There is no “TEAM” in “Rowing” Anymore…

straight four

Photo/Video Credit: Gus Rodriguez, 1988 Olympic Men’s Rowing 4- Final

Winter is finally over.

In the United States, we were very lucky to have such a mild winter. I am very excited to watch the spring and summer racing seasons unfold.

On-the-water racing began yesterday in Philadelphia. Colleges and universities start officially racing over the next few weeks. Olympic hopefuls begin their quest at the 2016 US Rowing Olympic Trials in Sarasota, FL over a month from now.

With the massive shift from ergometer and land training to on-the-water training, there should also bring a focus on athletes learning to move a boat together.

“Rowing is the ultimate team sport…”

BnjXq5sIEAAnofX

Photo Credit: John Graves, Twitter, Trinity College, 2005 Henley Royal Regatta

Not so much.

It has become apparent from our rowing society and even the World Rowing Federation, FISA, with their recent proposal to eliminate boat classes  (and add more small boats) from the 2020 Olympics Games, that rowing is shifting away from the ultimate team sport.

Isn’t that what we rowers pride ourselves on?

Nine individuals (coxswain included) attempt to get into a boat and pull as hard and as straight as they can to win. Each athlete focuses on what he or she can do to make the boat go faster.  However, when the boat fails, athletes and coach look for the individual or individuals that are to blame.

In the United States, we only celebrate the team aspect of sports after a team wins a major championship like the Super Bowl or the Women’s World Cup. Most of the media focus is still on the individual and their own personal journey.

“What is your role?”

I do encourage my athletes to use their own personal journeys as a  foundation for motivation. I am realizing more that in order to have success in a team sport, the focus must shift to how my athletes can contribute and support the team.

 “What is your role on the team?”

Athletes may describe the position they play, and their how their focus must be on the jobs that position is responsible for. They are a pitcher; they focus on balls, strikes, and pitch count. They are a wide receiver; they focus on running routes, getting open, and moving the chains. They are a power forward; they focus on rebounding, posting up, and playing defense.

Rowing should be very simple because athletes are repeating the same task over and over again.  Yet, it becomes complicated because athletes and coaches seem to approach this simple task differently.

“What is your role on the team?”

Many rowers have difficulty answering this question. The usual response is, “Pull as hard as I can.” When I ask why they have to focus on pulling hard, their response is, “So I can keep my seat in the boat.”

“Boat line-ups are never final until…”

Photo Credit: Viking Books, The Boys in the Boat

Photo Credit: Viking Books, The Boys in the Boat

Coaches spend an enormous amount of their time, effort, and energy on pitting athletes against each other during winter training.

“You need this erg score to compete at the varsity level…”

Therefore, high school athletes and their parents end up obsessing over their status on the team, and stressing over erg scores because of college recruiting. Collegiate athletes are tested weekly, even daily, to the point that “keeping their seat” is more important than studying.

Boat line-ups might not be set until the final championship regatta. By that time, the athletes do not trust each other anymore. Half the athletes do not believe their teammates should even be in the boat. The other half wish they were in a better boat.

George Pocock said that rowing is a “symphony of motion.”

I understand that internal competition teaches athletes to be competitive. It makes them tougher. It helps them understand they have to work hard to get what they want in life. However,  it doesn’t teach them to “play nice” together.

“United we stand; Divided we fall”

I can be critical. I have first-hand experience.

As an assistant coach at the University of Pennsylvania, I forgot to teach my freshmen lightweights how to row well with one another. The goal should have been preparing them to compete at the varsity level, instead of seat racing them week after week to find the “best” line up.

I should have allowed my novice rowers to stay together and learn to row, because novice year is a special time that will either make you a rower for life or make you quit. I was too focused on making a great impression as a first year collegiate coach.

Before that, my failure in training for Beijing in 2008 was not developing real relationships with any of my training teammates. We were united in our quest to make the US National Team, but our coach was only focused on making the fastest line up. Competing against each other made us lose sight of why we were at Penn AC Rowing Association in the first place.

The legend of Penn AC was born from Coach Ted Nash’s ability to bring “rejected” athletes together for a common cause. That was the brilliance of the “Killer B’s”, the United States Men’s Four without Coxswain, at the Olympics in Seoul, South Korea in 1988. Four different men who were taught by one legendary coach to trust each other just enough.

