how is your mood state because he thinks its funny to ask a psychologist that but mood management is obviously a really important skill. Being able t recognise what mood am I in and is that the right mood for me to be in at the moment. There is some great research that identified the mood of a leader, going into a meeting they measured what his mood was and two hours later coming out of the meeting they measured everybody else’s mood who had been in the meeting. Without a single deviance every person coming out of the room had the same mood that the leader had going into it. The leader completely changed the mood of everybody else in the room. And that is a fairly powerful ability to have as a coach. So your mood management has a big impact on the mood of your athletes in a critical way.

Self motivation is an area of self management that obviously needs constant working on. How effectively do you use your intuition? Do you listen to that gut feel, that gut instinct? Rene was speaking about intuition as part of the coaching recipe and part of the art of what you have to do. How effectively do you listen to that and make use of it in your coaching job. How effectively do you deal with setbacks? How effectively do you manage your energy and peak for your own performance? And how effectively do you switch on and off from the different challenges that you have? Do you get the down time so that you are fresh and alert ready to deliver great caching to your athletes next time that you are with them. All of those are skills that relate to Emotional Intelligence. And the last one that you will also see in terms of the self management is the bread and butter of the sports psychologist which are the key mental skills. How effectively do you visualize and prepare for the future by using imagery skills? How effectively are ayou able to maintain concentration on the key variables for the amount of time required? How effectively do you set goals and stick to them? And how effectively are you able to maintain your nerves or your ability to psych yourself up if necessary? For each of your athletes and for each of you there would probably be one or two development areas that would make a difference to the consistency of the performance. And again that is the key thing to psychology, you are not going to take someone who is a poor performer and turn them into a super star. What it will always do is bring far greater consistency of performance closer t their highest levels. And these kinds of things will certainly help tighten up the consistency of performance.

These things you probably deal with on a regular basis. How effectively do you motivate other people. Although again most of the research identifies that great leaders and coaches don’t actually motivate other people. They are superb at not demotivating them. They don’t actually take motivation away by the way in which they interact. They accept the people that they work with have the highest level of motivation possible. And then they make use of the motivation and create an environment that allows that motivation to be targeted and made use of. Not so great leaders and coaches very quickly take that natural level and reduce it little by little. That’s an interesting change of perspective quite often. So how effectively do you lead others, get others to see your vision, get behind it, get on board, and actually trying to strive towards achieving that vision. You spend an awful lot of time coaching others anyway and giving people technical input so that skill is being constantly tested. How effectively do you get people to collaborate? How effectively do you deal with confrontation? And when do you as a coach need to make a confrontation happen in order to move something forward? And obviously all that is about facilitating relationships between other people, between other coaches or between the athletes.

I want to skip on to the definitions so that the other handout that you where given earlier today, just so you can have a bit more insight into why I’ve given you that. As I said earlier even though we can talk about those broad frameworks there are measures of Emotional Intelligence that will give you a profile of yourself or a profile of your athlete. Whether you want to go down that route of that kind of measurement, that’s a choice that you have. Equally I find that coaches are such skilful observers of behaviour anyway, having some core component like this and some definition actually would allow you to start picking up some consistent factors that you know are important. From the researchers that have identified some Emotional Intelligence measures they have identified 16 different component of psychological makeup that is important. For me working in high performance sport there is a very, very strong link here between being Emotionally Intelligent and being mentally tough, and I would find it very difficult to identify a performer who has been at the top of their game, a world leader who does not score incredibly strongly on these characteristics. So the likes of Tiger Woods, Roger Federer, Pete Sampras when he was at the top of his game, Steve Redgrave from within rowing, if we look at those kind of individuals their scores on these areas would be consistently high giving them an overall emotional intelligence profile that is very strong and very consistent.

But if we just look through these core definitions, to begin with, you would get rated on the level of self awareness and awreness of others but the ones that are really powerfulare the ones that I have identified for you here. So the emotional resilience within your squad or a crew that you are working with. Who is the person who is the leader in emotional resilience? Who is really good at bouncing back from situations when things don’t quite go the way you wanted them to? Who perhaps, could be better at showing emotional resilience? You can start to use the concept realy easily to get a sense of the profile that you are building up. The three orange ones that I’ve got highlighted are ones I just wanted to point out because I think we assume athletes have these things covered. In my experience we find that they do not have them covered as effectively as we hope they have.

So personal power, how in control of their destiny and their life do they feel? You can imagine that an athlete that you want to deliver at the top of their game feeling fully in control of where I am, where I'm going and how I'm going to get there is an essential factor. And that a particular challenge when most athletes turn up fairly regularly to follow the training program that is given to them that they haven’t felt fully in control of understanding what they do day in and day out. The skilful athletes look at the training program and see it as an opportunity and work out how to get the most out of it. The less emotionally intelligent athletes loose their sense of power because they are waiting to be told what to do next because its part of the training schedule. So control, how in control of their life do they feel.

Goal directedness. How clearly do the athletes have personal goals laid out and how clearly are they following a path to achieving those goals. And it is the level of detail that is important in terms of goal setting. So it is always worth checking how clearly does the athlete have their goals set out and how effectively are they going about day to day achieving those goals. So what are they doing today that is helping them achieve the goal that they have ste for the future?

The flexibility area is the third one that is particularly important, is how effectively are athletes able to change their thinking, think creatively, think differently when they are faced with a problem or they need to try and find a different solution. That ability to have a change of thought, a change of plan, is actually really important form a preparation point of view. Being open to change things, being open to see that I can still get to my end goal, even though things arnt laid out exactly as I wanted them to be. So that psychological flexibility, the more an athlete has that the more robust their performance will be. There will be some athletes who are incredibly good whaen they follow a recipe but if anything changes from that recipe it makes them feel very uncomfortable very quickly and so their potential to have a range of success is limited. Everything has to be just right for them in order for them to deliver the performance. So having some increased flexibility is always positive.

The last two areas are probably ones that connect for you as coaches quite importantly. How open is the person about what they are thinking and what they are feeling? Are they letting you into their thoughts? So are they connected to you? Have they allowed you to see the world through their eyes? I'm sure that some athletes that you coach are quite good at constantly letting you know what they are thinking whereas others are quite closed. It is very difficult to really understand what is going on on there for them. If only you could mind read.

