Friday, May 11, 2007

Go Small Before You Go Big!

Go Small Before You Go Big! - Why the Canadian National Rowing Team trains and selects their crews in small boats by Dr. Volker NOLTE
Considering the resources of the Canadian National Rowing Team (total number of rowers and clubs in Canada, available finances etc.) we certainly have for the last decade the most efficient national team in the world. It even succeeded several times to be the very best team in the world, and consistently produced medals at Olympic Games and World Championships.

Obviously, the success is based on outstanding athletes and a great National team system. One important part of this system is the focus on SMALL BOAT training and racing. We believe, and the experience supports this believe strongly, that the majority of our training should be done in small boats, pairs and singles. Although pairs are the preferred training boats for sweep rowers, the single is considered to be the true basic of the small boat program. Since small boat training has such an outstanding position in our National Team Program, it is worth while to study it in some detail.

The most persuasive answer to this question is: It is the ONLY way to make the Canadian National Team! The whole selection procedure is based on small boats. The vast majority of the training in the National Team training centres and camps is done in small boats and the selection races are held in singles and pairs (Speed Order Regatta or, how it is called in the last few years, Training Centre Trials and seat racing). The outstanding positive experience over the last years shows that this is the best method for training and selection.

It is certainly the FAIREST way to select, because the result of the selection is depending on one's individual performance. You cannot hide in a single or a pair. The results of small boat races give a clear ranking of the athletes, and each athlete has the best chance to show their own capability. This system also offers each athlete more options in selection. In the same race for example, you could try out for the eight, the four and the pair. Therefore, it is imperative to train in small boats, because you should prepare in the boat in which you will be tested.
Small boat training offers also generally the BEST PREPARATION for all kinds of racing. It is PHYSIOLOGICALLY the best training method for the individual athlete. It is known that each person develops the best when training at an individual intensity level. The better rowers can go at a faster speed, so they can improve, while the development athletes can row at their speed without experiencing overloading. This would be impossible for example in an eight, where everyone has to row at the same speed.

Small boat training is also the BEST TECHNIQUE TRAINING. It offers the best way to learn balancing, one of the major challenges in rowing technique. Furthermore, singles and pairs provide the highest level of technical difficulty and react most sensible to the forces applied and the movements of the rowers. Any mistake done becomes immediately visible, can be identified and points to the rower who is the cause of it. Research also shows that small boats teach technique the best, because of the direct feedback for the rowers. Sometimes, it does not even require the input of a coach that an athlete knows what has to be corrected. Small boat training improves the sensitivity of the rowers and often, a proper technique can be found simply through trial and error. A pair also shows very clearly the compatibility of two rowers. This knowledge is important for building larger crews.

In addition, small boat training provides many PSYCHOLOGICAL ADVANTAGES. Rowers learn to be only dependent on their own performance. Consequently, they learn confidence in their own abilities. The individual performance is for every single stroke on the line. You simply cannot hide, but you learn to perform. It is much tougher to train and perform in a small boat, where your own performance has such a large influence and no coxswain is there to keep the spirit up. Training in small boats is also much more competitive. Instead of going out on the water in an eight as a singular boat, you could have four pairs competing with each other. The variation of training sessions improves too, because there are more training exercises or ways to organize workouts through the higher number of boats.

Finally, small boat rowing teaches WATERMANSHIP. The rowers learn much more about the element on which they row, and the environment they train. There is no coxswain who looks after the steering. Therefore, the rowers themselves have to take care for their course and the direction they choose. They feel the water, the wind, the waves and the temperatures more directly, and learn to act much more cautiously. With the experience of small boat rowing, the rowers develop more sensitivity how and where they move on the water. As a simple example, it may not be very dangerous to leave the gate of the oarlock undone in an eight, but in a pair it may be life threatening.
But there are also reasons that go beyond racing. Rowers who were taught to row in small boats will most likely enjoy rowing longer in their life than others. They are capable of rowing all boat classes, in different seats, and will not always be depending on a crew. Especially later on in life when it becomes increasingly difficult to get compatible crews together for training and recreation, a rower who is able to scull will find more often the opportunity to get on the water. Small boat rowers will have more chances to continue life long rowing. They may even choose to purchase their own single to become totally independent from others.

Sure there are! This is why we still have to work on getting even more athletes and clubs hooked on to the small boat philosophy. It is obviously easier to control one eight instead of four pairs, especially since there is a coxswain involved, so to speak in an assistant coach position. In some clubs, there may be even some safety concerns, particularly in cold weather conditions. And finally, you need the boats for this kind of training. If you look into a 'normal' Canadian rowing club, the emphasis lies on the eights. That is the tradition. Therefore, special efforts have to be made to put more small boats in our boathouses. After the small boats are purchased, you will find that you get a lot of good use for them. Rowers will enjoy training in them, and the benefits will be obvious to everybody. Everybody will learn very quickly to handle these boats and safety will be learned from a new angle. Therefore, the disadvantages will actually turn into positive experiences over time.

DREAMSMartin Luther King once said "I have a dream..." when he had a vision of a positive change in society. Why should not we have a dream, too, that with a little bit of understanding what is good for our athletes, and how we should develop our rowing program, small boat training will be used more widely. The advantages of small boat training are so overwhelming and clear that everybody should be excited to get into this kind of training. It is proven so often all over the world, but especially within our highly successful Canadian Team that there should not be any doubt that this is the way to go. The new generation of Canadian rowers will agree and be thankful.

Quote: Dr. Volker Nolte (now 45)Why do I love rowing?I was fascinated by the elegance and the technique involved when I discovered the sport of rowing. This was when I was 13 years old. I still love the sport. I love to go out in my single or with my friends in an eight. I love the feeling of working with my whole body. I love the sense of speed in the water, the noises in the boat, and striving for the perfect stroke. And I love the challenge to teach young athletes these experiences...

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