 

“Building Trust”

 How do we build trust?

It is much easier to attract and convince athletes to trust in a new training program, winning results, or cutting edge technology and facilities. It is one of the main reasons coaches attend the US Rowing Convention every year. We flock to seminars that promise to reveal “secrets” of how top rowing programs are making their boats go faster.

There are no seminars teaching coaches to inspire and communicate better. If you happened to attend a seminar on building team culture, it eventually morphs into a round table on how athletes today are “entitled, disrespectful, and do not know how to work hard… and their parents are worse…”

Not all US Rowing coaches are like this. Cornell Lightweight Head Coach, Chris Kerber is one coach that gets it.

I know he does. I sat next to him last summer and observed and listened to how he coaches athletes. Rowing News writer, Jen Whiting, wrote an article about him as  “The Innovator.” Much of the article focuses mostly his individual accolades as an athlete and his success as a coach. But you can read between the lines. Kerber emphasizes team and athlete accountability. There is no mention of individual effort.

 Moral of the Story

Why has the team aspect of rowing in the United States begun to fade?

Even if a coach can create a team culture of “athlete accountability”, it still requires all the athletes to believe in that culture. As an athlete, I can hold myself accountable. I can also hold my teammates accountable. It doesn’t mean that I am going to  overextend myself and help my teammates achieve their own personal goals.

This type  of “team” culture can still fail.

I read rowing websites and rowing message boards, and everything covered still focuses on the individual – their achievements, their stories, their rowing “secrets”. Individuals are judged based on their ability to perform or their failure to step up to the plate.

The athletes need to believe in the team culture, AND they need to believe in each other. They need to appreciate each others’ strengths and weaknesses and support each others’ efforts.

Trust is the missing component for boats that fail to cross the finish line first. This includes coxswains. This includes Masters athletes. This includes Olympic hopefuls. Talent, ability, and desire only takes us so far.

Until rowing coaches begin teaching athletes how to trust one another, rowing may no longer be a “team” sport in 2020.

Photo Credit: new.com.au, Australian Men's Four without Coxswain, London Olympics 2012, Silver Medal

Photo Credit: new.com.au, Australian Men’s Four without Coxswain, London Olympics 2012, Silver Medal

So much for the symphony…

For more information on Strength and Conditioning for rowing, rowing technique, Kettlebells, Clubbells, AthleteDISC, and the Process Communication Model®  follow my blog or like me on Facebook at RUFO OPTIMAL WORKOUTS.

This week, I launched my “Balance” Page. In order for athletes to learn balance they need to understand themselves. Understanding themselves and trusting themselves allows them to trust others and their teammates. For teams that wish to learn more about themselves, and find that edge, click on “Balance”.

 

“LOST” – THE C.R.A.S.H.-B. CONUNDRUM

Lost_main_title.svg

“THE C.R.A.S.H.-B. CONUNDRUM”

It happens every year.

Thousands of athletes travel to Boston, MA to rowing’s equivalent of the Super Bowl. Or maybe the Philadelphia “Wing Bowl”, because it truly is a spectacle.

LOST2

Photo Credit: greglesher.blogspot.com

Four of my athletes competed last week at the C.R.A.S.H.-B.’S, and only one came out successful. I finally realized that this event has always mystified me. In the seven years that I actually competed at the event, I only really did well twice. In my first year, I didn’t know any better, and pulled a personal best time as a lightweight. In 2005, my final year, I just stuck to my race plan, and somehow “won” my heat in exciting fashion.

That’s it.

What is it about the C.R.A.S.H.-B.’S?!?

I want to preface this blog by saying I absolutely love  the C.R.A.S.H.-B’s. It is a  great race and event.

However, when writers cover the event, their articles are about the athletes with inspirational stories, the rowing “celebrities” that happen to attend, and the world records that are broken. Meanwhile nothing is ever written about the thousands of other athletes that go there only to have their souls crushed by failure.

C.R.A.S.H.-B.’S is a conundrum. It is the Bermuda Triangle of indoor rowing competitions. You never know how it is going to play out.