And the bottom one is the invitation to trust. How consistently does the athlete behave in order that you can trust them? Do you know what you are going to get from them? You know what kind of attitude you are going to get from them, you know the kind of commitment you are goint o get from them. So if you have a high invitation to trust as a coach that is once again that is one of the qualities that you would look to have large scores in yourself.

Just finally on the measurements there are other measurements that rate how I interact with other people. So the awareness of others and the management of others. In the definitions you’ll see that the definitions give you an A, B, C score. So in the definitions under trust A would be mistrustful, B would be carefully trusting, and C would be over trusting. So these are slightly more interesting concepts so you get this sort of three way score. You are looking to have a strong score in the middle one, in B in each of these examples. But you will find in terms of the trust that you or the athete place in people, some people are mistrustful by definition, that’s just how they are, they tend to mistrust people first. Other people a little like a small puppy dog are overtrusting. Go over to anybody, trust anything that anybody says, treat everybody exactly the same ad really trust that everybody has their best interests at heart. Both being mistrusting or overtrusting might actually not give you the best profile to interact with other people. Having that balance of being carefully trusting, who do I realy trust, who do I really listen to, when are the occasions when I need support and need that careful trusting approach, that’s where you are getting the balance right.

And the last four areas are just some other qualities that determine how effectively we interact with other people. So am I pessimistic by nature or am I overly optimistic by nature of have I got a realistic level of optimism baanced in the middle? Again I'm sure for those of you that have athletes that are overly optimistic all the time, its greta that they’ve got that enthusiastic belief that they are going to change the world and be world beaters but somewhere in the middle they need some realistic optimism so that they can be really focused on delivering the nuts and bolts of the performance and not just being really totally optimistic about the success they want. And equally if you have an overly pessimistic athlete they are just quite ard work for you as a coach to keep telling them that they are better than they think and the world is not about to end and that they have some potential and that tey really can be quite good if they allow themselves to be quite good.

And so you can see again here, can I start to identify some of the needs of some of my athletes. Some athletes will be under controlled with their emotions, others will be over controlled, some of them will be able to act very freely. And the last two, the conflict handling; hoe effectively do you or the athlete handle difficulties or conflict, are you passive, are you aggressive or do you get them balanced right by being assertive. And I guess from a coaching point of view the interdependence one at the bottom is a challenging one to try and get the balance right. You don’t want an athlete that is too dependent on you to do everything for them and set everything up. You don’t want them to be that independent that they can’t make use of your expertise. But you need to get them working in that positive way where you are interdependent. Thay need you and you need them, you work better because of both of your exert perspectives. Again, where would some of your athletes fit in. Do you need to encourage some to be less dependent; do you need to encourage some to be less independent? I’ve given you the definitions sheet so that you can take them away and have a look through, see which are most important and relvent for you as a coach.

There are plenty of areas of follow up reading that could you can follow for Emotional Intelligence and I’d just like to leave you with a couple of thoughts in terms of: If you were to ask athletes to rate you as a coach and rate how emotionally intelligent they though you were would that be a worthwhile exercise? It’s a risk to actually get the athletes to tell you what they think about you but would you actually get something beneficial out of it by going through that process. Would you get something beneficial by rating the athletes and having a discussion about where they might need to improve in ters of personal power or goal directedness. But actually aving some open conversation about this may actually bring into light some areas that can influence performance. They may allow you to have concersations that will get you working together even more effectively.

In summary the concept of Emotional Intelligence, how self aware, how self regulated you are, how you are aware of other people, how effectively you manage ther people, its obvious that that going to make a difference to the quality of work that you as a coach and that your athletes are going to be able to engage in. Its one of those things that we naturally assume that we are doing this ok and that its working as well as possible or would tere actually be some merit in seeing if we could talk about this openly and see if we can become a more Emotionally Intelligent unit.

The language that you choose to use around it would obviously be critical. So I for one wouldn’t necessarily promote going in and having lots of conversations about emotional intelligence straight away. But you can take some of the concepts and talk about how effectively we are communicating, how effectively we are motivating and driving each other, how effectively we are understanding each other and changing our approach to get the most out of each other as well.

The final questions for you: would a more emotionally intelligent crew be a faster crew, would it make a difference for you as a coach by being more emotionally intelligent and being more aware of your own profile when it comes down to it. And if it is something that is worth persuing how do you actually build it into your day to day training when we know in the rowing world it is a very intense, time heavy commitment that you have and actually finding ways of improving on some of these skills that the athletes don’t see the immediate benefit of them; the cost-benefit that you have to consider is obviously an important part of this equation.

I said I wanted to throw some ideas out, stimulate some thinking, allow you to look at yourselves in a certain way and your athletes. So hopefully that gives you some information to take away and think about how these concept might work. Something a bit different, a little bit different from the Strength and Conditioning but well done for staying awake and those that assumed the eyes closed listening style thank you for listening so intently.

The Physiology and Anatomy of Some Relevant Sex Differences, With Reference to Rowers

Female Athletes – The Physiology and Anatomy of Some Relevant Sex Differences, With Reference to Rowers
By Prof. Craig Sharp

1.1 Introduction

This section will concentrate mainly on those anatomical and physiological aspects which influence physical performance in dance, physical activity or sport, with a brief introduction to sexual dimorphism, or how we become two sexes. The important point to grasp in any description of such physical differences is that, although on average one sex may have one attribute more highly developed than the other, there is very broad overlap. The average height of British men and women is 5’9” (1.7m) and 5’4” (1.6m) respectively. Yet very many women (e.g. rowers, basketball players) are taller than the male average, and vise versa. And to give a performance example, the best male Marathon runners in the world run the distance in about 2 hours and 6 minutes, and their female counterparts run under 2 hours and 20 minutes. Nevertheless, those elite women runners will beat all but a very small percentage of all male marathoners. In its day, the East German women’s athletics team could have beaten the men’s teams of many of the smaller nations.

