Friday, March 28, 2008

How the Gold Medals Were Won

How the Gold Medals Were Won
By Harald Jarling
From 2001 Australian Rowing Coaches Conference – The Southport School, Gold Coast

Harald Jarling
Rowing Australia Head Coach for Women since Feb 2001
NSWIS Head Coach since 1991
Olympic Coach 1996 (LW2x – Bronze and M2- Silver)
Olympic Coach 2000 (LW2x – 4th)

2001 Results
I do not want to talk too much about all the details of how fast we were going compared to the rest of the world but really talk more about how we actually achieved what we got from where Women’s Rowing was when we started at the beginning of the year. The excellent results for Women in 2001 when you look at detail have been achieved in a very short time but there were still areas to be done better i.e. crews not making A final when it is in the Selection Policy that crews must achieve this level to be selected.

The future looks good in this regard because crews that came 4th all had good chances of coming 3rd rather than 5th and even though it will be hard to do better than the 6 Gold Medals I think we will do better in 2002. It is difficult to predict which colour medals as the difference in winning Gold, Silver or Bronze are quite small margins (point of a second) as you can see in the W8+ race when all the crews were closing in at the end.

Australian Analysis
When I started the job in February I started with an analysis of the situation in Australia and overseas. To do this in Australia was easy because I have been part of it in the last 10 years – despite the fact that we had some good female rowers on the water and some good programs running everywhere in the country, there was:
A lack of total numbers of good rowers
A lack of overall structure so everyone was doing their own thing with technique/training which resulted in not being able to bring together a large number of women together to perform as a team.

I strongly believe that this was one of our shortfalls and we had never really managed to work together as a group of people (coach, administrators, athletes) to be overall successful.

Overseas Analysis
When you look at analyzing overseas programs it is very easy to fall into the trap of looking at one successful crew and saying I want to do this. i.e. Pinsent but athletes do not grow on trees and it is better to look at successful program which have worked with more average athletes. What are outstanding at the moment are the Romanian women crews and the German women Scullers who have the most impressive rowing program in the world. It is important to look not only at their rowing, but also how they get their athletes, what they do in preparing their athletes, what structure they have in their program to succeed year after year, and not only outstanding athletes but average athletes having outstanding performances.

Need Team With Strong Leadership
After this thorough analysis was all about developing long, medium, and short term strategies and then started speaking to the rowers, coaches, and administrators. With the programs in place then I started to meet with all involved so that the female rowing program could be brought to a higher level. I tried to provide strong leadership right from the start so we could pull everyone together in trying to achieve the goals as a team. Not as a dictator but as a specialist in the field of rowing and try to provide as much specific information to the coaches, the rowers and the administrators involved.

I try to lead the process from the top, and I believe any successful company or sports program in the world is running the same way, so being democratic is good but in many instances doesn’t work. Strong leadership needed in order to get.

Setting Goals
In order to be successful need to know benchmarks and set them for all short, medium and long term. Because you are working as individuals, and each is different, you must also set individual goals that are achievable and then the overall goal structure will be determined based on what they are capable of in the short medium and long term. This means monitoring the process of each individual (training, technical, and mental development) and of the overall program.

I though it was very important early in the process to find coaches and support staff (sport scientist, doctors, physio's, and masseurs) that wanted to work with the program and myself as leader.

Rowing Performance
We look at the current rowing performance of our athletes and basically we aim to improve the corners of the MENTAL-PHYSICAL-TECHNICAL triangle. Everyone has probably seen this before in developing sport performance and if the triangle is made really big you have a chance to get on the podium to win the medals. If the triangle gets one sided or really flat then the chances will be smaller and smaller and I think that anyone in world rowing who is getting medals has no serious deficiencies in any of the three areas.

Mental Development
When we started our program we tried to change the attitude of our rowers. Tried to make them more confident and part of a team and teach them about the orientation of the process of being a world champion rather than the outcome of just a dream of becoming a world champion.

I believe that confidence comes from winning good races; if you go out there and win and you get confidence, if you go out there and get your backside kicked then you will not have confidence; No matter how confident we talk as coaches if the rowers go out and sit on the start line and they get the shivers surely they will be beaten; we showed the girls how the process works and how confidence starts building…the girls started getting good results in the domestic season (high % in regattas so that increased boat speed being achieved) and then we targeted a race that we though we could win so the W8+ at Henley Regatta. As the smaller goals were fulfilled then the confidence started building.