LOST

lost

“And it started out with such promise…”

When you first arrive, you literally forget how you arrived and why you are there.

Like the passengers of Oceanic 6 in the television series LOST  we  convince ourselves that we were brought to the Agganis Arena for a reason. In the end, we realize that even the writers had no idea how the story was going to end.

I have written about “2k Anxiety“, and the fact is that C.R.A.S.H.-B.’S is too overwhelming.  Too stimulating. Too confusing.

High school athletes and parents always ask me for advice on whether it is worth going up to Boston. I look at them and simply say, “You should only go if you know you are going to pull a personal best, or you are going to win.”

Otherwise, just plan on being disappointed.

Even if you could go to Boston with the right mindset, there might be too many distractions there to overwhelm you.

“THE OTHERS”

4637385654_1578b7c2ff_o

“Who ARE these people?”

Maybe it is just because the C.R.A.S.H.-B.’S is in a hockey arena.  The atmosphere is much different than a rowing venue. When you are sitting in the stands, it becomes very easy to be engrossed by everything.

Too many tastes, smells, sounds, and other peopleYou can spend your whole afternoon just people watching. The air is thick with drama, and very soon it is time for your event. Even if you are able to tune out everything, you still have to interact with other people.

“Hey bro, are you done using that erg. I need to warm up…”

Not enough ergs. And constantly bumping into other people as you wait in line at the restroom or concession stands. And all the other people want to talk to you…

8342832407_c37b469fed_c

“Pay no attention to that carnage behind the curtain…”

“What a feeling,” as you wait in line in agony for your event behind a heavy curtain. Much like the final audition in “Flashdance”.

“The Dharma Initiative”

desmond

“I’ll see you in another life, brother!”

Even if you arrive with a good plan, the plan may unravel. You can map out your whole routine right up until your event, however a single misstep will throw you off. C.R.A.S.H.-B.’S contains too many uncontrollable variables.

It is impossible to predict every scenario, and athletes that are creatures of habit will find themselves uncomfortable. Boston traffic, parking issues, and event delays are all out of the athletes’ control. Therefore the “organized” athlete will be out of their element.

“Your heat has been delayed for another 20 minutes…”

Desmond had to push the button every 108 minutes. Then he was distracted, and then plane came crashing down.

2012-02-19_crash_439-01332

Photo Credit: Row2k

Are you ready to adapt your plan? Are you able to anticipate the things you do not know know about yet?

Like no toilet paper? (That’s only a joke… 🙂 )

“THE MAN IN BLACK VS. JACOB”

6x15_MenInBlackAndWhite

“I wanted them to know…the difference between right and wrong without me telling them. It’s all useless if I have to make them do anything.”

At the C.R.A.S.H.-B.’S, athletes are taken out of their element. They are in a unfamiliar place watching athletes and coaches do things differently. Athletes from other programs and countries will prepare for the C.R.A.S.H.-B.’S in a different way.

Observing these “bizarre” methods will challenge your core beliefs. Especially when the athlete next to you pulls a personal best time with a rowing style or warm-up method you are not familiar with.

“Why is he pulling the handle over his head?”

Whether you frown upon their rowing technique or wish your own rowing technique was better, you end up questioning yourself, your coach, and why you are even there…

12728664_572259112925794_230216209_n

“I thought headphones weren’t allowed…”

The focus on your original mission has ended; you begin focusing everything that is wrong in the world.

Thank goodness the GOP Debate was a week later…

“THE SMOKE MONSTER”

Black-Smoke-Monster-006

“Okay, that thing in the woods, maybe it’s a monster, maybe it’s a p***ed off giraffe, I don’t know. “

You would think that those that thrive on competition, would always do their best at the C.R.A.S.H.-B.’S. In many cases they are the only ones that pull a personal best time.

With so much competition around, you begin picking out your targets. It is impossible to hold back your adrenaline because the arena oozes adrenaline.

“I am going to beat my time… I am definitely going to beat that CrossFit dude with no shirt on…”

“Oh WAIT, there’s GRAHAM BENTON!”