For much of this paper, I am talking about average differences between groups of men and women. It is important to remember that much of the differences between people in general relate to the genetic hand that they are dealt at conception. To take one example, maximal oxygen uptake (VO2 max). If one were to measure this value in the laboratory on a random selection of 100 20-year old untrained but healthy young women who were all the same height and weight, it could be found to vary between 1.5 and 3.5 liters of oxygen used per minute. The reasons for the wide range would be largely genetic. And if one took the lower quarter of the sample, and subjected them to two years of Olympic-style rowing training, they might improve as much as ~25% - say to about 2 liters of oxygen per minute. In other words, even with training, they would not come near to the better genetically endowed upper group. This aspect of genetics is not a fact to get depressed about, especially in an activity needing several attributes such as rowing. It simply means that one has to identify one’s strengths, and use them to the full. In the example just quoted, it may very well be those with the low VO2 Max might be at the upper end of the scale in terms of muscle strength and local muscle endurance.

One can alter one’s physical aspects very considerably, but always in the context of one’s genetic programme – which in physical terms is mediated through anatomy and physiology.

1.2 Gender Formation

Gender aspects as a whole in sport and exercise, embrace genetic, hormonal, anatomical, physiological, psychological and sociological factors. The term ‘sexual dimorphism’ refers to the two sexes which we grow into, triggered initially by genetic and then hormonal factors operating on a fetus.

Gender is coded for in a specific pair of the 23 human chromosomes. Termed the ‘sex chromosomes’ they are designated as X and Y. XX codes for women and XY for men. It is important to note that all mammals are basically female unless specifically masculinised (vice versa with birds, in whom the males have the pair of identical sex chromosomes). In humans the sexing process is initiated in the sixth week of fetal life. If the chromosomes are XX, then the female development automatically follows the pre-destined programme; i.e. the outer layer of the two small clumps of cells which form the undifferentiated sex gland or gonad, begin their development into an ovary. A double set of tubules known as the Mullerian ducts then form the fallopian tubes, uterus and upper vagina.

However, following coded instructions from the male Y-chromosome, the medulla or middle of the undifferentiated gonads is stimulated into becoming the male sex glands or testes. Within days, these start to secrete two hormones. The ‘male’ testosterone promotes growth of another tubular system known as the Wolffian ducts to form the male tubing, in the form of the epididymis, vas deferens and ejaculatory duct, all concerned with the passage of semen. The second hormone secreted at this time by the embryonic and still abdominal testes is ‘Mullerian inhibitor’ which actively inhibits growth of the Mullerian ducts. So, not only is the male tubing actively promoted by one hormone, testosterone, but the embryonic female tubing is actively suppressed by another hormone, the Mullerian inhibitor.

So much for the internal genitalia, what of the external? These in the early embryo consist of two cellular aggregates in the pubic region. If there is no Y-chromosome, then these will form into a vagina and a clitoris respectively. But, if Y-induced testosterone is present, then the would be vagina will heal up, as it were and form the scrotum. And instead of a clitoris, a penis will form. Note that the skin of both the scrotum and the external vagina is similarly pigmented, wrinkled and hairy; also the scrotum has a central line (the ‘median raphe’), which is where the original vagina healed over (Money and Erhardt 1971 Sharp 1997).

1.3 Anatomical Aspects

1.3.1 Body Dimensions

The average British woman is 1.6m (5’4”) tall, compared to the 1.7m (5’9”) for men, but whatever the height of a race or tribe, men are about 7% taller. This applies also virtually throughout the animal kingdom, with the main exception of the spotted hyena, in which the bitches are larger – probably and evolutionary adaptation to the fact that the males have a tendency to cannibalize the pups. Girls may be briefly larger – and stronger – between 10 and 12 years, due to their earlier growth spurt, which occurs just over two years earlier in girls. By around 13, the boys forge ahead on average as their growth spurt carries them up to about 10% beyond the girls in many of the physical dimensions.

1.3.2 Upper Body

Men end up with broader shoulders, longer arms, and narrower hips, both in terms of absolute measures, and relative to body height. The shoulder and arm difference usually leads to men being relatively stronger than women in the upper body compared to the lower, and the longer arms give better biomechanical leverage, which is shown to particular effect in throwing events and racket games, where the terminal velocity of the hand, or the head of the racquet, is the critical factor in determining the speed of missiles leaving either. Longer arms – and broader shoulders – also give men a leverage advantage in rowing and canoeing events.

Many women tend to have more of a “valgus angle” to their arms than men, whereby their arm is not as straight as men’s. That is, if the arm is held by the side with palms facing forwards, their lower arm angles away from the body. It is one reason why many women tend to throw objects, such as balls, stones and snowballs ‘round arm’. The feature is due to a greater male development of the lateral humeral epicondylar cartilage at the elbow. This cartilage has receptor sites specifically programmed to respond to testosterone at puberty, and acts to straighten out the male arm. A woman with a pronounced valgus or carrying angle, who wishes to become a good javelin thrower, might find herself predisposed to elbow injuries, and the same may apply to a lesser extent in rowing. Of the three main athletic throwing events, shot, javelin and discus, and taking into account the different weights of implements which the two sexes throw, women are furthest behind in the javelin and closest to men in the discus. The latter is what one might expect, given that women’s greater spinal flexibility allows more rotation, which is especially important in the discus event.

1.3.3 Lower Body

The broader hips of women, both in absolute measurements in many cases and indeed as a proportion of body height, result from a broader pelvis (due t its cells in turn bearing receptor sites responsive to oestrogen). This leads in general to a woman’s femur having to make a greater angle medially (the Q-angle) as it inclines towards her knee, which is the main reason why many untrained women throw their heals out when they run. In athletic clubs, such a running style is modified, if necessary.

However, a more important implication of this greater medial angulation of the femur relates to the angle of force of the powerful quadriceps muscles as they insert onto the patella or kneecap. The bulk of this muscle group is located laterally, i.e. on the outer side of the thigh. Thus when it contracts it exerts a strong ‘bowstring’ effect on the patella tending to pull it sideways (known as ‘sub-laxation’), out of the intercondylar groove on the femur in which it normally tracks. This misalignment may lead to excessive wear in the cartilage underside of the patella (the retro-patellar cartilage), resulting in the aching condition of ‘chondromalacia patellae’. Although often known as ‘runner’s knee’, it may occur in rowers, and it is more common in broader hipped women.

