Self coaching for masters groups

Masters don’t get much coaching compared to other training groups.

There are many reasons for this – under 18 year olds cannot row unsupervised for safety and protection reasons and clubs allocate scarce coaching resource according to their priorities.

Whatever the reason (and we can discuss ways to overcome the frustrations of masters athletes in another article) it is clear that if masters are to improve skills and fitness, a degree of self-coaching is needed.

Training plans, practice schedules and goals are different for masters compared to other club training groups.  Because finding balance between work and family life as well as rowing training is an individual challenge which can change from month to month.

Few adults respond well to authoritarian coaches – self-directed learning is more flexible and respectful of our age and life-experience.

Framework for coaching masters

In my view, the ideal way for a club committee to set up a masters group for maximum gain based on minimal coaching is to have a robust learning framework.

By this I mean consider the inputs to any learning. 

  • What is being taught
  • How are messages getting to the learner
  • Frequency of repetition
  • Checking and testing that learning has been successful

In the case of learning rowing or sculling – first the athlete has to have a clear understanding of the rowing stroke cycle and the “pattern” of movement which they are seeking to learn.

Then they have to understand the difference between how they are rowing now and the desired state.

These two stages can be accomplished by using YouTube video resources and printed posters of good technique plus letting the athlete row while being videoed or in front of a mirror so they can see what they are actually doing.

night row womens single scull

A night row for a womens single scull

How to self-coach rowing

Decide to focus on a MAXIMUM of 2 technical points per training session.  Yes, the fewer the better.

Habits are hard to change and it may take thousands of strokes to make a technical change a permanent feature of your rowing stroke.  You may do an hour of rowing at stroke rate 18 – that’s only 1,080 strokes.  And so you see the scale of the challenge.

  1. Start by actively thinking about the change you are making every – single – stroke.  
  2. This is conscious movement.  Then start to introduce “unconscious” movement.  So stop thinking about the change for 5 strokes and then think about it for 5 strokes.  
  3. After the unconscious 5 strokes, examine how you are moving and if it’s correct, then just continue not thinking for another 5 strokes.  
  4. If it isn’t quite right – make a technical change and focus on that for 5 strokes and then go back to not thinking for another 5. 
  5. Keep switching from thinking about the technique to not thinking about the technique.
  6. This is self-coaching in action – but remember, it works ONLY when you know what change you are trying to make.  

Using drills in self-coaching

And so we frequently precede this by doing a drill or exercise to isolate that part of the rowing stroke and practice the movement carefully.  A good example is pressing the oar down (tap down) with your outside hand (sweep) at the finish of the power phase of the stroke.  You may do a drill to row alternate strokes square and feather. The goal being to tap down the oar by the same amount regardless of the square/feather.  After the drill, move into the conscious / unconscious practice for the rest of the outing.  

Frequency is rewarded

Doing the drill at least three times within the outing is the best way to continue to improve. 

By going back to the “basics” of the drill and then moving to continuous rowing the crew gets the best possible chance of embedding the change into their normal stroke pattern.

You can also always make it harder for yourself by adding complexity like increasing the stroke pressure from light to half pressure to firm pressure.  And also increasing the stroke rate will make both the drill and the subsequent continuous rowing more challenging to maintain the new technique.

Testing and Checking

Remember to check in with your cox, coach or fellow crew members to check that you’re doing the new movement correctly.

In a crew people sitting behind you can see your bladework quite easily – and so if you tell them what you’re working on, they can help you out.

Test your resilience by trying to maintain the technical change at increasing pressure and increasing stroke rate.  It’s a fact that when we are tired, athletes “revert” to their previous technique.  That’s why it is so very very challenging to make and hold onto a change.

Additional resources