BOOM! You go out too fast.

benton

Photo Credit: Row2k and US Rowing

I would love the opportunity to pick the brain of Graham Benton or even the inspiring 95 year-old, Steve Richardson, who broke the World Record. How do they handle that pressure? Perhaps Mr. Richardson was just there to beat his previous time, and to beat all the other 95 year-olds.

And maybe he was just really p***ed that there wasn’t anyone else to race in his age group.

“MORAL OF THE STORY”

I don’t know…

In the 35 years of existence,  the  C.R.A.S.H.-B.’S has produced some amazing performances. Perhaps that is what makes the event the true World Indoor Rowing Championships, because athletes must rise above all the psychological hurdles – the overwhelming masses, the tempting distractions, the conflicting philosophies, and the unbelievable competition.

The tradition will continue to go on, even with the new threat of virtual regattas like the 2016 World Rowing Indoor Sprints and ROW’D Royalty.

Athletes will continue to compete at this rowing mecca to find their “heart” on this island…

HeartOfTheIsland

“What the hell was this?!?”

Or maybe  C.R.A.S.H.-B’S is just a purgatory where we all go to meet before we die…

 

7db4e08a03055b559020e82cd8b88b8b

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Oh shut up Jacob…

 

 

For more information on Strength and Conditioning for rowing, rowing technique, Kettlebells, Clubbells, AthleteDISC, and the Process Communication Model® follow my blog or like me on Facebook at RUFO OPTIMAL WORKOUTS.

 

Stay Positive to Beat the Injury Blues – by Strength Coach Will

I am pleased this week to post a guest article from Will Ruth, also known as “Strength Coach Will.” Coach Ruth writes this week about keeping a positive “mindset”  when recovering from an injury. Enjoy!

PHOTO Tohn Keagle

Photo Credit: Tohn Keagle

Stay Positive to Beat the Injury Blues

by “Strength Coach Will” Ruth

Injury risk is an inevitable part of life and competitive sport. The first step to developing a positive mindset is accepting this risk and destigmatizing injury should it occur. Getting injured is uncomfortable and inconvenient, but it is a risk that we all take as athletes and active people. In this article, I’ll explain how you can do everything you can to prevent injury and how to keep your cool should injury occur.

I do want to include a disclaimer here to say that sports are often a huge part of people’s lives, personal identity, and self-esteem, as well as a method for coping with stress, and it can be very difficult when an injury takes this away. If you or one of your athletes or teammates is struggling with depression-like symptoms, please refer to a mental health counselor or sport psychology counselor. The Applied Association of Sport Psychology is a great resource and maintains a list of certified consultants.

Control the “Controllables,” Discard What Remains

Maintaining physical readiness to train is at the forefront of every responsible athlete and coach’s mind. Even though we all accept a risk of injury training and competing in sport, injury prevention is a critical part of maintaining this readiness. Here are the core tenets of injury risk reduction that are 100% under your control:

1. Understand your sport, its injury risks, and safe training practices.

2. Learn how to prevent those injuries and then take action to do so.

3. Learn how to lift correctly to avoid compromising positions, then strength train to prevent imbalance injuries and teach correct motor patterns.

4. Stick to a regimen of warming up, cooling down, and stretching and mobility work to make sure your body is prepared for training and competition.

5. Hydrate and eat well to give your body the fuel and nutrients it needs to sustain hard training and achieve excellent performance.

6. Know your body and be honest with yourself. Know when to push and when to hold back in training to avoid sickness, injury, and over training.

While freak accidents do occur, the vast majority of sports injuries can be traced back to failure to adhere to those six tenets. Think of when you’ve been injured—were you consistently practicing all six at the time?

The next thing that can really derail an injured athlete’s mindset is the ensuing shock and surprise, often followed by disappointment and sometimes depression. This is where it really becomes critical to maintain a mindset of acceptance, positivity, and improvement to focus on the activities that you are able to do while recovering from injury.

Physical discomfort and inconvenience will always remain a part of injury, and what a positive approach seeks to eliminate is mental discomfort and frustration. The mental mindset to adopt is that your sport is now recovering from injury and getting back to rowing. Successful athletes who overcome injury apply the same determination, self-motivation, and drive to their rehab protocol as they did to sport training.