This may also tend to happen in women with a tendency to ‘knock knees’ who have too large a ‘Q-angle’, which is measured as follows: if you draw a line from the anterior supra-iliac spine (the front of your hip bone) to the centre of your patella, and another one from the centre of your patella to your ‘tibial tuberocity’ (the bony bump just below your knee), the angle between these two lines make with each other id the Q-angle. In men it should be less than 10degrees and in women less than 15 degrees. If it is greater than these, this creates increases the mechanical advantage of the outside quads, as mentioned above, and it lessens the ability of the one inner quadriceps to counter the bowstring force – the vastus medialis. Thus, overlarge Q-angles lead to bad patellar alignment and tracking in the groove, and increase the possibility of patellar sub-luxation and of chondromalacia patellae. So, ideally a women rower should have, proportionally reasonably narrow hips, and fairly straight legs.

The vastus medialis just mentioned is one member of the quadriceps muscle group, which inserts into the patella from the opposite direction – medially rather than laterally. And it acts to stabilize the patella in its groove, and to counter the bowstring effect to some extent. If you put your hand on the inner side of your knee, and slowly straighten your leg into full extension, then you will fee the vastus medialis tensing up as it comes into action just before full extension. Thus, exercises to strengthen the medialis must always involve straightening the leg fully, and slowly, so that there is no swing effect initiated by the other quadriceps muscles. Straightening the leg while seated, and holding it hard isometrically (i.e. tensed but not moving) will also strengthen medialis. This should be done 5 times on each side, and held for 10-15 seconds, two or three times daily. Otherwise a visit to the ‘quads station’ of a multigym will provide effective training.

1.3.4 Body Fat

Young women have a considerably greater percentage of their body fat, compared to men. Expressing body fat as a percentage is not especially reliable, but can be a useful rough guide. In my laboratories at the BOMC and elsewhere, the leanest subjects we have measured, mainly elite distance runners and gymnasts, have been in the range of from 5-8% for men, with very few equivalent women below 16%, and ranging up to 21% (compared to a normal student population of between 12-18% for men, and 22-30% for women). Until the age of around 10, there is little difference in body fat between boys and girls, but when both sexes go through puberty, the boys tend to lower their fat percentage, and the girls tend to gain fat. The gain in the women is a natural hormonally induced part of the growth process. The difference in body fat between the ‘average’ young man and woman is in the order of 70 000 kilocalories (or 300 000 kilojoules), which is just about the energy cost of producing a full term human infant. Rowers tend to vary from 18-25% for heavyweight women, with some lightweights being lower. The men tend to range from 10-15% again with some lightweights being lower.

Body fat is primarily an energy store. And men and women tend to store their fat differently. In men, the main fat store is in the abdomen, so a fat man will have a varying degree of ‘beer belly’, even though he may have quite slim legs. For women the fat deposits are thighs, hips, bust and back of the arm. It makes sense for women not to store fat on their abdomen, which becomes full during pregnancy.

This gender difference in average body fat certainly aids survival in extremes of cold and starvation, indeed Scott of the Antarctic may well have reached the South Pole had he and the team been women. It often leads to better performance by women in long distance sea, lake and loch swims, in many of which women hold the all-comers records. In part this is because the greater amount of fat acts as an insulation under the skin, and in part it floats women higher in the water, as fat is lighter than water. (Drop a piece of lean meat and a piece of fat – such as butter – in water; and see which sinks and which floats!). Floating higher makes for easier swimming. However the greater fat is a handicap in weight bearing activities involving running or jumping. This is one of several pressures towards a degree of female leanness, as in lightweight rowing, which may be very harmful if taken to extremes. In rowing and canoeing, extra weight lowers the racing shell, and will increase its surface area, and hence friction. Nevertheless, the ‘weight-supported’ rower can afford to carry an extra kg or two of fat, compared to the runner of gymnast! In women, this may help to minimize or delay the onset of sports osteoporosis – which is seen more in lightweight rowers, as is the associated amenorrhea, or absence of periods.

The gender difference in body shape, much of it accounted for by body fat distribution, leads to many women having a lower centre of gravity, and may be part of the reason for their better balance – as seen on the balance beam in gymnastics, a discipline for women but not for men, and possible shown in sailing, where women crew members are often noted as being better balanced in their movements around the boat.

A certain degree of fat is essential to the body; partly this is in terms of acting as a packing material around vital organs, the ovaries for example, and for helping keep the eye firmly in its socket. Also, fat is important in hormone-processing. It is thought that one reason why women who are very thin stop menstruating is that they do not have enough fat t activate their osterogen precursors.

1.3.5 Flexibility

Women have greater flexibility than men, as may be seen in asking a group of untrained men and women to planter flex their foot, i.e. ‘point their toe’. This enhanced flexibility, is of course, much featured in gymnastics and many forms of dance (and in modern circuses e.g. Chinese National Circus, and the ‘Cirque du Soleil’). In part the flexibility of women is due to slight differences in their joints, and in part it may be due to the presence of the hormone ‘relaxin’, which appears to act on the ground substance of collagen, the vital structural element in ligaments and tendon, imparting a greater degree of elasticity. Relaxin comes into its own during childbirth, when it has a major function in acting on the symphasis pubis joint. This is where the two pubic bones meet each other at the bony floor of the pelvis – between the legs. Normally there is very little space between the two pubic bones, nor do they normally move, but under the influence of relaxin, the connecting collagen may allow a considerable widening between the pubic bones, thus enlarging the birth canal. The main application in rowing is hamstring flexibility, which may be associated with low back pain injury if the hamstrings are too inflexible.

1.4 Physiological Aspects

1.4.1 Heart, Lungs and Blood – the Cardio-Respiratory System

Women have proportionally less blood (65ml/kg bodyweight compared to 75ml) than men, and lower hemoglobin concentration (13.9g/100ml compared to 15.8g). Working maximally aerobically, women need 7 liters of blood to carry a liter of oxygen, compared to men’s 6 liters, yet proportionally their hearts are about 8% smaller, although maximum heart rates are the same. The net effect is on the maximal oxygen uptake, which at elite rowing levels is up to ~75ml/kg bodyweight for men, and ~65ml for women. It is this VO2 Max which is responsible for ‘aerobic fitness’ or overall stamina – the ability to train on land or water for one to two hours – or more. The other important aerobic aspect is the anaerobic threshold, which is the rate of work which a rower can sustain without incurring a sudden marked rise in blood lactic acid. This threshold indicates the rate of work which can be sustained for relatively long periods. The anaerobic threshold is usually accompanied by a heart rate within a set range, so can be used as a training guide. The overall aerobic sex difference matters little, in that women rowers do not compete with men.

