Alan Oldham is the journalist commissioned to write an article by Rowing News on data in rowing called Data Driven – he approached me to contribute to his article back in April. And myr views didn’t line up with his expectations.
Basic Rowing Data Education
He was very keen to talk about the leading edge rowing innovations and as we spoke, I realised that the value I could add to his perspective was to point out that most rowers are not interested in these things. A far more basic approach to data in rowing is needed as I know that many people do niot even track very simple datapoints.
When I rang Rebecca Caroe, rowing polymath and owner of the rowing company and website rowperfect.co.uk, I asked her about which new technologies were having the biggest impact in our sport. I had anticipated a standard sort of answer that would confirm my initial conclusion. Caroe, after all, as host of the site’s podcast “RowingChat,” has interviewed dozens of experts and innovators in our sport from around the world, and is as up-to-date as it comes in terms of knowing what is out there making a difference in rowing.
“There are two things that are having a really big impact,” she tells me. “One is the ability to speak to each other, to communicate through a lot of different media. The second is using data as an additional layer of both input and output in the coaching process.”
But when I ask about new innovative advances such as NK’s EmPower Oarlock, it is clear that she is thinking about trends in change on a far broader scale. “[Things like] the EmPower oarlock are so leading edge that they are having almost no impact across the sport as a whole [yet]. If you are talking adoption curve, it is really exciting for the 1 or 2 percent, for the rowing geeks, but they are in a massive minority.”
Innovation Takes Time
Alan fluently summarises my point about using data for rowing improvement in to Level 1 and Level 2. The number of “Rowing Data Geeks” who are at about Level 5 is very small indeed.
Caroe provides a bit of perspective on this discrepancy between the minority of early adopters and the rest of us. “Let’s talk about data as a tool that we are using,” she suggests. “There are a lot of different numbers that you can collect in rowing, but let’s just talk really basic stuff: strokes per minute, 500-meter splits, those two would be level 1. Level 2 might be distance moved per stroke, watts produced, and heart rate.”
“Stroke rate and splits everyone pretty much understands,” she continues, noting that the familiarity is strengthened by exposure to these on the rowing machine. Despite a clear understanding of the measurement, Caroe believes that many people still do not use 500-meter splits in on-water training. “Looking back to the adoption curve, these basic measurements are only now hitting the mass majority.”
“When we talk about distance per stroke, watts, and in many cases heart rate, these are still in the early stages in rowing,” she says. “If you are in a high-performance program, your coach may have you row on the ergometer with watts displayed, but when you look at club programs or high schools, these people have not yet incorporated watts into their practices.”
“Innovation in rowing,” Caroe proposes, “happens very, very slowly, and then happens all at once.” She points to something as simple as electronic amplification systems in the boat. “These took a very long time to get adopted, and even today there are only three international brands that sell these products.”
For the record, I’ve never been called a polymath before. But I will remember this day!
Read the full Data Driven article on Rowing News. And tell us what data you use in your rowing group or programme in the comments below.