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Steve Gunn – Developing Athletes

How to produce a “high performance novice”

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[Stanford University crew rowing on Hudson Riv...Image by The Library of Congress via Flickr

How to produce a high performance novice

Study the influences on the group of athletes you're working with

  • Age – biological versus sporting 'age' i.e. how many years have they done sport
  • Experience – including previous sporting experience
  • Aspirations and motivation (remember parents affect this as well)
  • Aspirations of the coach as well as the athlete
  • Aspirations of the club

Athlete capabilities

Height / armspan; injury record, balance, relative length of body parts, flexibility, athleticism, confidence, lifes skills, motivation, time available, job / Uni / school, other commitments

Posture, muscle type, 'trainability', muscle balance front/back and side/side, body covering, excess insulation, natural strength,look at balance between muscle groups

Why don't people row well?

Rowing is simple compared to other sports [a squat jump holding a stick ;-)]

The problem is that before teaching rowing technique you have to consider the skill sets and abilities of the athlete and their capabilities / limitations.

Does dodgy technique matter? it depends on where you want to go, the level of training and loading intended, how fast your boat is going, whether you want to row with other people.

Where do your novices come from? Are they recreational, club novices, school J14, university freshers or high performance novices?

What is a High Performance Novice?

A naturally talented athlete, highly motivated, very high expectations (of coach/club), very big and naturally very strong, naturally fit and trainable

[They don't yet know how to spot high performance novice lightweights by screening the general population].


Strengths – big strong drive muscles, fit, motivated

Weaknesses – other muscles comparatively weak, poor posture, not a natual mover, naive, ignorant

Opportunities – high power outputs, big ergo scores, major boat mover, international athlete

Threats – injury, learns bad technique, builds a limiting factor in trying to learn or load too quickly

Compare to the average / normal athlete – Strengths – well-balanced, Weaknesses – lack of power, Opportunities – will learn faster, Threats – limited possibilities

The HP novice is exceptionally good at some things (quad strength, arm strength, height) and average at the rest (core strength, flexibility).

It is more important to 'teach them right' than to accelerate their learning into racing in top crews too quickly. Remember 'average' people are easier to coach and deal with.

How to start with these athletes / novices

Before teaching technique – address their skill sets (abilities, core, flexibility, body shape, gain boat confidence and balance)

How? Do confidence drills, core / flexibility sessions, limited sculling (only take good strokes), train off the water to maintain quality

example: Bath University has some strong athletes who are one year in to rowing and are only just beginning to do water outings of 12-16 km. They couldn't cope and maintain their quality of technique until the training base was strong. They trained hard but did shorter sessions.

This means that

  • Mileage will be low at the start and then build up very gradually.
  • Don't 'Drift for Victory' i.e. enormous distances at poor power and poor technique / physiology
  • Quality is everything
  • BUT loading is progressive, athletes need to be pushed to the edge. Technique is only functional if the athletes push to the point of breakdown then stop and build it back up.
  • Use a speed measuring device to find out how fast the crew CAN go.
  • Thee is no dressage in rowing
  • Focus on the basics
  • Remove limiting factors as or before they occur. Make sure you are coaching rather than 'commentating'.
  • You've got more time than you think
About Rebecca Caroe
Rebecca is the host of RowingChat podcast and is a masters athlete and coach. Passionate about helping others enjoy the sport as much as she does. View all posts from Rebecca Caroe

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