1.4.2 Muscle

Between 10 and 11, many girls are stronger than their boy peers, but boys end up on average stronger. This is partly because the cross sectional area of their muscles is greater, through androgen hormone effects, among other factors – and partly due to the longer levers of their limb bones. There is little difference in muscle quality between the sexes; both tend to generate about 30 Newton’s of force per square cm of untrained muscle tissue. 30 Newton’s is a force of about 3kg per square cm.

In terms of muscle endurance, women appear to have better low-grade local muscle endurance, for example on repetitions of 50% of their maximum muscle force. This may be of benefit in sports such as swimming, cycling and indeed rowing, which consist of very large numbers of relatively low-grade contractions. And each is a sport where women approach closer to men’s performances than weight bearing sports such as running –where the force at each stride are much greater. Although not all related to rowing, it is of interest to briefly note that women have much better fine manipulative skills, e.g. as in keyboards, or electronic assembly.

1.4.3 Heat Regulation

Exercise such as rowing generates considerable heat. About two-thirds of food energy appears unavoidably as heat in muscular work, and this must be lost almost as fast as it is generated, or collapse from heat stroke would occur. We live closer to heat death than to cold death. Normal core body temperature is around 37 degrees, but much above 43 degrees may be quickly fatal. To lose heat in exercise, men tend to sweat more per square meter of skin surface than women (e.g. 800ml/hour/m2 compared to 600ml/hour/m2). However, women tend to loose more heat by radiation. This benefits women in very humid conditions, where sweat cannot evaporate very readily into air already saturated with water vapor. Under such conditions, and not being so reliant on sweating, women tend to radiate more of their heat away, through a warm skin, red with dilated blood vessels radiating the heat away like tiny electric fires.. Men benefit in dry heat, as their sweat can be evaporated. Sweat which drops of is simply wasted, as far as cooling is concerned, because it is when the sweat changes from liquid into water vapor (i.e. steam), that the heat energy is taken form the skin, or, more accurately, from the warm blood circulating through the skin.

So, women thermo regulate better in wet heat, and men better in dry heat. Men will tend to be more severely affected on a hot humid course, and women on a hot dry one. In life threatening environments, however, their greater sweat production implies that mend tend to die quicker than women from dehydration, for example in desert conditions, or if shipwrecked in mid ocean (and having to ‘take to the boats’ for too long). In both sexes, sweat patterns change through exercise and training, covering more extensive areas of skin, and occurring sooner. It seems surprising, that fit people sweat sooner, as dancers or athletes notice at parties or receptions. In both sexes the level of salts (or electrolytes) in sweat drop markedly, the higher the fitness levels. In other words the fitter you are, the better you conserve your body salts.

1.5 Bibliography and References

Most texts of exercise physiology have chapters on gender issues, but a very good comprehensive account is: Christine Wells. Women, Sport and Performance: A Physiological Perspective. Human Kinetics. 1995

Money, J and Erhardt, A. Man, Woman, Boy, Girl. John Hopkins. 1971

Mittwoch, U. Genetics of Sex Determination. Academic Press. 1976.

Muir, R. Textbook of Pathology. RNM McSween and K Whaley (eds). Edward Arnold. 1992. Chapter 22.

Sharp, NCC. The New Sexual Dimorphism. B. J. Sports Med. 1997. 31, 82-83.

Sharp, NCC. Body fat and weight management. Chapter 6 in Bean A and Wellington P (eds) Sports Nutrition for Women. A and C Black. 1995.

Wilmore, JH and Costill, DL. Physiology of Sport and Exercise. Human Kinetics. 1994. Chapter 19, Gender Issues and the female athlete.

Coaching Philosophy – Big Rocks

Coaching Philosophy – Big Rocks
By Doug Ingram USOC

A while back I was reading about an expert on the subject of time management. One day this expert was speaking to a group of business students and, to drive home a point, used an illustration I’m sure those students will never forget. After I share it with you, you’ll never forget it either.

As this man stood in front of the group of high-powered over-achievers he said, "Okay, time for a quiz." Then he pulled out a one-gallon, wide-mouthed mason jar and set it on a table in front of him. Then he produced about a dozen fist-sized rocks and carefully placed them, one at a time, into the jar. When the jar was filled to the top and no more rocks would fit inside, he asked, "Is this jar full?"

Everyone in the class said, "Yes."

Then he said, "Really?" He reached under the table and pulled out a bucket of gravel. Then he dumped some gravel in and shook the jar causing pieces of gravel to work themselves down into the spaces between the big rocks. Then he smiled and asked the group once more, "Is the jar full?"

By this time the class was onto him. "Probably not," one of them answered.

"Good!" he replied. And he reached under the table and brought out a bucket of sand. He started dumping the sand in and it went into all the spaces left between the rocks and the gravel.

Once more he asked the question, "Is this jar full?" "No!" the class shouted.

Once again he said, "Good!" Then he grabbed a pitcher of water and began to pour it in until the jar was filled to the brim.

Then he looked up at the class and asked, "What is the point of this illustration?"

One eager beaver raised his hand and said, "The point is no matter how full your schedule is, if you try really hard, you can always fit some more things into it!"

"No," the speaker replied, "that’s not the point. The truth this illustration teaches us is: If you don’t put the big rocks in first, you’ll never get them in at all."

The title of this letter is ‘The "Big Rocks" of Life’. What are the big rocks in your life? A project that YOU want to accomplish? Time with your loved ones? Your faith, your education, your finances? A cause? Teaching or monitoring others? Remember to put these BIG ROCKS in first or you’ll never get them in at all.

So, tonight when you are reflecting on this short story, ask yourself this question: What are the "big rocks" in my life or business? Put those in your jar tomorrow.