Remember, you’re only focusing on things you can control and positive action that you can take. Don’t get bogged down in the “can’t do’s,” such as, “I can’t row,” “I can’t lift,” “I can’t run.” Think about what you CAN do and apply yourself fully to that. Find ways to train around your injury. Can you use the stationary bike, run, or focus on one half (upper/lower) of your body with weights? Can you use this extra time to improve mobility and flexibility on a non-injured area? PT’s or athletic trainers will be able to provide specifics on what you can do to be as productive as possible during recovery.

You’re Still Part of the Team

An injured athlete is still an athlete and a teammate, so every effort should be made to keep them engaged with the sport and team. So long as it will not negatively impact their recovery, injured rowers can still attend practice and ride the launch, be there for their teammates during erg sessions, and stay involved in the team at social occasions. Often, athletes who are allowed to isolate themselves just fade away and find it hard to return to the team even when healthy. This is also where peers and team captains are relied upon to keep their teammates feeling engaged. A text or phone call of, “hey, we really miss you at practice, will we see you at _____?” can be very meaningful for an injured teammate struggling with motivation to return. Think about how you would you want your teammates to respond if you were the one injured.

Injured athletes are often worried about being in the way at practice. Here’s a list of some things rowers can help with while they’re recovering from an injury:

  • Checking gas and loading the launch
  • Holding a camera from the launch for filming
  • Holding the spotlight if it’s dark
  • Help out by writing down times during erg sessions
  • Is your team short on coxswains? I had snapping hip syndrome and could not row. I showed up for practice anyway. I was heavy for a coxswain, but when one of the coxswains didn’t show up to practice, I was able to jump in and allow that boat to get out on the water.
  • Collecting shoes, oars, and water bottles
  • Benefit from the instruction at practice. Look at your teammates and try to see what the coach sees and it will make you a better rower when you get back in the boat.
Have a Plan to Get Back on Board

One of the hardest things for eager athletes to avoid is rushing back from injury. After days or weeks away from practice, it’s hard to not want to scratch that itch right away. However, there needs to be a plan to return to training in progressive increments. Check out this graphic for an illustration of why this is—in the study, athletes who returned to do 100% of their normal training workload after only doing 40% of that workload during rehab had a 28% chance of re-injuring during their first week back from practice.

info Source: https://pbs.twimg.com/media/CB708wHXIAAmqrB.jpg

While an athlete with a week long sickness or slight muscular strain may be able to return relatively quickly, a fracture, broken bone, torn muscle, or serious illness will need a more gradual progression. A general rule of thumb is to start with 50% of your pre-injury volume and add 5-10% (meters or minutes) from there. For example, if you were doing five two-hour practices per week before your injury, start with five one-hour practices for the first week back. This requires the coach to not only monitor training minutes, but to have a plan to swap in another rower for your place. If an erg session was prescribed 3×18’, start with 3×9’ the first week back. Your goal is to leave each session feeling like you could have done more. This may be frustrating to some athletes, but it’s a much better path than re-injury.

One final step that can be difficult for many athletes is mentally moving on from the injury after returning to rowing. A key tip here is to focus on what you DO want to have happen, not all the possible negative outcomes. With great dedication to the rehab protocol, a gradual progression to return to practice, and a positive mindset upon return, athletes can go on to put the injury behind them and focus on performance.

will ruth infographic

Infographic Credit: Strength Coach Will Ruth

WILL RUTH

Photo Credit: Tohn Keagle – “Strength Coach” Will Ruth

Will Ruth (BS, NSCA-CSCS, USA-Weightlifting L1, US-Rowing L2) is the strength coach for the Western Washington University men’s club crew team and is the author of “Rowing Stronger: Strength Training to Maximize Rowing Performance,” the only comprehensive strength training manual just for rowers published by Rowperfect UK. Will posts new articles every Monday on his website, www.strengthcoachwill.com, where you can find more resources for physical and mental training for youth, collegiate, and masters rowers. A former rower, Will keeps his own competitive fire going with the sport of Strongman and also coaches high school lacrosse.

 

Thank you Coach Ruth! For more info on AthleteDISC, and the Process Communication Model® follow my blog or like me on Facebook at RUFO OPTIMAL WORKOUTS.