There is no point in developing individuals who cannot put their individual ideas under the team umbrella – we stressed that right from Day 1 that we are not in a sport where we are there to help every individual fulfill their individual needs and desires; and we try to put that into a square which means the performance of the big boat; in a sport where we have also single Scullers that may be wrong but in the initial analysis we realized that we do not have a single sculler at the moment; the smallest boat that we can boat is the double and pair and from then on the boats can only be fours, quads and eights so that need people with team ideas: I feel that this was the biggest shortfall of the eights and quads from the last years with some people in the room who would relate to that. We always had fights within the group and then there was always so pecking order achieved straight away, possibly some bitching going on and always individual egos trying to be recognized than under the tam umbrella and pulling on one string. In 2001, in all areas of Senior A, Under 23 and Junior, the group has started to act like a team. There has been some interaction between the age categories, some fantastic interaction between crews in each team and some very good team spirit in the big boats and that actually leads to going there and getting a good result.

We talked a lot about what we wanted to achieve in women’s rowing, about the result. And we always say okay well we want to get out there and we want to win it…but we never really get the orientation of the process; so we talked to the girls more about doing it, and doing it to the best of their ability, through the training process, through the final preparation, through the races and then let the result take care of itself. It is really hard to stop someone thinking when they take the first stroke at the World Championships final and to focus on the fact that the next thing I care about is the 2nd stroke. It is not always that easy to make that change from sitting in a boat and thinking how is it going to be in 5-6 minutes to what is happening in the 5-6 seconds. How am I going to take the next stroke and how am I going to make it perfect? And then they take another one and get it better. That is what we understand by the process of getting up and winning a race, and that process has developed since the first part of the first camp together where we try to explain to the athletes that in the day to day operation, that within the training session, as part of a training session its not what comes out at the end that you want to concentrate on but its how we get there. It’s about the process, as the result will happen anyway. The result will only look better if we keep thinking about the process about how we achieve that final solution. This took a while to get through but it did get through in the end.

Technical preparation with 3 areas because only win races in your department if you understand the game e.g. the BLR W8+ always go fast in the first 500m (1:29) but slower each 500m (2:07 in last 500m) and therefore do not understand the sport of rowing; do not win races like this! Do not win races by getting slower and slower down the course – we are in an aerobic sport where the aerobic energy system has the highest % of your energy requirements so you actually race like you are in an aerobic sport; so you try to teach our crews to have even splits as they can to make the pace in the beginning of the race that you are able to maintain; The W8+, and all the winning crews, have managed that reasonably well with the margins between fastest and slowest times in the W8+ just over 1 second. The one thing that is still missing in our W8+ is that we go home is that we go home really strong. (These changes will come in the next 2 preparation areas). Remember in the M8+ that didn’t look all that good at the 1999 WC and were okay for 1700m but lacked the finish in the last 300m but in the end they were able to build home very well and look at the result in 2000.

Remember what you are trying to achieve then set steps to achieve goals.

Physical Development
Cannot change the genetic makeup and the physical size of someone especially in a country like ours where the elite female rowing group is small (only 30-35 rowers are available for the Olympic Team) so are focusing on
- General fitness
- Endurance
- Strength
- Power

The message to the girls has been that we do not train enough! Our overall training volume is not enough to be successful in women’s rowing in the world. It may be enough to beat each other in the country but more low intensity aerobic training (U2-U1) must be done for longer times than previously where women have been trained the same as men. But women are not like men because they are better endurance athletes whereas men are better at faster, stronger more dynamic exercise. So if we coach our women like our men then we can cause a problem in itself.

On the other hand, women are not very strong naturally. So we needed to develop strength training programs that cater for them. We basically moved away from pure strength endurance training development into strength, dynamic strength and dynamic power, we introduce more strength work on the water with regular power strokes to get general power development adaptation into specific power development. This has happened quite well over the nine months before the World Championships but this can still improve greatly and will probably take until 2003 to get to the ideal level.

Technical Development
Technique is always something that is hard to talk about here in Australia because we have an idea that technique is something that looks good. As an outsider coming into the system who doesn’t speak the English language very well I have relied on very simple basic messages to the rowers without the waffle. We said right from the start at the beginning of the year that we wanted to go right back to the basics and stop making the catch something that takes 55 seconds to explain. Try to all start from the same basic level with the same terminology; same simple message and therefore understanding or what is required. The athletes really appreciated this approach from the coaches.