Interview with Martin McElroy

Interview with Martin McElroy Coach of GB Olympic Champion Men’s Eight 2000

Q: How did your crew achieve peak performance on the day of the Olympic Final? -Rick from MA

A: It seemed like everything was ready for that day. The equipment was ready, the athletes were ready. We'd always prided ourselves on learning at every opportunity. Over the years we'd learned lessons about training, we'd learned lessons about technique and we'd learned lessons about the mental strength needed to perform at the highest level. For me, the challenge in the olympic environment was mainly psychological. It was about managing the whole experience. It was about doing what we knew in the olympic cauldron. Even in our first race we were still making mistakes. However after that things began to crystallise. From then on a momentum started to build. Two days before the final we did some speed work that was exceptional. We had never gone that fast before.

The day of the final was almost calm by comparison to earlier days. We were on a very early bus to the course. It was still dark as we sat on the bus. The radio was playing and then something that I'll remember for the rest of my life happened. The DJ played a track by AC/DC - 'Back in Black'. This was a heavy rock song that had pounded around the gym at Imperial College during my early coaching days. I looked around at Louis Attrill our four man and also an Imperial alumnus. He'd latched on to it as well. I'm not superstitious but that warmed me up. It just seemed that even at 6am in the morning, halfway around the world on one of the most important days of our lives things were looking good.

All our planning was for this race. The final event of the project was here and it seemed that everything was in place. I suppose that's what preparation is all about. Even four years ago we all knew exactly when and where that race was going to take place. The light would turn green at the appointed time and you were either ready or not.

Q: There was a lot of controversy involving performance-enhancing drug use at the Sydney Olympics (especially in the sport of rowing). What measures do you take to make sure your rowers remain clean? Do you think there are countries that try to cheat the system? -Michelle from VA

A: The testing was rigorous from the moment we arrived in Australia. There were times that I wondered if the athletes would have any blood left to race with! Seriously though, I don't think drug use is endemic in rowing. Rowing is not a big money sport. It's not as if thousands of dollars of prize money is riding on it. Of course individual athletes may feel the desire to cheat and that is more difficult to eliminate. The best we can do is to develop a culture where it is unacceptable, both in terms of peer pressure and through the rules of our sport.

There is a strong anti-drugs culture in sport in the UK. It's probably something to do with the british sense of fair play. There is also a tough regime of testing both in and out of season. Testers can arrive at an athlete's door any time, day or night. It would take so much effort and expense to attempt to buck the system, that I doubt any athlete would find it worthwhile in the UK. That's not to say that it couldn't happen, indeed there have been cases in other sports although they've become tangled up in the debates about contaminated supplement products. The advice from the governing body of rowing in the UK is train correctly, eat well and avoid anything that is of dubious origin. I think the drugs and supplements policy of the governing body is available on their website.

Q: As last year's top eight, I imagine there are lots of crews gunning to knock your crew off of the winner's podium. How've you prepared your crew to handle this pressure? -Roger from FL

A: We will continue to focus on what got us into that position rather than worry about the winner's podium. Keeping focused on the process rather than the outcome is what's important. If we keep working on our process, then the results will start to follow. Remember, it took us 4 years to figure it out the last time. Sure, we have the benefit of experience, but it will be a new crew with new challenges and dynamics.

Q: Is there any frustration from you or the team with the amount of press that Redgrave and the four has gotten? (After all, you guys did win gold in THE top rowing event) -John from VA

A: We always knew the attention would be on Steve and after all it was a pretty remarkable achievement. Steve deserves all the plaudits he can get! We also used the situation to our advantage. With so much attention on Steve before the games it took all the pressure away from us. The eight was very low key pre-olympics. That allowed us to focus on the job in hand. The other thing to remember is that none of the guys were doing this to be famous. They were doing this for themselves. After all, they're a young group of guys. The the thrill and excitement was about going to the olympics, and meeting the challenge. That is what it was all about. The press and media coverage were a bonus after the event. The eight's win did take the imagination of the public, but in a different way to that of the four, precisely because they were a very different group.

Q: I'd like to hear coach McElroy's thoughts on how to move your club/team up to a higher level of competition. Right now it feels like my own team is stuck in a rut, we go to all the same regattas year after year and never seem to be better than middle of the pack. We've had a few fast novice teams but they seem to either quit or fade. How would you go about infusing a team with a sense of purpose and raising their standards of quality and commitment?

A: Not matter what level your club operates at you have to strive for excellence at that level. Analyse the training that you do relative to your competitors. Are you doing a similar number of sessions. How are these distributed in terms of gym and water work. Then make sure the balance is actually right for effective training. On top of this it's worth looking at the lifestyle of your athletes. Can they cope with the demands of the programme and all the other things going on in their lives. Maybe they can do a little bit more! Maybe what they already do needs to be better led.

Treat it like any problem solving activity. Take a look at your resources and how they're utilised. Is it effective? In that analysis include yourself. Do you have all the skills necessary. Are there areas that you could upgrade your knowledge in. If you want to have the best crew at their level then you have to be the best coach at that level. It's not all about having the best equipment and the flashiest gym. What's much more important is what you know and how you apply it.

Success retains people. When people get the winning bug they want more. From my own observation this success is almost always down to the organisation and coaching within a club. I've seen it at so many different levels that I'm thoroughly convinced these are teh main factors. People competing at club level will do what they're being asked to do. They're attending because they want to do it. They just need the leadership to show them what to do. When they start to reap the rewards they enjoy it even more and the cycle starts to reinforce itself. It's the old adage "success breeds success"!

Q: The Aussies were really charging in the last 500m of the Olympic final. Rumor has it they actually hit the gate at the starting block. Do you know what really happened and does Australia have enough to catch you guys this year? -Ashley W.

A: I've heard that comment about the gate before, but could never see it on the video. Who knows? As for this year, it's a new year. After all, the americans went pretty well in '97,'98,'99. I'm sure they'll be back. I don't know what the priorities will be in other teams this year. The australians, croatians, and don't forget the italians will be there, they were not far behind either. We should also expect to see the germans rebuilding in this cycle. Realistically, there is very little amongst these crews. A single mistake racing at this level is enough to drop you to the back of the field.

Q: I was wondering what process you went through in selecting the boat and oars you used. Was there a lot of testing involved? Did you allow your athletes to participate in this decision, i.e.. their comfort factor? What were your rigging dimensions for your Olympic eight? -Holly from MA

A: As an engineer by training I never take the status quo for granted. In the past crews mainly used empacher boats and concept oars. Was this because they were the best or because everybody was scared to do anything different? I didn't know the answer to that question or even if it was the right question. What I did know was that I'd like to test the hypothesis. It also concerned me that athletes got so hung up about equipment. Very few, if any, crews are constrained by their equipment. The differences due to equipment are so small compared to the impact of how a crew rows or how fit they are. Of course if there's any potential for advantage from equipment then I'd rather have it than not...

So, in the right context I set out to see what I could find with regards to equipment. Boats tend to be evolutions of something earlier. Things get lost in the mists of time. Why is it a particular shape? Just because something else was or because some serious research has been done. If research has been done, then what tools and methodologies were used. Are they correct and up to date? When you start to ask these questions there aren't many who can answer through progressive levels of questions. With regard to boats, Vespoli can answer quite a few questions. Carl Scragg, the naval architect has taken a good look at boats. Overall, I'd be more inclined to go with this than with data that originated in the former GDR. Things have changed a lot since then. Much more powerful computational tools are available...

I've done practical testing before and found the results questionable. Quite often the faster boat is the more uncomfortable. But does there come a point where being uncomfortable inhibits the athlete? As it happens the Vespoli is very comfortable but then most heavyweight boats are. With regard to oars, we used concept smoothies in '97 and then Croker slicks after that. Although I like the idea of adjustable handles, I found the early concept version required a lot of maintenance. I spent two days at the world championships in '97 changing inserts and grips. I didn't think that was the most productive use of my time. The more we used the Crokers the more we liked them. They sat very positively in the water right from the entry. I'm not fixed in my views about oars. Athletes adapt to oar types just as they do to rigging within reason...

We rowed a number of different rigs. In the end our boat was set on a span of 83.5 cm. The oars were 375.5 cm with an inboard of 114 cm. There's nothing drastic about this rig. It might even seem a little on the light side, but then how you row has a major impact. Referring to technique, if you row effectively then a seemingly light rig will feel just as heavy as a heavier rig that's rowed ineffectively. It's important to link rigging to the way you row. I'd advise coaches to use other crews rigging data carefully. It's only part of the picture...

Oh, and I should say that we use ordinary concept oars in our pairs. We've spent periods of the year training in an emapcher eight. My message is that sure, use the best equipment for you needs if you can, but don't be dependent on it. What would happen if your boat falls off the trailer on the way to a regatta and somebody offers you the use of a perfectly good boat, but it's not what you usually use? Do you blame the boat if things don't go well? Seek to make your crews resilient. Develop a flexibility that allows you to focus on what really matters. Currently, we have a culture amongst the eights group that doesn't worry about rigging and equipment. That's not saying it's not looked at, it is, but not as a 'big' issue. I'd much prefer athletes to focus on how they use

Q: Does your crew do weight training? What kind of exercises?

A: In the normal pattern of things we train with weights twice a week. During the winter if we're away on a cross training camp we might do more. The exercises are quite straight forward. Bench pulls, bench press, leg work,
core stability work. We didn't tend to do high repetitions, mostly 6-8 reps. In the end we're there to row so we want to make sure that our training is specific.

Q: Could you give some tips on determining line-ups? I'm sure it is a much different ball-game at the National level, but perhaps some of your techniques could apply to juniors as well. Also, any thoughts on switching rowers from side-to-side to maintain flexibility in your lineups?

A: There are many views on this topic. At national level, I'd ideally like athletes to be able to row in any seat. The rhythm should be coming from the whole crew. Again at national level you'd expect the boat to feel the same no matter where you sit. This is very difficult to achieve, but is the ideal to which we aspire. As far as sides go, it is an unfortunate situation that most international athletes tend to row one side only. There are exceptions but not many. James Cracknell from our coxless four has changed sides this year to row in a pair with Matthew Pinsent. That was after 12 years of rowing starboard...

Determining line ups is a difficult matter and it's very difficult to be prescriptive. So much comes from the coaches judgement on this one. In developing athletes there are so many factors that can play a role. The more inexperienced or those with slightly less developed skills tend to sit in the middle where they feel stable and have a pattern to follow. In effect, follow is what they do, which does result in a different feel because although the visible timing might be similar, the pressure generated is slightly lagging down the boat. At international level this would be a disadvantage as loadings would be different. At a more developmental level I'd say it it was almost inevitable...

People with relatively stable technique tend to work well towards the stern of the boat, although it often helps to have a stroke who can lift the tempo a bit if necessary. I'm sure I'm not telling you anything new on this one. It's important to trust your judgement, but don't be dogmatic about it, always be prepared to change your view of athletes as their skills improve. The biggest mistake you can make is to label an athlete for a particular seat. On many occasions I've had to develop people into roles that I might not have envisioned previously. Always be prepared to be surprised!

Developing the flexibility to change sides is a tremendous asset. The earlier athletes develop this flexibility, the better. In the UK most juniors start their careers by sculling for about 3 years. Most coaches then try to keep their athletes flexible by rowing on both sides. That generation hasn't yet come to senior level, but the approach has worked well in other countries that have tried it.

*Webmaster Note...we have time for about 4 more questions*

Q: What style/technique do your rowers use to row so smooth? How do you go about making changes to their technique? -Mike from LA

A: I've worked closely with Harry Mahon, the reknown New Zealander, for the past few years. I've learned some invaluable lessons from Harry. Overall, I'd say our technique is based on simplicity. A stroke has to have reasonable effective length, the power must come on in a sustainable fashion and nothing should be done to slow the boat down.

Our sport is about taking both athlete and boat down the track in the best possible time. The athlete has a finite amount of energy to offer during the race. An effective technique tries to maximise the boat speed that can be generated over this period. Putting the spoon into the water in an effective manner is crucial. This is much more a matter of timing than speed. You see a lot of crews trying to put the spoon in faster and faster which results in a choppy, tense stroke. So, for example in this case some of the athlete's precious energy is diverted away from effective propulsion. Being a closed skill sport every element of the technique influences what follows. An aggressive, tense catch interferes with the athlete's ability to then generate an effective power curve. Problems with how the power is generated affect the release at the finish. Problems here then interfere with the ability to organise the recovery in such a way that the next stroke has the required length, whilst also allowing the boat to move forward easily...