So what is the best practice technique – what is that people around the world do to make them successful? So looking at what makes crews fast is not necessarily what you see from the outside but what is happening in the water. How we actually move the boat with every stroke that we take.

Our crews do have some shortfalls in this regard…
Applied Power: the power that we develop we need to apply. There is no point in having people very strong and can throw weights around in the gym and then get into the boat and cannot apply it – applied power makes the boat move.
Stroke length is a clear deficiency – our rowers generally row too short with little forward reach; need to get length off of the back with the hands moving away, the body rocks over establishing good forward length; then the blade can be put in the water and the power applied under the water in a long powerful accelerated stroke; also there has been a developing culture of Scullers not finishing off the stroke – we emphasized the Scullers finish with their hands apart not just after the cross over so that they use the last 5-10 degrees of the stroke to get a lot more run on the boat; especially with the W4x which won the Gold at U23 and came 4th at the World Championships;
Efficiency, Boat Run and Distance Per Stroke: the whole stroke length idea means we have a more efficient stroke, more time for each stroke, we can actually drop the stroke rate because we move the boat longer per stroke; so this creates boat run with good control on the recovery and one thing that we have always pointed out to the girls is that we wanted to get more distance per stroke – more cms per stroke will be a lot at the end of the race; All of our crews (Senior A, U23 and Junior) have rated comparably lower than the rest of the crews; so we achieved the same boat speed as the rest of the world but with lower rating.

These technical goals with looking at the stroke and trying to make more dynamic and longer have been achieved in quite a short time period.

Selection Process
We developed a procedure that was transparent and accountable. The new National Ranking system ranks athletes as they progress through the season so that athletes are eliminated based on their ranking without any subjectivity. There were no appeals from the selection process this year.

Everyone in the national scene has the right to know what the priorities are so everyone in the Women’s Department knew that the W8+ was priority which would double up with the W4-, W2x, and W2-; the LW4x was agreed as the boat for 2001 but will be the basis for a future LW2x.

Each boat class knew exactly what was required and when: Final speed order trial at the end of the selection week enabled crews to basically select themselves.

Training Process
After selection the crews go into a very structured training process in their final preparation for racing at World Championships, World U23 Regatta and Junior World Championships.

Sports specific – as much as we can from swimming, cycling, running programs in the end we are still a rowing sport and we still require a certain individuality as how rowers train; the best practice is established by looking around the world and see what programs are successful and try to put into our program; Gender specific is also necessary.

What we didn’t allow this year was to allow the crews to go off and do their own thing. This has been one of our major problems to let crews so whatever they want – we are in the same sport and before we start individualizing we must standardize. So this year we standardized. We tried to go back to clear periodisation in the planning of our training and put the activities within our country to fit in with this periodisation.

Microcycles of 2.5 days were followed for each of the women’s crews i.e. 2 ½ days of work followed by ½ day rest – Day 1 with emphasis on loading + general strength, Day 2 specific power, Day 3 transformation of aerobic strength and specific power, overall strategy the same but with different volume and intensity for different age categories.

Goals were set for athletes, crews and program with short, medium and long term strategies. Then the daily training programs were devised around the basis of 3 weeks of hard, increasing work then 1 week of super compensation/recovery.

We are now in a very good position because the season is finished and we can sit back with all the coaches and can analyze what worked and did not. This is the way to work out best practice.

Coaching – Art or Science
I believe that we can talk about the development of both parts in coaching skill with knowing how to work with scientists to get the knowledge out and being the artist.
We need to know:
Training and Teaching Methodologies – basic principles, how they work and how to teach them
Biomechanics – explains what s under the water and what makes the boat move
Physiology – to understand how the athletes improve the performance
Psychology – individuals react differently to all that is going on around them in training/performing
Medicine – need to know if, but, when even though we need to rely on the specialists.
Feel, touch, intuition for the sport also necessary as need to see how all the above is working with your athlete. E.g. Vicky Roberts at altitude camp said “could not do it anymore” and had to be taken out of the boat for a few days.

Need a balance between the science and the art! Need to keep up to date with the sports around the world, need to analyze and know the bets practice in the sport, we go across the board and look at all aspects which keeps confidence in working our artistic feeling, good judgment to make it really successful combination. I don’t think we are going to be successful coaches if we rely on one or the other.

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