I just started the above example by beginning at the entry. I could have started anywhere in the stroke really. Without trying to categorise out technique relative to others, I'd say we attempt to row in a natural relaxed fashion. We focus a lot on eliminating extras - if it offers nothing to the speed of the boat then why do it? The momentum of the athletes in the crew is crucial.The athletes moving back and forth along the slide can be basis of a rhythm. You can either bang off the footstretcher and pull yourself back up the slide for the next stroke, or you can spring off the stretcher just as a good basketball player would to gain maximum height and then allow the forward moving boat to bring your feet to you before springing again. Of course, the spoon must be used (timed) to harness this momentum. If the spoon is not put into the water before this change of direction then the boat is kicked backwards AND the resultant stroke is shorter as well because some of the athlete's length has been expended before propulsion can begin...

Changing technique is just the same as changing any behaviour - it ain't easy! The learning process is just as applicable here as in any aspect of life and work. The first thing is that the coach must be sure of the model or vision of how to row. It's also worth saying at this point that there are many ways to do it! if you watch international crews row, they don't all row the same. Yet all have their day at some time. Be ccareful about this. If you can't justify it to youself then you'll never sell it to your athletes. Seek to understand why you wish to row in a particular fashion. This may develop and change over time. That's ok! Then when you've got your model and can fully understand it yourself you can start to develop it in the minds of your athletes. Ultimately your athletes will have to perform under tremendous duress. They will be operating right at their limits. It's not like a kicker in football who has to do it once. The rowing athlete has to do it about 200 times with no break over the course of a race. Under this sort of pressure there can be no doubt about how its going to be done. There isn't really time to think about it...

In a racing situation the action has to be automated. It's pretty crucial then that the action is the right one. Adherence to the model is then the next challenge. In the 3 years that I worked in the lead up to Sydney, I'd say that I spent the first year developing and clarifying the model in my own mind and then the next 2 years teaching and clarifying it in the minds of the athletes. For us the whole thing was very process driven. The challenge was always the process not the outcome. Obviously the outcome was pretty important in the final race! By the end there was no doubt about how we intended to row. The athletes and cox developed a tremendous abilty to analyse their rowing...

I've often thought that the challenge for the coach in this situation is being able to stick at it. All through the long training periods it takes a lot of passion and attention to keep working on it. It's very easy to let it slip, to accept something that's less than 100%. The ultimate test has to be at the end. If you can look back and say that there was absolutely nothing more that could have been done then perhaps the other crew was just better on the day. However if your crew wasn't as fit as it should have been or couldn't hold together technically or whatever, then the coach has to start by examining himself/herself. Was what I was doing right, and had the athletes understood and assimilated it to the point where it was their natural mode of operation?

In a practical sense this means taking advantage of every possible opportunity to engender the technique necessary. Use every possible tool and common sense idea that you can find. If that doesn't work, develop some of your own! Remember, what you're trying to do is help the athlete to share your vision. the difference is that they will be in whole world of pain as they're trying to do it. There can be no room for ambiguity.

Q: I have a couple questions regarding the Olympics: How long did the eight row together prior to the Olympics. Was it the same crew from the '99 Worlds? Also, what kind of speed-work did you do the 2 weeks prior to the Olympics?

A: There were 8 of the '99 crew in the sydney crew including the cox. Through the winter the athletes trained as individuals. In the spring they went into pairs and then raced in pairs at the spring trials. From this race and the other tests like ergo tests selections were made to race in the FISA world cup regattas in the eight. Even through this period there were still some changes and only after Lucerne regatta in july was the crew finalised. It was a really tough decision to have to cut someone at this stage. We had a really good group of athletes including four guys who went on to win the coxed four at the world championships. This strength in depth was important to create a competitive training environment.

As for the spped work, we did some 500m and 1000m pieces. We also had some 250m for top speed work. Some of these would be flat out, others were at race pace. Crews at this level can generate speed quite quickly so they don't need to do large amount of speed work. Over the course of the week we wouldn't have done more than four 500m, four 1000m and a few 250m pieces.

Q: OK, last question, and as the Webmaster, I get to ask it. Aside from the countless television interviews, bundles of cash, and athletic apparel endorsements, what sort of recognition have YOU gotten from the local and international media?

A: I wish! As in many similar situations, the coach tends to take a back seat in the media attention. However just as in the case of the athletes, I wasn't doing it for media coverage. Now a few new pairs of training shoes might be a different matter! Perhaps I could endorse a coaches bicycle or something! Seriously though, all the coaches of medal winning sports at sydney were well treated by their peer groups and sports organisations. I've been to Buckingham palace and checked out the queen's pad. A bit big for my liking! I did get an award from the national coaches foundation that puts me in the coaching hall of fame alongside some great coaches from many sports in the UK. That probably means most to me. Recognition from your peers is quite special.

Martin McElroy is currently a High Performance Coach with British International Rowing. Martin coached the Great Britain men’s heavyweight eight that won the gold medal at the Sydney Olympic games. Great Britain last won the gold medal in this event in 1912.

Over the 4 year period of the Sydney Olympiad Martin developed the men’s eight team from being a crew of aspiring young athletes into a tightly knit group whose performance in Sydney excited the whole nation. Having only taken up coaching at Imperial College Boat Club in 1995 and then becoming a full time professional coach with the national team in 1997, Martin has had significant wins at every level of his coaching career.

Martin studied engineering at University College Dublin and after working as an engineering manager for a number of years including a spell working in Africa, Martin returned to university to complete a Masters in Business Administration (M.B.A.) at Imperial College in London. Having rowed himself, Martin became involved in coaching after completing his course at Imperial College.

Martin’s credits this background for much of his success as a coach. Drawing on his engineering, management, and business experience Martin is a methodical coach who develops the athletes and resources necessary to achieve excellence. Being an Irishman, the final element in Martin’s arsenal is a liberal helping of Celtic passion.

Career Highlights

Olympic Games 2000 Men’s Eight Gold
World Championships 1999 Men’s Eight Silver
1998 Men’s Eight 7th
1997 Men’s Eight 4th
Nations Cup 1996 Men’s 4- Gold

Henley Royal Regatta 1996 Grand Challenge Cup Winners
1995 Thames Challenge Cup Winners
Head of the River 2001 Men’s Eight Winners
2000 Men’s Eight Winners
1999 Men’s Eight Winners